From Monday, March 9 to Thursday, March 12, several events were held across campus for the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM)’s first Sustainability Week. Organized by Master of Science in Sustainability Management (MScSM) students, the week was established to push the crucial idea of one’s “footprint” and its effect on the environment.
Each day of the week covered a different theme of sustainability, enabling the UTM community to explore the various perspectives of sustainability and ultimately discover what sustainability meant to them.
On Monday, the theme was on reducing the impact of food on the environment. In the William G. Davis (DV) and Instructional Centre (IB) buildings, waste sorting stations were set up.
At the stations, students were shown the exact locations where their waste should go. The stations were set up to teach students the proper way of sorting their waste in the three sections: food waste, recycling, and garbage. Above each section was a picture of the items that are supposed to go in the corresponding section.
Free reusable containers, courtesy of UTM Hospitality and Retail Services, were given out to students who completed a brief two-minute survey on sustainability and any changes they wish to see with the waste system on campus.
Aidan Rando, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU)’s Sustainability Coordinator and a third-year majoring in environmental management and physical geography, said that educating students on how to separate their waste is critical.
According to Rando, many students participating in the station were surprised by “how much waste they are throwing out.”
When asked if UTM would change their bins in the coming future, Rando stated that an engagement campaign was currently in the works where food waste, recyclables, and just general waste bins on campus would be more distinctly specified.
“Right now, we don’t have the bins available because we are beginning the initiative. It is coming, it’s just not here yet,” said Rando.
Close to the waste station in DV was the Greenpeace table with a large poster displaying tips for climate friendly food choices. Students who provided their email to Greenpeace were sent the large poster on their phones.
“Whether you are vegetarian or if you’re looking at curbing different meat consumption, we want to promote that there’s different proteins that you can definitely intake in your diet and making sure that you are looking at your local fruits and vegetables,” said Giselle Boada, a Greenpeace volunteer.
“Now that summer is coming up, there’s going to be lots of farmers markets so definitely checking those out is really important,” added Boada.
Boada mentioned how the meat industry is one of the leading producers of greenhouse gases and that it’s important to recognize the impact of the industry which is driven by consumer eating choices.
“When it comes to seafood and dairy products, we’re not really advocating for veganism necessarily but it’s more on how you can be more aware of your meat consumption,” said Boada.
On Tuesday, waste was the main theme of the day. The waste sorting stations were also set up again in IB and DV, but this time, free mugs were given out.
A repair café was also set up for the UTM community in the Kaneff building (KN) at room KN2213. People brought in their broken items such as furniture and got them fixed by fixers at the cafe.
“We started about three years ago. I can’t remember [exactly when but] I believe it was 2017 when we had our first repair café at UTM. And it started because I actually have a colleague at Sheridan College, and she is one of the founders of the repair café at the Toronto campus,” Chelsea Dalton, the founder of the repair café at UTM and the campus’s Environmental/Sustainability Coordinator, told The Medium.
“I thought it just sounded like an amazing initiative, just giving people the opportunity to learn how to repair or fix their stuff instead of throwing it out, keeping useful items out of the landfill,” said Dalton.
Dalton also added that repair cafes serve a major role in bringing people together.
“I just think repair café is really awesome because it also helps build community. You know, people come on out, they speak to other members of the community, they meet new people,” said Dalton.
Megan Wery, a MScSM student and the Marketing and Graphic Designer for the UTM Sustainability Office, explained the benefits of repair cafes.
“People can bring in their home appliances or their clothing. And then what we do is try to give it a second life. So, most people will just leave [their unrepaired stuff] laying around at home or, you know, take it to the garbage dump. But what we want to do is try to give that item another life so that they can use it again. Kind of bring sustainability into their life,” said Wery.
“I think we’re [also] trying to promote this idea of a circular economy,” continued Wery. “Or [how you should] always be thinking about what you can reuse and move towards the zero waste kind of lifestyle or a low-buy lifestyle, and this is an opportunity to do that.”
