York University celebrates its sustainability leaders

York University celebrated its leaders in sustainability on Earth Day on Friday, April 22 at the third annual President’s Sustainability Leadership Awards reception. As part of Earth Day events, it was announced that two buildings − the newly renovated Ignat Kaneff Building, which is home to Osgoode Hall Law School, and the York Lions Stadium, site of the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games − received the LEED Silver designation. And, for the fourth year in a row, the University was named among Canada’s top 100 Greenest Employers.

Four individuals and one group were honoured for their work in sustainability and were named the 2016 recipients of the President’s Sustainability Leadership Awards on Earth Day, Friday, April 22. Faculty of Environmental Studies Professor Martin Bunch, who is chair of the President’s Sustainability Council, announced the awards on behalf of York University President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri (who was unable to attend the reception). The Earth Day event took place in the new York Lions Stadium on the Keele campus.

“On behalf of President Shoukri and the President’s Sustainability Council, I am very pleased to be able to announce the winners of the 2016 President’s Sustainability Leadership Awards,” said Bunch. “We are now in the third year of the awards program, and we have seen many inspiring nominations over the past three years highlighting the interesting and innovative work that sustainability champions are doing on our campuses.

“We hope that these awards, and the great accomplishments of the award winners, will encourage others across our campuses to get involved in sustainability, and help us make York one the world’s leading universities on sustainability,” said Bunch.

The 2016 winners of the President’s Sustainability Leadership Awards are:

Nicole Arsenault
Manager, Transportation, Campus Services & Business Operations (CSBO)

Nicole Arsenault (left) with Martin Bunch
Nicole Arsenault (left) with Martin Bunch

Nicole Arsenault is a sustainability leader who advocates for change and leads by example. When Arsenault started in her position, over 10 years ago, the transportation modal split for York was 80/20, in favour of single occupant vehicles. Today, that modal split is reversed and people come to York mainly via sustainable travel, and mostly via transit.

While there are several factors which led to this shift, one surely has been Arsenault’s tireless advocacy for sustainable travel. She has continued to push transit agencies to expand service, both in frequency and routes, and helped to move York University’s Keele campus to be home to one of the largest transit hubs in North America with more than 2,600 bus trips in and out of the Common every day.

Arsenault has worked continuously to expand priority carpooling, free shuttle service, on campus car sharing services and considerable support for the cycling community. It is this type of accomplishment that contributed to York University’s 2012 Smart Commute Regional Employer of the Year award, a distinction for organizations taking action to address traffic congestion and climate change.

Arsenault’s sensitivity to the environment transcends her job description. She is a true steward for York, and can often be seen picking up garbage or gently asking people to turn off the lights.

Jose Etcheverry (left) with Martin Bunch
Jose Etcheverry (left) with Martin Bunch

Jose Etcheverry
Associate Professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES), and Co-Chair of the Sustainable Energy Initiative

Professor Jose Etcheverry is a sustainability ambassador and a true champion who leads by example. He is the epitome of someone who talks the talk, then walks the walk. As a faculty member in FES and Co-chair of the Sustainable Energy Initiative, for several years he has been teaching students about the importance of clean, renewable energy. But he has also been able to take his experiences from the classroom out onto campus, by working with a number of partners, including students and CSBO, to install a photovoltaic electric vehicle charging station on the Keele campus. The charging station is innovative in that it is modular, easily replicable and made mostly from materials sourced right here in Ontario.

To install this station, Etcheverry was on-campus during sabbatical, in the early hours of the day and late hours of the night to ensure that the installation of the station was complete. He also promoted the project through numerous channels which has gained positive recognition for York University, the Sustainable Energy Initiative and FES.

Finance Department

The Finance Department for some time has been acutely aware of green initiatives, and one of their goals has been to reduce the consumption of paper used in many financial transactions.

The Finance Department staff accept their group award from Martin Bunch
The Finance Department staff accept their group award from Martin Bunch

The department has instituted digital journal transfers, the Sm@rtBuy eProcurement system, document imaging, the Concur electronic travel reimbursement and direct deposit for a variety of financial transactions, which has resulted in the saving of hundreds of thousands of pieces of paper on an annual basis. All the above initiatives, while contributing to sustainability, have also significantly added to the productivity both within the Finance Department and across the University community.

