Reflecting on sustainability

Maude Barlow, Canadian author, activist and chair of the Council of Canadians, speaks about the global water crisis at NC’s 2012 Day of Reflection.  To view event photo gallery click here.

 

It was a day to reflect, a day to inspire change.

Staff from the College community gathered at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus on May 3 for the Day of Reflection, an annual event where staff and faculty explore and discuss key issues facing the College. This year’s event’s theme was “You + NC = A Sustainable Future.”

Acting president Steve Hudson pointed out that sustainability was introduced into the College’s strategic plan in 2009, marking a shift from a growth model to a sustainability model. The College’s Sustainability Committee was born along with a recognition that it’s time for everyone at the College had to take action.

Data collected by the College’s Sustainability Committee and through the Niagara Sustainability Initiative was presented at this year’s Day of Reflection to help quantify the College’s Environmental impact. It was reported that:

·The amount of paper the College uses in a year – more than 46 million sheets – when stacked would equal the combined height of more than eight CN Towers;

·The College’s water consumption is the equivalent of leaving a tap running for 15 years;

·Enough waste in generated in the average year to fill the Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus courtyard more than four times; and

·Carbon emissions are the equivalent of what a car would generate driving around the circumference of the earth 576 times.

The College’s goal is to achieve a 65% waste diversion rate, reducing paper consumption by 50%, reducing carbon emissions and electricity use by 10%,  and to reducing water consumption by 5%.

“What I have learned is that until we understand how we’re doing things and what the impact is of what we’re doing, can you make changes to reduce the amount of resources you’re consuming,” said Teresa Quinlan, NC’s vice-president of Corporate Services and co-chair of the Sustainability Committee. “Not only does this have a positive financial impact but also a social impact on being a responsible organization, and this is what we’re trying to achieve.”

Inspirational speeches

The event’s keynote speaker was Maude Barlow, Canadian author, activist and national chair of the Council of Canadians who spoke about the global water crisis. Blasting the “myth of abundance,” she noted that there is a finite amount of water in the world and a dire need to protect our precious water supplies.

“We’ve polluted it and mismanaged it to the point where it isn’t where you can get at it anymore,” she said. “We have damned all the major rivers of the world in order to grow food in places that are inappropriate, mostly water diversion for crop production, and as we move forward to a more industrial model of crop production, we’re using more and more water badly.”

She also noted that ground water is being pumped faster than nature intended. With increasingly advanced technology, wells are being drilled into the earth as deep as skyscrapers go into the air, pumping out water that is not being replenished.

“Demand is going straight up and supply is going straight down,” she said.  “By 2030, demand in our world for fresh water will exceed supply by 40%.”

She noted that areas of the world are running out of water, with many countries already in crisis.

“The crisis around our displacement and the use of water is probably at least an important a cause of climate change as fossil fuels,” she said.

Barlow believes the struggle for water is the greatest human rights struggle of our time.

“While we are surrounded by water in Canada, sooner or later the world is going to come calling for our water,” she said. “The question is, how have we taken care of our water and I would say the answer is not very well.”

She underlined the need for greater measures to protect the Great Lakes and encouraged the NC community to visit the Council of Canadian’s Website at Canadians.org.

“We have to stop thinking about water as a personal resource for our pleasure, convenience and profit, and start seeing water as the heart of a living ecosystem that gives live,” she said. “If we don’t take care of it, it’s not going to be here to take care of us.”

The event also featured another special guest, Sasha Gupta, global sustainability steward and author of The Cloud that Changed, who is a global maintenance planner at Research in Motion.

Gupta shared his personal transformative journey from someone who, like many, previously blocked out the poverty around him during trips to India and Bangladesh. The sudden realization that he could have reached out to help the poor who were all around him, hit him hard. In an effort to help others come to the same realization that everyone on Earth is connected, he wrote The Cloud that Changed.

He spoke of the thoughts that inspired him to write the book, before the children’s book was read aloud by faculty member Barbara Mantini.

“The amount of water on Earth is fixed, but it is always moving. For example, the water in your cup of tea this morning, could have been part of a cloud over a rainforest a million years ago. Or the water in your water right now, could be part of a river flowing in India next year,” he said. “We are all connected. We all share the same universal energy.”

Change in action

Many attendees got a good start in helping to make a difference. Staff and faculty were encouraged to explore environmentally-friendlier alternative modes of transportation. They arrived to the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus by bike, public transportation, in carpools, and even by foot.

Staff participated in Great Ideas For Targeting Sustainablity sessions. They had opportunities to brainstorm on how to make NC more sustainable through conversation cafes, with suggestions shared via text messages and displayed on the big screen.

They enjoyed a vegetarian lunch prepared by the Canadian Food and Wine Institute and browsed displays from vendors such as Ten Thousand Villages, Go Green e-cycle, and Bike Welland.

Share your ideas with us

Do you have ideas on how to make NC more sustainable? Did your group come up with interesting points at the Day of Reflection? Share your comments with us on InsideNC.

 

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