Experts unite for third annual Climate Change Research Month

A city showing the effect of Climate Change

This March, York University and its Organized Research Units (ORUs) are hosting the third annual Climate Change Research Month, which features a range of activities, including panels, lectures and workshops.

The month-long event series spotlights the University’s expertise in climate change-related research, the interdisciplinary work of its faculty, and the York community’s commitment to advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

“From the work of political scientists helping to shape government policy to equity scholars tackling issues of climate justice to environmental scientists and engineers exploring pathways to decarbonization and sustainability, climate research is one of York’s great strengths,” said Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation. “Climate Change Research Month reflects York’s big-tent approach to addressing the climate crisis through knowledge sharing, collaboration and community engagement.”

Some of the planned events include several sessions by the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research, including a March 6 event on building community-engaged emergency response systems for extreme weather events, including in rural Indigenous communities. The City Institute at York University (CITY) will host a panel discussion titled “Greening the Grey,” exploring infrastructural solutions to the climate crisis. And the Institute for Research on Digital Literacies and the Institute for Technoscience & Society will hold a showcase for graduate students whose research is related to technology and climate change, among other events from multiple ORUs.

“Climate Change Research Month is an opportunity to have faculty, staff and students come together as a uniquely qualified collective to engage in critical and thoughtful dialogue on an existential issue impacting us all,” said Professor Elaine Coburn, director of the Centre for Feminist Research, who has led the organizing efforts for the yearly event series for the past three years. “This annual series exemplifies the kind of work that York’s Organized Research Units engage in year-round.”

Climate Change Research Month is hosted by York’s ORUs, centres of research excellence that bring together diverse experts from across the University to conduct inter- and trans-disciplinary research on some of the world’s most pressing challenges.  

To learn more about the series and each event, visit yorku.ca/research/climate-change-research-month-2024.

York prof leads groundbreaking research on green hydrogen

Modern city and environmental technology concept

York University’s commitment to sustainability and innovation takes a significant leap forward with Professor Hany Farag’s pioneering work on green hydrogen integration.

As a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at the Lassonde School of Engineering, Farag is spearheading efforts to revolutionize Ontario’s energy landscape.

As previously reported, Farag has been tapped to receive funds from a new initiative to revamp Ontario’s energy system.

Hany Farag
Hany Farag

The newly created Hydrogen Innovation Fund, a funding initiative administered by the Independent Electricity System Operator, will invest more than $15 million to help integrate hydrogen into Ontario’s clean electricity system over the next three years. Farag is among the first group of researchers to successfully attain this funding.

A York Research Chair in Integrated Smart Energy Grids, Farag will use government support to advance the work he does at York’s Smart Grid Research Lab, which aims to seamlessly integrate green hydrogen resources into electricity systems to decarbonize not only the power grid but also hard-to-abate sectors such as heavy-duty vehicles, fertilizers and steelmaking.

In collaboration with Alectra Utilities, Bruce County, York University Facilities Services and other industry partners, Farag plans to investigate the implementation of green hydrogen plants (GHPs) across Ontario. Addressing the lack of infrastructure to support electricity and hydrogen integration, his research project will look to optimize GHP design and integration into Ontario’s power systems.

Farag’s scientific inquiry dovetails with York University’s brand message of shaping a sustainable future. York’s leadership in sustainability and its focus on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) find resonance in Farag’s quest to lead the charge in decarbonizing energy production and utilization, particularly advancing SDG 7, which looks to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”

It’s an important initiative.

Although the production of green hydrogen is currently expensive, with estimates ranging from $4 to $6 per kilogram, it remains pivotal in the quest for achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Across the globe, nations such as Canada and the U.S. are unveiling ambitious hydrogen strategies and investment goals for the forthcoming decades. In a significant move in 2020, the federal government released a hydrogen strategy with the aim of solidifying hydrogen’s role as a cornerstone tool in reaching the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

But while hydrogen holds promise as a potential game changer in combatting climate change, the shift toward “green” hydrogen faces significant hurdles. A 2021 report by the International Energy Agency highlighted a staggering statistic: global hydrogen production emitted 900-million tonnes of carbon dioxide, exceeding emissions from the aviation industry by roughly 180-million tonnes.

This alarming figure underscores the pressing need for a transition away from fossil fuel sources, as highlighted in a recent CBC report.

