Transforming the world through sustainable development

Posted on Sunday, April 8, 2018

Author: Laura Darche

A panel of professors and a student working on SDGs discuss the subject with Jeffrey Sachs after his presentation.

When thinking of sustainable development, environmental protection leaps to mind; however, sustainability involves much more than ecosystems. According to the United Nations, sustainability is a holistic approach to human development that can help us face some of humanity’s most intractable issues, such as eliminating hunger and poverty, reducing inequalities and protecting the planet. In 2015, the nations of the world adopted 17 ambitious sustainable development goals (SDGs) that will require significant changes to our societies, economies and relationship with the planet.

Jeffrey Sachs

“The University of Ottawa has the advantage of being the closest to Parliament. Politicians and government need you to make recommendations. You are the experts so don’t be shy about it! Cross the street and raise the voice for SDG’s. Canada’s context allows for it.” – Jeffrey Sachs

Jeffrey Sachs, a world renowned economist and best-selling author who is also special consultant to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, recently came to campus to give a presentation on the crucial role that universities can play in implementing these goals in Canada.

Professor Sachs believes that universities can contribute to meeting the SDGs in several ways. Naturally, the first is by teaching, which gives students not only expertise, but also access to knowledge and the motivation it generates. The second is through research, which sustains innovation and allows motivated companies to apply the proposed solutions. But to truly become leaders in sustainable development, universities must also serve as models: the principles of SDGs must be integrated into university policies and governance structures. Finally, this leadership must be leveraged to influence public participation and the development of public policies based on the SDGs.

Leading in sustainable development at the University of Ottawa

Our institution is committed to meeting the needs of businesses, governments and organizations by training the green leaders of tomorrow, who will be equipped to propose innovative solutions to social, economic and environmental problems in many ways.

Teaching and research

SDGs focus on interconnected problems that must be addressed in a holistic way. To overcome a one-dimensional approach, we have created the Institute of the Environment, which brings together professors from all University disciplines (law, sciences, engineering, economics, health sciences, arts and management). It offers an interdisciplinary master’s program in environmental sustainability, as well as 12 other study programs that include a specialization in environmental sustainability.

Governance, culture and operations

Jessica Cadesky, International development PHD candidate, asks Jeffrey Sachs a question while he is visiting the University of Ottawa.

After working on the ground providing humanitarian aid for eight years (in Central African Republic, Haiti, Liberia, Nepal, Lebanon and the Middle East), doctoral student Jessica Cadesky wants to know whether the aid provided to these populations has led to sustainable change. Ten years after the conflict in Sri Lanka, have the people there seen changes in gender equality?

To encourage exemplary practices, the Office of Campus Sustainability sponsors several activities to make our campus greener: LEED-Silver certification requirement for new buildings larger than 100,000 square feet; energy efficiency improvements for older buildings; 50 community gardens; some 64.5% of waste currently diverted from landfill, with a goal of 95% by 2050; a bike path through campus; outdoor spaces for bike repair; elimination of bottled water sales on campus in 2010; and the list goes on.

Sharing knowledge and external leadership

If developing expertise is good, then ensuring that the greatest number of people can use it is better. To effect change outside campus, several programs such as Community Service Learning and paid CO-OP internships give our students opportunities to apply their knowledge and transmit their expertise in, and enthusiasm for, sustainable development. Another initiative that transmits knowledge on sustainable development is the Teach Abroad Program for PhD students. This program is managed by the International Office, which has negotiated agreements to send our doctoral students to teach around the world.

Finally, in terms of external leadership, the University houses the Smart Prosperity Institute, a network that promotes sustainable, smart ways of ensuring prosperity by conducting international calibre research, in partnership with public and private stakeholders, to develop concrete policies and business solutions that build a stronger, more verdant economy.

UOttawa professors and student discuss universities' roles in implementing SDGs with Jeffrey Sachs

Geoffrey McCarney, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Gordon Betcherman, Professor Faculty of Social Science, School of International Development and Global Studies, Jessica Cadesky, PhD candidate, Faculty of Social Science, School of International Development and Global Studies, Jeffrey Sachs, University Professor and Director, Center for Sustainable Development, The Earth Institute, Columbia University, Nathalie Chalifour, Associate Professor, uOttawa Faculty of Law.

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