A Campus Environmental Charter

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A charter document with a focus on green issues for the University of Ottawa

For a couple of years now I have been trying to get the community behind the idea of creating an environmental charter of rights for the University of Ottawa community. And sure, what could be more boring then a legal framework premised completely on soft laws? But I urge you to take a moment to think about what this kind of thing could mean for a campus... and maybe even a city.

So what is an environmental charter of rights? I am glad you asked.
A charter is basically a testament to the rights that are granted to a group of individuals. It sometimes outlines rules and regulations that are meant to be followed and respected. When we talk about an environmental charter of rights we are basically talking about the rights individuals have to environmental services. Think clean air and drinking water.

A few years ago I approached an environmental law course with the task of creating an environmental charter for the uOttawa campus. The result was two amazing reports that approached the problem from 2 different points of view. And thus my love affair with the concept was strengthened.

The functional part of this whole process is the creation of  a body to help deal with environmental complaints. For example, let's say the University is going to develop a new building and in doing so they need to demolish a park with 20 trees in it. A charter would state that the University needs to replace the green space and trees with green space and trees of similar value. But of course, who would receive the complaint, verify that a solution was accepted, and follow up to ensure that work was done?

All these questions still need to be answered as we are in a very early stages of the project. We plan on having community consultations to get an idea of what environmental services the campus community treasures. The idea being that everyone should have a voice when it comes to defining what our environment should look like.

I suppose I can't really finish this post without mentioning some of the benefits of having a charter. Proponents will tell you that creating a mechanism to protect environmental features on campus will help battle nature deficit disorder and in turn improve people's concentration and productivity. There is also the argument that a charter would help the University craft better policies around environmental stewardship. This could become a model that the City of Ottawa could eventuality emulate. There are many benefits indeed but I think the most important is that it will help individuals see that this campus is a living space that they have a responsibility and right to protect.

~jON - campus sustainability manager
phto credit - jonathan rausseo

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