In the evening, Trashion Show ’20 took place in KN from five to nine p.m. The show featured models, and the work of designers and artists. The models wore unique outfits made completely of trash and recycled materials. Students came to watch the show and see the sustainable works of their fellow classmates.
Wednesday was all about wellness and its connection to sustainability. Wellness lectures were facilitated by Cat Criger, UTM’s Indigenous Advisor. During the one-hour lectures at the Wellness Hub, students learned about their connection with the environment through an Indigenous perspective via the stories told by Criger.
“The Indigenous perspectives can add philosophies and concepts that offer different ways of how we should treat the land and space that we live in,” said Criger.
“If ‘we’ maintain a respect for our selfs, one another and the land that sustains us then ‘we’ are more likely to be concerned about all that is around us,” continued Criger. “Part of the idea [of self-respect and wellbeing] is that if individuals are focused on personal wellbeing then this will carry over to the wellbeing of others, the land around us, and to the state of all things around us. Concern for sustainability certainly would benefit from this.”
In Maanjiwe Nendamowinan (MN)’s Grand Hall, Zero Waste UTM set up a wellness wax workshop where students made their own wax sheets in replacement of saran wrap. Students started off with cotton fabric, added beeswax, pellets, pine resin and oil to the fabric and then ironed the fabric.
“I think in terms of sustainability, it’s just important to get creative about dealing with ways to avoid single-use plastic,” said Alanah Joyce, president of Zero Waste UTM.
“You kind of have to just be okay with saying no to single-use plastics and get used to being a little uncomfortable, and then you get used to it and it gets a lot easier,” added Joyce.
An hour after the wax workshop, Seeds for the Future was held by both the Student Association for Geography and Environment (SAGE) and the Social Justice Club. From two to five p.m., students got the chance to grow their own herbs with the materials (pots, soil, and seeds) provided.
“It’s interesting because it’s my first time to do planting stuff. The first time I heard the [name] Seeds for the Future, it reminded me of like the whole, [a chance to] do something that’s beneficial for the environment,” said (Nikita) Yue Wang, a third-year student specializing in accounting and majoring in economics.
Bianca Alvarenga, a fourth-year student majoring in French and minoring in education studies and philosophy, also found the event interesting.
“I think this is very important to do and it’s also really cool to know how to plant. Yes it’s dirty, but every once in a while it’s nice and these plants that we’re planting [can be used] for food and whatnot. There’s basil, there’s sage, there’s rosemary,” said Alvarenga pointing to each potted plant.
Wang also believed that educating students on certain things like recycling can go a long way and easily improve sustainability.
“In China, we don’t have recycling. [The recycling] classification is only done in the bigger cities, so people don’t have the awareness of recycling,” said Wang. “So, it causes a lot of waste and trash. Also, in high school, I don’t think the teachers taught students how to recycle stuff. So, I think [events like these] are very helpful.”
From five to six p.m., in the Communications, Culture, & Technology (CCT) atrium, a sustainability fair was held with several campus clubs taking part.
Greenpeace visited the campus again and this time they brought a gigantic figure of an albatross with a net of trash (collected from the Don River) at its feet. The figure was part of a campaign by Greenpeace against plastic pollution.
“This campaign is all about highlighting the top pipe leaders in Canada and trying to encourage them to change how the packaging and delivery of goods [affect the environment],” said Rommel Bellosillo, the Mobilization Campaigner at Greenpeace.
Bellosillo explained the process of the campaign. After the clean-up of the Don Valley and other clean-ups across Canada, a brand audit was conducted allowing the organization to recognize and tally up the brands that they found in the water. Nestle products were collected the most by the organization.
“We need to shift that throwaway culture that we have. But still, each and every one of us can do our own little thing, but it’s not enough to solve the whole problem of plastic. We need a system change. Recycling doesn’t cut it anymore. We need corporation[s] to take action. That’s what this whole campaign is all about,” said Bellosillo.
