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Op-ed: It’s time for Victoria College to be proactive about climate action

Reviewing the Vic Zero campaign
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DARREN CHENG/THE VARSITY
DARREN CHENG/THE VARSITY

Advocating for changes within the Victoria College community and administration, the Vic Zero Committee, a committee of the Victoria College Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) Sustainability Commission, was founded on five guiding principles: engagement, transparency, social responsibility, social justice, and looking to the future. 

With these principles, the Vic Zero Sustainability Strategic Plan was created, functioning as a set of demands and outlining a formal sustainability framework that encourages changes for a more just, resilient, and equitable campus. 

Released in November 2020, the Vic Zero Sustainability Strategic Plan was brought forth from a simple question: when, if ever, is the Victoria University administration going to take serious climate action?

From decreasing food waste to achieving carbon neutrality, the report promotes a holistic approach to sustainability that recommends tangible changes to Vic’s current practices. It also includes a necessary cultural shift away from the college’s role in contributing to climate injustices, such as the lack of transparency with its investments. 

Embedded within each of the report’s demands is the plea for better communication and cross-collaboration between students, faculty, and staff — a necessity when the decisions made by an institution such as Vic can have such far-reaching environmental implications, on both a spatial and temporal scale. 

Vic boasts a student body that is filled with advocacy-oriented individuals, constantly campaigning for changes to create a more inclusive and just community within the college, including the 2019 Renaming Ryerson Initiative — which saw the Ryerson Stream renamed the ‘Education Stream’ due to namesake Egerton Ryerson’s affiliation with the residential school system — and the numerous efforts of past VUSAC Sustainability Commissions.

While Vic has responded with smaller-scale sustainable changes, like replacing bulbs with LED lights and gradual building retrofits, it has yet to create a binding set of values to guide the actions necessary for a sustainable campus. 

Without a comprehensive policy on sustainability, there is a constant gap in communication about where Vic’s priorities lie, which undermines the urgency of the climate crisis. This ultimately forces students to take on the responsibility of generating possible solutions to rectify the college’s insufficient practices and begs the question of how dire the climate crisis must get before Vic hears its own and commits to decisive action. 

Following its publication and release, the Vic Zero Sustainability Strategic Plan has been steadily gathering student support from both individuals and groups within the Vic and wider U of T communities. Students can support the plan by signing the Vic Zero petition.

With 132 individual endorsements and 14 endorsements from student groups — including the VUSAC, the University of Toronto Students’ Union, and the Arts and Science Students’ Union ― the report will be presented to Vic’s governing body, the Board of Regents, and the president’s office with the hopes of fostering cooperation, conversation, and the implementation of the report’s demands.  

Simultaneously, its presentation intends to demonstrate the seriousness of Vic students’ intentions to ensure that the college, as a leading institution of higher education, takes accountability for our collective future. 

Aminah Attar is a third-year environmental studies and public policy student at Victoria College, the Vic Zero project founder, and the Board of Regents student representative. Sarah Eid is a third-year human biology, conservation biology, and physiology student at Victoria College and is a Vic Zero project lead. Jerico Raguindon is a second-year public policy and sociology student at Victoria College, a Vic Zero project lead, and the VUSAC Sustainability co-chair. Neha Sarraf is a second-year economics and environmental studies student at Victoria College and is a Vic Zero project lead. Leila Tjiang is a third-year environmental biology and geography student at Victoria College, a Vic Zero project lead, and the VUSAC sustainability commissioner.