Although currently not recognized as a low-emissions fuel, there is optimism that hydrogen will emerge as a pivotal player in the fight against climate change. Its potential lies in serving as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels in various sectors such as power generation, home heating and transportation – an area where Farag’s expertise shines through.

“In the Smart Grid Research Lab, we aim to develop new solutions that facilitate seamless and cost-effective integration of green hydrogen to decarbonize the power grid and hard-to-abate sectors/industries,” Farag says.

“This vision is aligned with York’s efforts to decarbonize our campus, where hydrogen could replace – either fully or partially – the existing natural gas–based co-generators.”

Continuing Studies Building earns gold for sustainable design

School of Continuing Studies Building

Further solidifying York University’s place as an international leader in sustainability, York’s School of Continuing Studies Building has achieved LEED Gold certification from the Canadian Green Building Council. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is the global building industry’s premier benchmark for sustainability.

School of Continuing Studies Building
School of Continuing Studies Building exterior.

The six-story, 9,012-square-metre, 50-classroom building, which opened last spring at 68 The Pond Road on York’s Keele Campus, was designed by global architecture firm Perkins&Will, led by architects Safdar Abidi and Andrew Frontini. Its twisted design is said to symbolize the school’s twist on the traditional mission of continuing studies – that is, to solve Canada’s most pressing labour challenges by connecting employers to a highly skilled talent pool through innovative program offerings.

“Our stunning, architecturally twisted learning facility emphasizes sustainable practices, safeguards the environment and lowers operating costs,” said Christine Brooks-Cappadocia, assistant vice-president, Continuing Studies. “This purposeful design, with its abundant natural light and other innovative features, is welcoming and promotes a healthy atmosphere so we can focus on what matters most: excellence in programming and a vibrant community for student interactions.”

Some of the building’s most notable environmental features include: a self-generating heat recovery system; an infrastructure-ready, solar-powered water heater; a high-performing façade system for weather resistance; and daylight harvesting to offset electric lighting requirements. The building is believed to be well positioned to achieve net-zero emissions in the future due to its low energy consumption and ability to accommodate solar photovoltaic panels that convert sunlight into electricity.

But contrary to popular belief, LEED is not only about energy-efficient design. It also considers occupant wellness, an area where the School of Continuing Studies Building focused much attention. Designed with the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion in mind, the building houses a lactation room for nursing mothers and a payer room, plus guide rails, automated doors, standing desks, screens for the visually impaired, elevators and large, wheelchair accessible hallways.

“LEED is a comprehensive sustainability objective,” explained Norm Hawton, director of design and construction for Facilities Services at York, “ranging from site selection and recycling of materials to designing for energy performance, minimizing waste, encouraging wellness – from daylighting to healthy commuting, by providing bicycle racks and showers – and thinking holistically about how this building will contribute to a sustainable lifestyle.”

According to Hawton, the LEED Gold certification could not have been achieved without the contributions of the School of Continuing Studies students, instructors and staff who were instrumental to both the scoping and design phases of the project, the University administrators, consultants, and construction and design teams.

“It was the collaborative participation by all throughout the project, from the initial building concept through to successful operations supporting continuing education, that led to LEED quantify the success of the School of Continuing Studies Building in this way,” he said.

In addition to this new sustainability certification, the building has also been recognized for its interior design achievements. Last October, the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario (ARIDO) named it one of the most vibrant, innovative and inspiring educational spaces of the year – a true testament to York’s visionary leadership in the higher-education building space.

York conference inspires next generation of environmentalists

Change Your World conference 2024 team. Photo credit: Daniel Horawski

With news of environmental crises coming at us at an increasingly alarming rate, it can be easy to dwell on the doom and gloom of it all. York University’s Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) is doing its part to prevent that with its annual conference, Change Your World, which aims to empower Ontario’s youth to be the next generation of global changemakers.

Last week, some 500 Ontario high-school students and their teachers from more than 25 schools gathered in Vari Hall on York’s Keele Campus for the conference, where they spent the day learning how they can make a sustainable and equitable difference in the world – and its future – through a series of activities and workshops hosted in partnership with environmental and community partners from across the province.

Change Your World conference attendees gathered in Vari Hall. Photo by Daniel Horawski.