This system change, according to Bellosillo, requires joining the “reuse revolution.”
“You have reusable mugs. You bring your own reusable water bottles. So that’s what I think is the best way for us to solve this problem,” said Bellosillo.
Another external organization at the fair was Ecosource, a non-profit organization in Mississauga.
“We mainly focus on community gardens and local foods. We run all the community gardens in Mississauga. We also focus on waste reduction and education workshops. We do them all around Peel. And then we also have our youth leadership program called the Peel Environmental Youth Alliance,” said Maria Nestorovsha, the Youth Program Facilitator at Ecosource.
“There’s different programs throughout the year so you can sign up as a volunteer. We do hire every summer. There’s a lot of help that’s needed in the gardens if anyone’s interested in like urban agriculture, that kind of thing,” added Nestorovsha.
At another table, UTM Robotics showed off their autonomous car with the ability to pick up all the trash on campus.
“We have these autonomous cars. And we want to attach a cart to them and a robot arm to the top. And we want them to drive around picking up trash on campus. So, this is a very complicated project, of course, and the first step is to just make the autonomous cars and the autonomous driving work,” said Julian Sequeira, a fourth-year student in computer science.
Michael Muratov, a fourth-year student also in computer science, said that the main idea behind the cars they make is to allow them to “reason on their own, make their own decisions, and do jobs that people don’t have to do.”
Muratov also added that technology, like the autonomous cars, could pave the “path forward” for sustainability.
Across from UTM Robotics, the Albanian Society had a table set up with a mini activity relating to wellness.
“We’ve decided to create an activity where people could write a note anonymously and leave it for another UTM student and pick up another note from a UTM student to feel encouraged or positive about themselves,” said Drinbardha Elshani, a third-year biology student and the president of the Albanian Society.
“Mental health is something a lot of the students of UTM go through. We all need little words of encouragement,” added Elshani.
Thursday featured tech innovations that play a role in reducing our environmental “footprint,” plus a Sustainability Careers Panel.
From 10 a.m. to one p.m., grade seven and eight students from Our Lady of Victory elementary school, that is part of the Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB), presented their techy inventions in KN.
From a computer mouse with hand rests that help mitigate carpel tunnel pain to bean bag chairs with built-in laptop desks and coffee holders, students talked about their creative ideas to UTM students, staff, and faculty.
“We joined up with the learning partnership this year to create some inventions for the invention convention,” said Kathy Chiappino, a teacher at Our Lady of Victory. “The students have been working for the past month, coming up with their own ideas and figuring out how they’re going to get it to work and how are they going to display it.”
Chiappino added that it’s important to get experience at a young age because it can “connect them with the world” that they will grow into.
Later in the day, a Sustainability Careers Panel was held in KN, room KNL1220. Around 20 students attended the panel featuring graduated MScSM students.
When asked how their careers developed, Lulu Li, advisor of sustainability at Metrolinx, said networking allowed her to present herself to others and kickstart her career.
“I did a lot of networking. Every week, I would attend on average two networking events in downtown Toronto. So, that’s taking the shuttle bus there, attend whatever networking events I can get myself into, and then come back and do my homework and all that stuff,” said Li.
Swinzle Chauhan said that she worked at Scotiabank as a sustainable business coordinator but realized over time that she did not enjoy working in the private sector as much as the public sector. Chauhan is now a Toronto Urban Fellow for the City of Toronto.
“But that was enough time for me to learn a lot about the private sector and how it works but also realize that it’s probably not my cup of tea and so I went back to the public sector and I really, really enjoy it. But I’m really glad for being able to have that learning experience, which I don’t think I would have gotten if I hadn’t tried to explore through the [MScSM] program,” said Chauhan.
“The reason why I chose this program is because of a course I took in my undergrad, which I did well in. I was in a Bachelor of Arts program and majored in international development so I knew I kind of wanted to, for lack of a better phrase, help the world. But I wanted to do it in a business sense,” said Mackenzie Taylor, a business analyst at Global Risk Institute.
