Every year, the UI GreenMetric University Rankings for sustainability loom over my head. It is kind of a strange feeling really. I know that uOttawa is a leader when it comes to sustainability but sustainability is a broad topic and depending on how you want to measure sustainability, the results could vary.
Let me give you an example. uOttawa has amazingly low GHG emissions. Compared to other campuses of our size, we are a third to half the emissions of others. But when it comes to the number of courses that we offer related to sustainability... well we have some but a place like the University of British Columbia or Dalhousie have us beat hands down. Or what about green space? uOttawa has a dense urban campus, meaning that we have a very small energy footprint, but we aren't like Royal Roads who have over 300 hectares or natural forest setting... Which one is more sustainable?
I worry about what our score will be not because a bad score will reflect poorly upon our office, but because I don't want the campus community ti lose faith in the effectiveness of our programs. We do good work and the people in my team deserve to be recognized for their tenacity, grit, and sacrifice.
Well I am not going to dangle you on a hook and not tell you how we did until the end of this blog post, I mean the title probably gave you a big hint. This year the University of Ottawa ranked 27th in the world, and second in Canada for sustainable institutions! You can check out the overall rankings on the UI GreenMetric website.
No we weren't number one in Canada, that honour goes to the University of Sherbrooke. We did improve a lot since last year though. In 2014, we ranked 126th in the world and 8th in Canada (I contend this was because of a clerical error but c'est la vie). In prior years, uOttawa has been ranked as high as 14th, but the competition increases every year with dozens of more institutions getting ranked. Not to mention that new criteria are added every year.
When you break the numbers down, uOttawa does pretty good in a lot of categories. We are top 20 in transportation, water, and waste. We are a little further down this list when it comes to Infrastructure (346) and Education (134).
The GreenMetric rankings have been criticized for a couple of things that are worth mentioning. First, there is very little transparency and accountability. An institution could conceivably lie about their performance and no one has the capacity to check up on them. Second, it is hard to see how the scoring works and which points are valued more. As I mentioned, uOttawa doesn't have as much forest cover as other institutions, but we do have a cornucopia of community garden spaces.... shouldn't that count for something?
But then again, there aren't any other groups out there trying to measure sustainability at this scale. The Cool Schools Rankings by Sierra Club are starting to make some headway, but it is still mostly just a United States thing. The UI GreenMetric ranking has representatives from dozens of countries.
Of course, all this might be moot because it is impossible to accurately measure sustainability, especially for the purposes of ranking institutions. Every place has its unique physical, social, and political characteristics that mean that one person's reality is completely unrealistic somewhere else.
That being said, I am more than happy to take this victory for now and thank the dozens of people who have made the University of Ottawa one of the most sustainable universities in the world.