“At a time when there is a great deal of despair and ‘eco-anxiety’ concerning the state of the planet, it was inspiring to see young people coming together as active citizens to envision a different future,” said Philip Kelly, interim dean of EUC. “Connecting schools and environmentally-focused organizations for thoughtful discussions through events like Change Your World is an important role for the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change in our wider community.”

Pictured, left to right: keynote speaker Joanne Huy, EUC Interim Dean Philip Kelly, keynote speaker Alicia Richins. Photo by Daniel Horawski.

Students began the day by hearing from the conference’s keynote speakers, beginning with Interim Dean Kelly and ending with alumna Alicia Richins, director of strategy and governance for youth sustainability leadership organization Leading Change Canada and creator of multimedia platform the Climateverse.

Richins challenged the audience to consider their passions when choosing what change they should focus on and encouraged them to boldly share ideas, work collaboratively and never give up on their goals to make positive change.

“This annual event is all about showcasing ways youth can lead the change we need in our communities and around the world,” said Lily Piccone, strategic enrolment and communications officer at EUC and Change Your World conference co-ordinator. “Through inspiring keynote speakers, like our very own YU alumni Alicia and Joanne, and our community partners, the students can see local citizens that have turned their passion into a profession and are making positive change for people and the planet”

Toronto-based singer-songwriter and climate activist Brighid Fry performed at the 2024 Change Your World conference.

The students were then able to let their interests guide them by choosing two breakout sessions to participate in from a variety of offerings, including: a workshop on how to build resiliency in the face of anxiety about the future; a giant, immersive board game about power, peace and the planet; hands-on time with wind turbine models and solar panels; a tree identification walk; talks on green infrastructure, climate futurism, the importance of wetlands; and much more.

Following their lunch break, participants were treated to a special guest performance by Toronto-based singer-songwriter and climate activist Brighid Fry, recognized as one of the Top 25 under 25 by non-profit organization the Starfish Canada for her work on sustainability in the music industry. Students wrapped up their day of immersive learning with another workshop and enjoyed one final keynote address by community engagement professional and York alumna Joanne Huy, who shared her passion for transforming lives and communities through learning experiences and making local change in the York University and Jane-and-Finch communities.

Watch the video recap of the day’s events below:

For more information about the annual conference, visit the Change Your World website.

York research looks to improve air quality prediction

York Jack Pine tower in Boreal forest banner

Mark Gordon, a professor in the Earth & Space Science & Engineering Department at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, has dedicated the past five years to forest fieldwork to help create better air quality models that detect the detrimental impact pollutants may have on the environment.

Mark Gordon
Mark Gordon

In the summer of 2023, Toronto was briefly covered in a thick blanket of smoke due to pollution from wildfires in Quebec – causing the bustling city to have some of the worst air quality in the world. During that time, air quality models served as a crucial tool, helping people understand potentially harmful atmospheric conditions and adopt safety measures in the face of potential risks.

The experience served as a demonstration of how important air quality models – which some may have been unaware of until now – can be.

“Air quality models work in the same way weather models do,” says Gordon. “Just like a weather model can tell you when it is going to rain, these models allow us to understand air quality and inform necessary action.” Beyond this, air quality models are used to help control air pollution and monitor the impact of pollutants on natural ecosystems like grasslands and forests.

Gordon’s work looks to further the significance of air quality models by improving their accuracy to reflect real atmospheric conditions as closely as possible. “Getting air quality models right is crucial,” says Gordon. “Accurate models can help predict many things, like how pollutants from a newly implemented industrial site might impact nearby communities.”

To achieve this, physical and chemical properties and processes of various pollutants in the atmosphere need to be first measured and analyzed. Then, mathematical and numerical techniques are used to simulate the collected data and create or improve air quality models.

In a recently concluded project funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada, Gordon has looked to do just that.

He and his graduate students Kaiti (Timothy) Jiang, Xuanyi Zhang and Dane Blanchard measured pollutant emissions – emphasizing those with greatest impact on climate, vegetation and natural ecosystems – from the Athabasca oil sands region in northern Alberta to examine how pollutants interact with the nearby boreal forest. Measurements were also compared with values used in existing air quality models to validate their accuracy.