Mark Terry (left) with Martin Bunch
Mark Terry (left) with Martin Bunch

Mark Terry
Documentary filmmaker and PhD student in the Department of Humanities, Faculty of Graduate Studies

Mark Terry is a documentary filmmaker and PhD student in the Department of Humanities. His current project, which is also part of his academic research in Humanities, uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to showcase the latest climate research being done by climate scientists, researchers and scholars around the world.

The project was invited by the United Nations to be used as a data delivery system to delegates and negotiators attending the COP21 climate summit in Paris last December, and Terry was named to the official delegation representing Canada at this conference. It marked the first time the United Nations used a GIS documentary mapping project as a data delivery system for its COP conferences.

Terry has recruited students working with climate researchers around the world providing a voice for both the international youth community and the international climate science community at COP21. Collaboration on this project reached nearly 150 participants from every continent (including Antarctica).

The project, innovative in bringing together GIS and interactive documentary filmmaking, can be replicated by anyone interested in using Google mapmaking tools available to the public. To help facilitate the adoption of this tool and methodology for climate and related research, Terry has been giving presentations and seminars at York to faculty and graduate students.

The original project continues to grow as new media is added from collaborative contributors worldwide on a regular basis. As a result, the UN has made Terry’s project a permanent addition to its two websites.

Terry was also part of the first crossing of the Northwest Passage through the Prince of Wales Strait and became the first filmmaker to document a crossing of the passage. For this achievement, he was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Greatest Explorers by Canadian Geographic Magazine in August, 2015.

John Wilson (left) with Martin Bunch
John Wilson (left) with Martin Bunch

John Wilson
Manager, Mailing Services, CSBO (and York University’s unofficial arborist)

John Wilson’s role is mail room manager, and in carrying out these duties, he often steers community members to reductions in printing and savings on use of paper. But his official duties do not tell the story of the past 32 years that Wilson has spent contributing to improving the “green infrastructure” at York University.

Wilson started in the Grounds Department (CSBO), as he is an arborist by training. He moved from taking care of trees, into creating new environments, working with the Facilities Development, CSBO. There he worked on helping to expedite site works to make way for the construction of new roads and the subway, and in doing so, helped protect, spade, move and replant hundreds of trees on campus.

Wilson has worked with other likeminded tree champions over the past 30 years, examining ways to protect the woodlots, expand and protect the tree canopy and promote the need to create an inventory and manage the trees that are so vital to our environment. He continued to work informally with Grounds, and on several projects, including commenting on various tree and landscape designs for new developments. He also helped create a preferred list of trees that are now issued to all proponents on major capital projects. The list identifies species that work well on campus given specific conditions here. The list focuses on native, drought resistant species, and on the need to create variety for overall resilience and longevity. Wilson was instrumental in the creation of an Ash tree inventory and management program for fighting the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), which has resulted in the survival of the highest quality remaining Ash trees on campus.

He documented efforts to manage EAB and created a web page to share with the community. That work grew into a full inventory of all trees on both campuses. This inventory is a living tool that holds incredible value to Grounds, and to those who are interested in the landscape, and to the overall health and wellbeing of the University community.

The recipients join Martin Bunch and CSBO AVP Richard Francki (far right) for a group cameo
The recipients join Martin Bunch and CSBO Assistant Vice-President, Richard Francki (far right) for a group cameo

The President’s Sustainability Leadership Awards were judged by a volunteer committee who reviewed the applications and made the decisions on the awards.

The President’s Sustainability Leadership Awards were judged by a volunteer committee who reviewed the applications and made the decisions on the awards. The committee members are: Sheila Forshaw, Helen Psathas, Pamela Martinez, Michelle Chin-Dawe, and PSC Chair Martin Bunch.

Professor Ian Garrett from the School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design, created the awards out of re-purposed scrap materials, in this case, Masonite, from stage productions produced by the Department of Theatre. Each of the award winners received a Las Nubes book. The books were donated by the York University Bookstores.