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UTM set to launch 10-year strategic sustainability plan

Goals include carbon-neutral campus by 2050, waste management strategy
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An aerial photo of the UTM campus. COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO
An aerial photo of the UTM campus. COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO

After its completion and ongoing consultation sessions with the community, UTM has finally set out to launch its 10-year sustainability plan

Over the course of the past year, the Principal’s Sustainability Advisory Committee (PSAC) has consulted with students, staff, and faculty to devise specific goals. The strategic plan was finalized and approved in December, and details 26 goals, consisting of both short-term and long-term projects that aim to enhance environmental sustainability of UTM campus operations until 2030. 

Details of the plan

Some specific goals outlined in the plan include reducing single-occupancy vehicles commuting to campus by 10 per cent by 2027 and creating a comprehensive waste management strategy by 2022. In the next few years, UTM also hopes to launch a communications strategy that will encourage community members to reduce waste, reuse items, and divert material from landfills.

The plan includes academic-related sustainability goals, such as implementing the Green Labs Program to help reduce the environmental impact of research activities on campus by 2024, and creating the Graduate Student Sustainability Funding Competition, which will include a sustainability-specific research grant by 2023. UTM has also committed to having 30 per cent of all students graduate with a certificate or minor in sustainability.

Other specific initiatives include increasing teleworking by 25 per cent and introducing an entirely plant-based eating option on campus. 

In an email to The Varsity, Ahmed Azhari, Director Utilities and Sustainability in Facilities Management & Planning, wrote that the next step in implementing the plan is creating internal working groups focused on different goals. 

“The groups are domain-specific and focus on discussion or activity around a specific subject area,” he wrote, noting that all working groups are organized and led by the Sustainability Office. Considering factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, Azhari wrote that the PSAC will re-evaluate the plan annually to “ensure its continued validity and viability.” 

“The plan will function as a living document… some of its goals and targets remain qualitative in nature. Effective evaluation will require accordingly a holistic overview of the plan’s social, ecological, and economic dimensions.” The aim of this iterative process, he explained, is to allow UTM to adapt to the new best sustainability practices, financial landscape changes, and the prospect of emerging innovative technologies.

Additionally, Azhari highlighted the role that UTM students would have in the 10-year plan. The plan hopes to “encourage widespread campus engagement, fostering a culture of sustainability with students, through promoting sustainability events, programs, and outreach initiatives on campus.”

The plan dictates that UTM will make annual evaluation results publicly available online. The plan will provide an annual report, written at the end of each fiscal year on April 30, to “commemorate achievements, provide status updates, and highlight lessons learned.”

Carbon emissions and fossil fuel divestment

Regarding divestment from fossil fuels, Azhari wrote, “Outside the mandate of the 10-year sustainability strategic plan, the University of Toronto is making steady progress on its commitment to reduce the carbon footprint of its investments while contributing to the broader fight against climate change through research, teaching and sustainable operations.” 

In 2018, U of T joined the University Climate Change Coalition, which committed the institution, alongside other leading research universities in North America, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on their own campuses and in their communities. 

While U of T set its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 37 per cent by 2030 from the baseline level in 1990, the UTM campus uses its own baseline of 2005 emission levels in the strategic plan. The plan aims to achieve a carbon neutral campus by 2050 and switch 50 per cent of campus fleet to “alternative fuel options” in the next 10 years. 

Student feedback

While some student groups see the sustainability plan as a step in the right direction, they still hope to see more action from the university on environmental issues.

Environmental student group Zero Waste UTM wrote in an email to The Varsity that while the plan seeks to foster engagement with students in the UTM community, it is not clear enough in its waste management strategy. The group added that educating students on recycling and composting guidelines in the area should be a priority. 

Zero Waste UTM also wrote that the plan does not specifically address some existing concerns that students have brought forward in the past, such as the calls for U of T to divest from fossil fuels. “Multiple students and student groups have come together to request the wider UofT community divest from fossil fuels, such as with the UTERN EWG Coalition divestment letter,” the group explained.

“To be part of a university that values sustainability is amazing, and we must work together to enact as much positive change as possible,” wrote Zero Waste UTM. “However, we must hold them accountable to these plans, and ensure that future students are educated on it as well.”