Sustainable development, here and now

April 24, 2024
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Headshot of Pierre Cossette

This op-ed was published in The Hill Times on April 22, 2024.

Earth Day is a call to action. The United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals are a roadmap for collective progress. Unfortunately, these goals are seen by a significant proportion of our society, particularly young people, as almost unattainable. Yet many solutions exist already, and the challenge is to scale-up our actions far beyond current levels. Universities can be excellent laboratories for demonstrating the impact of innovative practices that are already producing results and are promising for the future.

At the Université de Sherbrooke, we use a comprehensive, integrated approach to demonstrate that sustainable development can be achieved right here, right now. Our committed community has implemented numerous ongoing initiatives on our campuses to reduce our carbon footprint, preserve biodiversity, and pursue research and development on efficient energy uses.

Here are some concrete examples. The Université de Sherbrooke has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 77% since 2002, and this despite doubling its physical footprint and a nearly 70% increase in its student population. It also achieved carbon neutrality in 2022 by offsetting the declining balance of net emissions from its operations with certified carbon credits. Since 2004, an agreement with the Société de transport de Sherbrooke has given the student community free access to public transit in Sherbrooke, encouraging both the use of public transit and active modes of transportation.

On the research side, our expertise in incorporating glass residues into concrete has led to new standards that will considerably reduce the carbon footprint associated with producing concrete – a material requiring a highly energy-intensive production process.

Recovering over 70% of the heat given off by our servers helps to heat our buildings, and rationed water management through heat loops has reduced water use on our campuses by over 75%.

In addition, the forthcoming designation of the Parc-du-Mont-Bellevue — an important biodiversity site in the heart of the City of Sherbrooke and on our campus  — as a nature reserve—will preserve this ecosystem and  stimulate societally beneficial research projects.

Demonstrating that sustainable development is possible and that results are achievable now, could not be more important.

To achieve our goals, we need to tackle them systematically and integrate sustainability into all our management processes, from construction and procurement to teaching and research.  As a matter of fact, we’re making rapid progress on incorporating sustainable development related objectives into all the University’s degree programs!

We are all citizens of the same planet, and we can all take action now. Universities can and want to be key partners in achieving  the Sustainable Development Goals.

Université de Sherbrooke’s experience, which earned the institution the world’s highest STARS score in 2023, is an elegant example of what is possible.

Despite all our progress, there is still  a lot to learn and do. We need to share and pool best practices and scale up our successful initiatives. We must, and can, step up the pace considerably to achieve these goals, which are essential for the future.

Pierre Cossette, Rector, Université de Sherbrooke and member of the Board of Universities Canada

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Tagged:  Environmental sustainability

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