History of Sustainability in the UASU
Sustainability has been an important issue at the University of Alberta Students’ Union for a long time. In 1991, the Green Team, with the help of an environmental auditor, prepared a Green Plan for improving the environmental responsibility of the Students’ Union Building. With the creation of the Environmental Coordination Office of Students (ECOS) in 2002, the UASU formally declared the value of sustainability: as stated in ECOS’ mandate (as determined in the 2006/2007 Development Taskforce) ECOS should “research and recommend environmental and social policies to the Students’ Union Executive, which strive to make the Students’ Union a model of sustainability.”
The UASU recognizes that its own operations should reflect the value it holds in sustainability by leading by example for the students it represents, and for the institution and communities of which it is a part. It was in this spirit that the idea for an assessment was born.
The process to create an assessment of the University of Alberta Students’ Union’s sustainability practices began in the summer of 2010. At that time, a Sustainability Assessment Coordinator was hired with the task of conducting an audit of our current operations and making recommendations for how best to espouse the values of sustainability.
This document will push the Students’ Union to improve its commitment to sustainability, but is just the first step. Continuous review and assessment are key aspects to this commitment, and regular audits of this nature should become a part of the organization’s operations.
The Assessment was very in-depth and offered insight into where the organization could place greater emphasis on sustainability. However, the SU is a unique organization in that it has many different capacities: it runs events, owns businesses, provides services, owns and maintains space, and advocates on behalf of students. When all of these capacities are considered, the range of possibilities for how the organization could contribute to sustainability are extensive.
In any new initiative the SU undertakes, we must always ensure that we are serving and representing U of A undergraduates, in order to support their pursuit of knowledge and enhance their university experience. This mission implies some boundaries to our actions, but is broad enough to allow for much discussion of what our commitment to sustainability should be. This debate will, and should, continue when prioritizing any sustainability initiatives, including the recommendations found in these reports.
We believe that our response to the Sustainability Assessment balances these priorities and offers strong tangible goals that we can strive for for the next few years. As always, we are looking for feedback, so please don't hesitate to get in contact with any of the Executive should you have any thoughts or questions.