Are We Canada's University or is it too late?

Friday, February 03, 2012

I am going to do a couple of things in this post that I promised to never do so if my words seem a little out of place, don't worry... it's not you, it's me.

First, I am going to admit that my first reaction to our University's slogan, "Canada's University" was not one of ecstatic enthusiasm. The slogan was launched 10 years ago as a means to differentiate uOttawa. It was clever because the university teaches in both official languages and is located in the National Capital. But I had the reaction that most people had... "that slogan sounds a little pretentious".

Well it is 10 years later and I am not a student anymore, I am a staff member. And until a little while ago, I still wasn't really sold on the University's slogan. I mean seriously, come on... what makes us so good that we get the coveted title of Canada's University?
And maybe I would have kept thinking that way until...

So I have been following this group called We Canada. This is an inspiring group of volunteers that have made it their mission to bring awareness of the Earth Summit 2012 and Canada's position with respects to environmental issues on the international stage. And then I heard the story of Gro Harlem Brundtland and the first Earth Summit. I already knew that Gro was the world's first ever Minister of the Environment, but what I didn't know is that  when she asked the world who would join Norway and create more ministries of the the environment... the world was silent. Until another small northern country put up their hand and said yes, you will not stand alone. Canada became the second country in the world to have a Minister of the Environment.

I was pissed because this was at this time that our government officially pulled out of the Kyoto Accord to avoid paying financial penalties for not keeping to our obligations. I couldn't help but think to myself, "Is this really what Canada is?" I listened closely to the arguments about why we pulled out and it always came back to the same thing - it would cost too much money for Canada to achieve our Kyoto Targets.

Now here is the other thing I don't like to do in my blog posts, brag. I don't like bragging very much because it is decidedly a very unCanadian thing to do. But this time it is unavoidable; this has to be said. When I heard that "it was not possible for Canada to reach it's Kyoto obligations", that was the last straw... because that is simply not true.

Now, I do a lot of presentations about uOttawa's sustainability performance and I talk a lot about our water consumption, our energy consumption, and our waste diversion. And in passing I mention our excellent performance with respects to Green House Gas Emissions. But I don't think I emphasize this enough because if I did then everyone would know that even if the government says we can't achieve Kyoto, the University of Ottawa did in 2010 (a full year ahead of when the international obligations were supposed to kick in).

Not too bad right? Yeah, but what you have to keep in mind is that the University grew by more than 50% since the 1990's (both in space and in population). And despite that we managed to drop our emissions by 6%. And guess what, we didn't bankrupt the University to do this, quite the opposite. Since 1993, the energy reduction programs have saved the University $39.9 Million cumulatively. And we haven't stopped there. The recent Copenhagen Accord asks countries for a 17% reduction in CO2 from 2005 levels by the year 2020. Good news everyone, you don't have to wait because we got that taken care of last year. I believe the appropriate expression here is double rainbow!

As a final little anecdote, a sustainability consultant called up my boss this week and asked him how the University of Ottawa decides what its emissions targets are going to be? I mean, if we have already met Kyoto and we have already met Copenhagen.... what's next? My boss' response - a 34% reduction in CO2 from 2005 levels. The rational being, "take whatever it is that people find hard to do and double it - that's the only way that you are ever going to inspire them."

I think back to what Canada did when it created its Ministry of the Environment. We did the right thing because Canadians care about the environment. I may not have thought that we earned the title of Canada's University before but now...
We have held our energy consumption flat since 1974; we have reduced our water consumption by over 15% in the last year alone; we are the current and three time Canadian champions of RecycleMania; we are ranked as the 15th most sustainable university in the World, and we do it all in two languages. Canada's University, if you don't like it... tough...get over it.

~ jonathan rausseo - campus sustainability manager
photo credit - jonathan rausseo

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