The greening of York University

Second-year Master of Environmental Studies student Michelle Osborne (right) is putting sustainability at York University under the microscope. Osborne is researching how  to engage and inform the University community about sustainability initiatives and practices.

Sustainability is the balancing of social, environmental and economic factors in a way that meets current needs without compromising those of future generations. Osborne is surveying faculty, staff, students and alumni about their perceptions of York’s initiatives in sustainability. She hopes to eventually develop a real-time method of reporting advances and problems related to sustainability.

In 2002, Lorna R. Marsden, York’s president and vice-chancellor, made a commitment to sustainable development by signing the Talloires Declaration, a 10-point action plan for incorporating sustainability and environmental literacy in teaching, research, operations and outreach at colleges and universities. Composed in 1990 at an international conference in Talloires, France, the declaration is the first official statement made by university administrators of a commitment to environmental sustainability in higher education. It has been signed by over 300 university presidents and chancellors in over 40 countries. In addition to signing the declaration, Marsden commissioned a president’s task force on sustainability at the Keele campus.

“The task force undertook an audit of the Keele campus and made recommendations for campus sustainability in regards to energy, water, waste, land use planning, biodiversity, transportation, buildings, curricula, green enterprises and outreach to the local community,” said Osborne. 

All members of the York community are invited to participate in Osborne’s survey on sustainability. She has created, using Survey Monkey technology, a questionnaire to find out how a sustainability reporting Web site that also allows for participation in sustainable planning on campus might add value. “I am also looking for what people would like to see on this Web site,” says Osborne.

Click on one of the following to take the surveys Osborne has created for York faculty and staff. E-mail Osborne for further information.

Working with Andrew Wilson, campus planner, and Kimberley Glaze, manager of employee development & communications in Facilities Services, Osborne has developed a Web-based method to report sustainable development. Her thesis supervisor is Professor Joe Sheridan of the Faculty of Environmental Studies.

In 2004, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) held its North American sustainability-reporting awards ceremony in Toronto and, explained Osborne, “Web-based sustainability reporting was identified as the way of the future. The Web as a tool for public participation in planning processes is on the rise, as is apparent through Canadian examples such as the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation’s Web site.”

The ACCA has identified sustainability reporting as an indicator of best practice and good governance. The association launched its awards competition to highlight leaders in the field. Past winners of the award include Hewlett Packard, the Ford Motor Company, Vancouver’s Vancity Credit Union and the Gap Inc. Osborne is hoping to move York into the winner’s circle through her Web-based initiative.

“York has a number of significant initiatives in sustainable development,” said Osborne. “My objective is to lay the ground work for establishing York University as a leader in sustainable development and to create a value-added, online public engagement tool for University stakeholders to comment on Keele campus plans and sustainability in general.

“Other goals of my research include improving the connections between York research on sustainability and community needs and the creation of a Web site that is a real-time sustainability and engagement tool to improve transparency, accountability and the overall sustainability of York University,” said Osborne.