From left to right: Kaiti (Timothy) Jiang (MSc 2018), Xuanyi Zhang (MSc 2020) and Gordon standing in front of the York Athabasca Jack Pine tower.
From left to right: Kaiti (Timothy) Jiang, Xuanyi Zhang and Gordon standing in front of the York Athabasca Jack Pine tower.

A 100-foot retractable tower, the York Athabasca Jack Pine tower, was erected in the boreal forest, equipped with tools to measure the concentration of the pollutants and used to examine their activity as well as their physical and chemical properties. In particular, the team looked to investigate how fast the surrounding forest takes the pollutants out of the air.

After five years of fieldwork in a remote forest, countless hours of research and a few encounters with bears, Gordon and his research team published three unique papers, each focused on one of the three distinct and harmful pollutants: aerosols, sulfur dioxide and ozone.

The trilogy of investigations resulted in insights that can help improve the accuracy of existing air quality models and support further studies. The goal is that in others drawing on Gordon and his team’s information and air quality model algorithms, inaccuracies of current air quality models can be corrected to reflect real-world conditions and establish more precise models.

LA&PS prof publishes three books in one month

colorful book shelf banner

A busy 2023 has led to Hassan Qudrat-Ullah, a professor in York University’s School of Administrative Studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), publishing three new books in short succession this past November, covering topics as diverse as systems thinking, supply chain management and sustainable development.

Hassan Qudrat-Ullah
Hassan Qudrat-Ullah

The first of the three, Managing Complex Tasks with Systems Thinking (Springer, 2023), is about improving human decision making and performance in complex tasks. Using a systems thinking approach, it presents innovative and insightful solutions to various managerial issues in various domains, including agriculture, education, climate change, digital transformation, health care, supply chains and sustainability.

Qudrat-Ullah’s second recently published work, a co-edited volume with York University Research Fellow Syed Imran Ali called Advanced Technologies and the Management of Disruptive Supply Chains: The Post-COVID Era (Springer, 2023), explores the cost-effective and efficient supply chain management strategies required to achieve resilience in the post-COVID environment.

“The book follows a didactic approach through which it informs global researchers and practitioners to deal with the most significant insights on future supply chains with a more in-depth analysis of post-COVID opportunities and challenges,” said Qudrat-Ullah. “In particular, it provides an in-depth assessment of disruptive supply chain management in certain industrial contexts and explores various industry 4.0 and industry 5.0 technologies to achieve resilience.”

The final book of the bunch, Exploring the Dynamics of Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development in Africa: A Cross-Country and Interdisciplinary Approach (Springer, 2023), explores the potential of renewable energy sources to promote sustainable development in Africa, with a specific focus on Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa and Algeria. It delves into the challenges and opportunities presented by various renewable and clean energy technologies, including nuclear power, liquefied petroleum gas, bamboo biomass gasification and geothermal energy in addressing the energy needs of African nations. Additionally, it assesses the socio-economic and environmental impacts of renewable energy projects and evaluates their alignment with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“The book’s interdisciplinary and cross-country approach, as well as its incorporation of innovative concepts like social innovation and bamboo-based development, makes it a unique resource,” said the author.

Student film exploring community-based sustainability screens at COP28

film camera

A documentary short created by York University PhD student Peyman Naeemi and supported by CIFAL York was competitively accepted to screen on Dec. 11 at the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, as part of COP28’s Canada Pavilion events program.

York University PhD student Peyman Naeemi at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai
York University PhD student Peyman Naeemi at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai.

In collaboration with CIFAL York and EnviroMuslims, A Faithful Commitment to Sustainability examines an innovative, community-based sustainability program that a group of volunteers at the Jaffari Community Center (JCC) in Vaughan, Ont., undertook during the holy month of Ramadan while hosting and feeding more than 2,000 individuals every night. The film shows how the community was able to significantly minimize food and plastic waste and take major steps towards contributing to sustainability goals at the community level.

“Screening at COP28 is an exciting and exceptional opportunity for me and the film to further spread its message,” says Naeemi, who is currently at the conference in Dubai to take part in events and promote his film. “Considering the focus on the role of culture in climate change action at COP28, this documentary brings an example of such contribution, as faith is rooted in our culture.”

A second-year PhD student in York’s Department of Humanities, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), Naeemi – who also puts his skills to use assisting CIFAL York’s multimedia unit – filmed, edited, directed and produced the film himself, with support from his PhD supervisory committee.