All three panelists emphasized the importance of LinkedIn several times during the panel.
It took Chauhan two tries before she landed a job as an Urban Fellow for the City of Toronto.
“I tried again the next year. And the second time around, I actually tried to find people on LinkedIn who had the same job. And I actually asked him to help me like, hey, how do I interview for this position? Because I know it’s quite specific. And they helped me out,” said Chauhan.
“The most beneficial thing that I found, to find a job, was LinkedIn. I’m not much of a Facebook kind of person, but LinkedIn is where I go for my social media. You always get updates on new jobs, so if you’re interested in sustainability you’ll get a notification that this job just popped up,” added Taylor.
Friday was supposed to encourage students to take actions towards a more sustainable future.
However, all events, including the Climate March and climate keynote speech with Rachel Parent which were originally scheduled for Friday, were cancelled due to rising COVID-19 concerns.
A message was sent out by University of Toronto President Meric Gertler on Friday morning stating that all in-person classes and external events (non-academic) were to be cancelled across all three campuses until April 3.
Aside from the cancelling of Friday’s event, The Medium sat down with Shashi Kant, Director of MScSM and the Faculty Supervisor of Sustainability Week, to discuss the initiative and the idea of sustainability in general.
Kant emphasized the importance of bringing people together and educating them on what sustainability was. He believed that doing this had more power than simply teaching them about the concept in lectures.
“We need to do something which brings people together so we started with sustainability week,” said Kant. “Whether it is climate change, whether it is a pollution, whether it is forest degradation, we are all responsible. And we all have to address that problem.”
When asked what sustainability meant to him, Kant stated that sustainability is the “balance between internal and external environment.”
The internal environment, according to Kant, is our wellbeing and how we feel about ourselves while the external environment is determined by the expectations that are brought upon us by our parents, peers, professors, and other influential people in our lives.
“To achieve that sustainability we have to work on balancing both internal environment and the external environment. So, in a broader sense, sustainability is about human wellbeing,” concluded Kant.
The Medium also spoke with Rylan Urban, a MScSM student and the founder and co-chair of Sustainability Week, and Raguram (Ragu) Bhaskar, also a MScSM student and co-chair of Sustainability Week.
Urban was inspired to plan the first ever Sustainability Week at UTM after attending McMaster University’s Energy Week last year and recognizing the steps that numerous student-led groups at UTM are taking towards implementing sustainability within their group activities and initiatives.
When asked why it’s important for students and the general community to be more aware of their footprint, Urban emphasized connectivity.
“One of my fundamental beliefs is that the more connected we are as humans, the more sustainable we become,” said Urban. “Understanding the impact that our personal actions have on the world around us is the first step towards becoming more connected with it, and thus more sustainable.”
“There are two primary objectives of the week: to highlight and celebrate what we are doing well, and to recognize and make a commitment to improving on the areas that we are not,” continued Urban.
Bhaskar said that he was excited about the idea of organizing a sustainability week at UTM the day Urban had brought it up at a MScSM Student Executive Committee meeting.
“I have never really been involved in organizing a big event and I thought that this would be a good way to get students to pay attention and take sustainability seriously,” said Bhaskar.
“I think it would be negligent of us to not adjust our behaviours given the current state of our climate and environmental degradation globally,” added Bhaskar. “The least we can do is try our best and hope that institutions provide us the resources to reduce our impact. In doing so, institutions, too, can reduce theirs.”
When asked what students, staff, and faculty should take away from Sustainability Week, Bhaskar touched upon the idea of working together that Urban and Kant mentioned earlier.
“I think it’s more about what all of us can learn from each other. We all have something to offer when it comes to sustainability on campus. I wish for UTM to learn that sustainability can only be achieved through a coordinated effort. We need to stop working in silos and work together towards a common goal,” said Bhaskar.
Want to be more involved in sustainable initiatives on and off campus? Visit the websites below!