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An overview of sustainability at Dal

This year has been a milestone year for sustainability at Dalhousie. The College of Sustainability is celebrating its 10-year anniversary and a new climate change operations plan was published by the Office of Sustainability  — its first update in nine years. 

While Dalhousie has been addressing sustainability for over 30 years, it wasn’t until 2006-2008 that a more directed and systematic approach was introduced. In this time, the Office of Sustainability was created to address operational sustainability, the Student Sustainability Office began supporting student action and the College of Sustainability was created to offer academic programs in sustainability. 

Today, these three bodies, along with around 20 other representatives, make up the President’s Advisory Council on Sustainability, or PACS. It meets roughly once a semester, and aims to increase awareness, develop and adopt policies and build partnerships related to sustainability.  

Steve Mannell, director of the Sustainability College, said it is impressive that a body like PACS has existed so effectively and for so long. A collaboration of this nature, he said, allows for a more authentic institutional change and helps the university to fill its role as a place of learning and knowledge sharing.  

Here’s a rundown of what they’ve been working on: 

Office of Sustainability 

The Dalhousie Office of Sustainability reports to the vice-president of finance and administration. Their projects generally involve increasing awareness of sustainability and improving the sustainability of operations in and around Dalhousie.  

Rochelle Owen, the Executive Director of the Office, said over the last 10 years, an estimated $97 million has been invested by the Office of Sustainability and its partners on these projects. Some of the recent projects that the office has taken on have included adopting a green construction plan that requires all new buildings to meet LEED Gold standards, a plan for waste management and a number of energy audits.   

Earlier this year, the office released the second edition of their Climate Change Operations Plan; the first edition was released in 2010.  

The new plan is based on input from over 1,500 campus and community members. It acknowledges the important societal role that academic institutions play in climate research and action. It also aims to reduce emissions, adapt to climate change and increase awareness of climate issues. 

“There’s a lot of work that we do that people don’t see, like on the roofs or in the heating systems” said Owen. She also explained that facilitating sustainability projects at Dalhousie comes with unique challenges, given its physical size and population. With no decentralized accountability or authority bodies, sustainability efforts often require time and cooperation to be successful. 


The Student Sustainability Office reports directly to the DSU and aims both to promote campus sustainability and to act as a liaison between students and Dal’s administration. DSUSO facilitates a number of campus programs on an ongoing basis, including providing green grants to sustainability projects, hosting an annual green gala and organizing community events, such as clothing swaps.  

In addition to their work with PACS, DSUSO and the Office of Sustainability will also be working together in the coming months to help complete a sustainability report to present to the incoming university president. The topic of sustainability was selected by focus groups in the planning process, and the report will be just one of a collection of self-studies being completed prior to the new president’s arrival.  

Sabrina Guzman Skotnitsky, Director of DSUSO, said this kind of collaborative climate action coming from academic institutions is important. “Universities have this normative power because they are centres of education,” she said. “They really have, not only the ability, but the responsibility to be leaders on climate change and environmental issues.”  

While the administration has greater financial resources and longevity of positions, she said, students and student groups can make more political demands and work to keep the university accountable. 

College of Sustainability 

The College of Sustainability offered its first classes in 2009 and has seen over 500 students graduate from its environment, sustainability and society (ESS) program since then. The college prioritizes taking an interdisciplinary approach to sustainability; students are encouraged to work and learn collaboratively with other students and with community members. 

The ESS program involves an evening lecture series that runs each semester and brings together a variety of topics and speakers, often including the work being done by current or former students. It also includes a capstone class that pairs student groups with community partners, to gain consulting experience with sustainability projects. 

The college offers a Sustainability Leadership Certificate which, over the course of three weekend sessions, encourages students to gain knowledge and skills and to implement a community action project. The college also offers an online sustainability learning program that anyone, student or otherwise, can complete.  

“We have immense privilege here,” director Mannell said. “If we don’t use it to actually think about ways that we can improve things in the world at large, we’re kind of squandering that privilege.” 

The new plan 

Dalhousie’s 2019 climate plan says that most of its 2010 targets have been achieved. Among others, emission was reduced by 20 per cent. Its goal to reduce it by 50 per cent by 2020, however, will not be achieved.  

The plan outlines what is at high risk to campus, associated with rising temperatures: energy, infrastructure, storm-water systems, agricultural lands.  

It also specifies Dal’s climate action goals and how to achieve them:  

Source: Dal’s 2019 Climate Change Operations Plan

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