Using an interview style, Naeemi says the film seeks to highlight the following: the role of faith in initiating sustainable programs; the impact of family and community engagement in teaching sustainable practices; the role of Muslim women as sustainability leaders; and the advantages of using passionate youth to drive innovative sustainability practices.

“This documentary is very much in line with our focus area in developing learning materials around advancing UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” says Ali Asgary, director of CIFAL York, a professor of disaster and emergency management, and one of Naeemi’s PhD supervisors. “Screening this documentary at COP28 is very significant, as it highlights the importance and connections between the SDGs and the climate change.”

Adjunct Professor Mark Terry, another member of Naeemi’s supervisory committee, who helped produce the film through his Youth Climate Report project, calls A Faithful Commitment to Sustainability “a remarkable film.”

“I’m very proud of Peyman for making a film that Canada wanted to showcase at this year’s COP28 climate summit in Dubai,” he says.

At COP28, Naeemi looks forward to receiving expert feedback on the film and learning from peers about how to expand its reach on a global scale. Attending the conference, he hopes, will also enrich the theoretical part of his thesis, giving him exposure to the world’s leading experts on environmental action.

Regarding his future plans, Naeemi says A Faithful Commitment to Sustainability will screen at the JCC, at York and potentially other universities, and at film festivals like the Planet in Focus International Environmental Film Festival. It will then be available for public viewing online, on the CIFAL York and CIFAL Global websites. On the academic side, Naeemi plans to use the documentary as a case study in an upper-level undergraduate course, highlighting the role of digital media in environmental and social movements.

How one professor is engaging community to shrink York’s carbon footprint

York Professor Burkard Eberlein, from the Schulich School of Business, set out to reduce the University’s carbon emissions in his 2021-23 Provostial Fellowship.

Burkard Eberlein
Burkard Eberlein

Through the program, Fellows have traditionally engaged the community to take action on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Challenge – a key commitment of the University Academic Plan.

Eberlein’s project, “Advancing Carbon Neutrality at York: Reimagining Mobility,” took aim at reducing emissions from commuting and travel to studying, research and carrying out University business activities.

In 2022, Eberlein surveyed York community members about their travel and commuting routines, and this year he released a video highlighting the University’s current carbon footprint with a call to action suggesting how community members can help reduce it.

Here’s a look at the inspiration behind his work.

Q: What was the thinking behind creating this video and what did you hope to achieve?
A: I was looking for engaging and fun ways to communicate my findings to the wider community. I wanted this to be something we could all relate to and that would work as a call to action.

I worked with Alexandre Magnin, a francophone illustrator, who produced this animated video (available in English and French). Alex has a YouTube channel called “Sustainability illustrated” and he does excellent videos on sustainability that I have used before in my teaching. I provided the script and Alex produced this fantastic work to engage the community in thinking about ways they can help York achieve its net zero before 2040 target.

Q: What are some concrete ways community members can make an impact?
A: First thing, just be more mindful of the choices that you make when it comes to commuting and travel. Many of us have habits and routines that we can examine more closely. For example, if you’re driving to campus regularly, are there ways you can set up a car pool with colleagues or classmates? This would be a small but meaningful, positive change.

Bike share station on York University's Keele campus
A bike share station on York University’s Keele Campus.

Below are some concrete steps that people can take, along with advocating to get more community members involved:

  • Taking the bus or the subway can reduce emissions by around six (bus) and 30 (subway) times compared to driving alone. 
  • Walking and biking generate virtually no emissions and York is investing in bike share programs
  • Driving an electric car typically generates a third of the emissions compared to fossil fuel vehicles. 
  • When driving a car, the more people in it the more efficient it becomes. 
  • Make your business travel count and consider whether you can deliver a presentation remotely or think about conference travel sustainably. 

Q: What is your biggest takeaway or lesson learned from this project?
A: Change is hard and it requires both passion and perseverance. Begin with small steps and make sure to involve all of your fellow community members and partners. By coming together, we can show what is possible to right the future.


Eberlein is co-chair of the Transportation Working Group that will develop proposals in this area (e.g. York business travel policy), in the context of York’s new sustainability framework. He is also looking forward to sharing his comprehensive slide deck and report on how York can reduce carbon emissions from commuting and business travel when it is officially released.

