Waste Not, Want Not’s fireside chat highlights the importance of a university curriculum based in sustainability

Some important voices at Concordia come together to discuss a sustainability curriculum and fight against the climate crisis

On Thursday, Jan. 13, Waste Not, Want Not, a compost and waste reduction initiative at Concordia, hosted a virtual fireside chat. The purpose of the conversation was to discuss the future implementation of sustainability education into the curriculum at Concordia. This curriculum would give all students at Concordia a greater understanding of sustainability and the climate crisis.

The panel discussion included both student leaders and university administrators: Chief Data Officer at Times Higher Education, Duncan Ross, Concordia University Provost and Vice-President Anne Whitelaw, Concordia Student Union (CSU) Sustainability Coordinator Faye Sun and Waste Not, Want Not founder Keroles Riad. The conversation detailed the implementation of sustainability education, touching  on the timeline, importance and effect that such a curriculum would have on students at Concordia.

The conversation followed a referendum question proposed by the CSU in 2021, which saw 89 per cent of students vote on implementing sustainability education into the curriculum. The question was proposed in a by-election which saw a 20 per cent student turnout, the highest in CSU history.

While the curriculum is not currently in development, Concordia has already begun doing more work in the field of sustainability in 2020 with the Sustainability Action Plan. One aspect of this plan is forming a committee, and one of the topics of discussion is on curriculum development. But for Riad, any step the university takes towards supporting the initiative is important, including the fireside in itself.

“I think it’s one of those situations where it feels as if the university makes progress just by showing up,” said Riad. “Having senior administrators get out of their comfort zone, outside of those scripted PR events and actually have a conversation that is real, and that discusses different perspectives — I think that’s really important.”

The goal of the initiative would be to have all students at Concordia learn about sustainability and the climate crisis. In the meantime, according to Riad, the John Molson School of Business (JMSB) and the Faculty of Fine Arts are currently working on their own sustainability initiatives. But, to create a university-wide curriculum, there is a lot more that needs to be done.

“Number one is a commitment, a goal that everybody agrees on. Number two is a mechanism that ensures that we are getting to that goal in the proper timeline, with built-in flexibility where all our departments and programs can design curriculum the best way for their own disciplines,” said Riad.

“The last thing I think [is needed] is university support, and resources that programs and professors can access so that the initiative is not broken.”

During the discussion Whitelaw mentioned the university is already working on creating some of these resources.

“We will be hiring a sustainability curriculum developer in our centre for teaching and learning that will be supporting faculty members to include sustainability content in their courses,” she said.

A curriculum based around sustainability isn’t a unique idea. A similar program was put in place by Université Laval in 2009, which took ten years to fully implement. This timeline roughly falls in line with the goal of implementing a similar initiative at Concordia by 2030.

With growing fears of the climate crisis and sustainability becoming a more and more popular topic, for Riad this new curriculum can’t come soon enough.

“There’s nothing that prevents the university from saying, ‘Well, look, we heard you were listening. Let’s move even faster, let’s be more ambitious,’” said Riad. “You’re not going to hear me or anybody at the university saying ‘Oh, please don’t move so fast. Don’t go too fast. You’re being too ambitious.’ Nobody’s gonna say that.”

Riad believes that conversations surrounding sustainability at the university level are an important step in a very long road to greater climate action.

“It’s like a marathon. I think today was a good step forward, but we have not reached the finish line. And I think we should not only keep running, but accelerate faster.”You can view the Fireside Chat here. Learn more about Waste Not ,Want Not here.

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