Learn more about Eberlein’s work as a curricular champion to support the UN SDGs and his work to engage students in reducing York’s carbon footprint. 

Watch the video here:

C4 partnership to tackle climate anxiety

image shows a forest and stream

By Alexander Huls, deputy editor, YFile

York University’s C4: Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom program has partnered with GHD – an award-winning international company that offers engineering, architecture and construction services – and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) to help students tackle climate anxiety.

Over the course of the upcoming 12-week winter term, up to 70 undergraduates will work with the partners to pursue multidisciplinary projects exploring the term’s challenge question: “How can we help young people in the Greater Toronto Area overcome climate anxiety, to be empowered to inform and drive our future pathways to an equitable and sustainable city?”

As the students develop their collaborative projects, GHD and TRCA will provide 10 to 20 hours of guidance throughout the term, including bringing in subject matter experts to participate, encourage and answer any technical questions that might arise.

Danielle Robinson
Danielle Robinson

GHD became interested in partnering with C4 while working on an environmental project with York, eager to find an opportunity to collaborate further with the University. “We were instantly interested in the C4 Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom and how it engages multidisciplinary teams to solve some of the world’s biggest problems,” says Tina Marano, GHD’s future communities leader, Canada, who will be involved with the program and students throughout the C4 winter term.

Early meetings with C4 made clear that a partnership would be a natural fit. “With GHD there was a clear alignment around our interests and values,” says Danielle Robinson, associate professor and co-founder of C4.

Like C4, GHD prioritizes sustainability in its work – with a focus on water, energy, infrastructure, and sustainable cities and communities – and seeks to drive positive change and make meaningful contributions to global sustainability goals.

Tina Marano
Tina Marano

GHD also shares an optimism that’s rooted in the capstone program and experience. “We’re a very positive, hopeful space. We think that we and our students can make a difference in the world and that we just need to figure out how to organize ourselves in order to do that,” says Robinson. “We need a partner that believes in those things.”

GHD does, says Marano. “Working with young professionals and new graduates across our organization and through partnerships like this, we nurture a culture that embraces optimism, collaboration, experimentation and curiosity,” she says.

The partnership with the TRCA acting as the community stakeholder followed soon after, and the organization echoes the shared goals of its partners. “We’re a community-based organization, so we want to look to our communities to help us find the solutions to the problems that we all face together,” says Darryl Gray, director, education and training at TRCA.

In the weeks ahead, the aim – as it is for all C4 partnerships – for the program is to benefit both partners and students.

Franz Newland
Franz Newland

For partners, the participating students provide fresh insights and point-of-views that are needed to right the future. “What we have found is getting the student and multidisciplinary perspective can often bring new ideas and approaches to the partners that they might not have considered before,” adds Franz Newland, professor and co-founder of C4 with Robinson.

“We need to work and think differently. We need to collaborate and exchange ideas with bright, young minds and emerging leaders that believe that change and impact is possible,” agrees Marano.

Partners working with undergraduate students also provides an opportunity through experiential learning to develop skills needed for them to, potentially, pursue a sustainability career. “Among the broader conversation we are having with York is, ‘How do we make sure that post-secondary institutions are meeting the workforce development needs of future employers?’ ” says Gray.

Opportunities like these can help provide that, closing a potential onboarding gap with developing skills students will need if they enter the sustainability field – whether with C4 partners or other organizations.

In addition to benefiting with real-world experience and connections to leading organizations, students also gain critical confidence in their abilities and potential to create change. “One of the things that we hope we uniquely offer our students is a chance to really find out who they are as leaders,” says Robinson.

“Organizations like GHD and TRCA help empower their voices so that they can feel there are people who are keen to listen,” says Newland.

That, he says, is a crucial element for this generation of students who can often feel anxious about the climate crisis without knowing what they can do about it, and if their point-of-view will even be heard.

“Often in these spaces there’s a sense of impotence or inability to actually take action, which is part of that challenge,” says Newland. “The fact that organizations like this are looking to engage students’ voices really points to the fact that they recognize that the existing solutions maybe aren’t doing what we need, and we need to be thinking about listening to other voices that may actually have a better path forward.”

The C4 program and its partners help them do that. “They get a chance to find out what skills and knowledge they have and what they can do with them to address a particular challenge the world is facing. It gives them a chance to see what they’re capable of in a really safe space where they can test their boundaries, fail, succeed,” says Robinson. “They want to feel empowered, to help repair the world. They need to see what their contribution might be.”

Applications for C4 are still open: yorku.ca/c4/apply-for-c4/winter-2024.

York community key in new target to achieve net-zero emissions a decade early 

Net Zero 2040 Sustainability Announcement York University

Faculty, staff and students at York University will be part of a progressive next step to build a more sustainable future for all as outlined by a new aspirational target for the University to reach net-zero emissions a decade earlier than originally planned. 

Shared on Nov. 23 by President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton during a special event, the announcement highlights one of the most ambitious net-zero targets in the Canadian post-secondary sector.   

With bold ambition to become one of the most sustainable institutions in Canada, York University is accelerating its timeline and aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040 – a decade sooner than its previous commitment.  

The new aspirational target is part of York’s renewed sustainability policy, which includes a commitment to develop and implement a process to track, measure, evaluate and report progress toward net-zero emissions. 

To support this ambition, York recently released its own comprehensive emissions data and ecological footprint assessment from the Ecological Footprint Initiative – a group of York’s scholars, students, researchers and collaborating organizations working together to advance the measurement of ecological footprint and biocapacity – making it the first Canadian institution to do so. This new report provides York with information to identify opportunities to reduce its emissions and develop innovative solutions to support a more sustainable future. 

“The United Nations has stated that climate change is the defining issue of our time, and the world is at a pivotal moment requiring urgent action,” says Lenton. “As an internationally recognized leader in sustainability, York University has a responsibility to act on global challenges facing humanity, including ecological degradation, climate change and growing socio-economic inequality. The bold actions we are taking on our campuses, and in our local and global communities, will build on the strong foundation we have created and move us closer to our goal of becoming one of the most sustainable institutions in Canada.”

York’s ability to strive toward ambitious sustainable change is due in part to the expertise, experience and forward thinking that takes place across its campuses. The University draws on the strengths of its diverse community to approach sustainability through a holistic lens of collaboration, innovation and knowledge mobilization.  

As a core value of the institution, York has embedded sustainability in every aspect of University life – teaching, learning, research and operations. An example of this expertise in action can be found in projects supported through York’s Sustainability Innovation Fund, including a green career fair, a campus composting centre and more. 

To further advance the cutting-edge sustainability research done by the York community, the University announced a new $1-million allocation to the fund, which is currently accepting applications for projects that advance the University’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as contribute to advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 13 (Climate Action).  

The power of community engagement to create positive change has long been part of York’s legacy in becoming a more sustainable university. Activities conducted through the Office of Sustainability and sustainability-focused student groups empower York students, faculty and staff to take part in events such as campus clean-ups, film screenings, learning opportunities and tree plantings. In the past two years, community members have planted over 1,000 trees on the Glendon and Keele campuses.  

The York community is also being engaged though consultations that are currently underway to update the Sustainability Strategy, with an aim of completion for spring 2024. York students, faculty, instructors and staff can provide their input in person or virtually to shape York’s sustainability priorities and help create a more sustainable future. 

“Sustainability starts with our own actions,” said Mike Layton, York’s chief sustainability officer. “We also have a responsibility to our communities – locally and beyond – to ensure we are all contributing to advancing environmental and social sustainability across society. This new announcement demonstrates York’s commitment to sustainability and I look forward to the many ways we will work with the community in service of our new target.” 

The Nov. 23 event included a panel about how York is using data and innovative solutions to shrink its footprint. Insights were also shared by York experts, including: Eric Miller, director of the Ecological Footprint Initiative in the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change; Pirathayini Srikantha, associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Reliable and Secure Power Grid Systems at York’s Lassonde School of Engineering; Usman Khan, associate professor at Lassonde; and Steve Prince, director, Energy Management, Facilities Services at York. 

The announcement also featured a short play with students from York’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design; a short video about sustainable travel by Burkard Eberlein, former provostial Fellow and professor from York’s Schulich School of Business; and samples of Las Nubes coffee for attendees to take home. After nearly a decade, Las Nubes coffee has made its way back to Canada and is available in select locations on York’s campuses, including Central Square and Glendon Marché. Part of the proceeds from the coffee sales will go toward supporting York’s Las Nubes Research and Conservation Program.

For more on the event, visit News@York.