Learning about Sustainability at the Universities in the US and Canada

Written by Barbara Matic

In line with the topic “From Waste to Wealth” did the connectUS delegation not only visit companies at their On-Site study trip but also did the project explore the environmental challenges universities are facing in the corresponding countries. In the United States connectUS was learning about the sustainability goals of the University of California Los Angeles while in Vancouver the importance of the Tripple Bottom Line Theory was discussed at the Greystone College.

UCLA – The village in the City of Los Angeles

When entering the campsite of UCLA every Swiss student must have gotten jealous by the remarkable architecture of buildings, green fields and number of students studying at this beautiful and huge campus. The campus of the University presented the typical college movie situation where intelligent students are running from one class to the next, having lunch together at large cafeterias and pursuing any interest at the over 100 clubs existing there.

Learning about Sustainability

Nevertheless, the main purpose of our visit was based on another theme. Bonny Bentzin, the Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer of UCLA, took her day to inform us about the Sustainability Goals and Los Angeles’ Grand Challenges the University is facing. The University which is located in a silo is surrounded by the 3 richest Zip Codes of LA and therefore highly influenced in their decision making. Furthermore, the University consists of 10 different schools marked by various cultures with own scenarios and challenges. Additionally, as the largest employee in the state of Los Angeles it has a huge influence on decision-making and therefore may shift other companies to adapt their best practices. While learning about the campus and its challenges Bonny Bentzin pointed out the importance of understanding the culture of an organization in order to be able to shift and make change happen.

In the morning, we got an overview of the UCLA’s sustainability goals consisting of building green buildings, new transportation opportunities, reduction of waste and water and many other goals. While listening to the approaches Bonny is planning to execute she also talked about the so-called “green bling” which refers to the thought that when for example a green building is being constructed the people and staff have to be educated on the usage of the building and other factors like the air conditioner and so on in order to build a “fully and real” green site. All in all, Bonny offered us a remarkable and informative day at an impressive University where we felt like a typical UCLA student for a day.

Greystone College – The Tripple Bottom Line

On Thursday morning we were greatly impressed by the generosity and organization offered by John Ballam, the Director at the Greystone College. He kindly put together a well-structured morning marked by interesting presentations and interactive sessions with other students. The morning started off by a presentation by John himself introducing us and his students to the Tripple Bottom Line Theory which consists of three main pillars; Planet, People and Profit. During the presentation he further pointed out the importance of sustainable business practices in Canada as well as all around the world.

Visit at the Greystone College, Vancouver.

Inspiring Speeches about the importance of People and the Planet

Related to the topic, Gavin Jones, Director of Operations at embers joined as a guest speaker and talked about the so-called “social enterprise” structure and his work at the company. The mentioned structure was fairly new to us Swiss students, where a company with a successful business model aims to reach business as well as social goals by giving back to the society. Talking about embers, the company describes itself as a 100% self-supporting charity and supports marginalized people with low-income in finding a suitable job or part-time employment. In comparison to other companies, embers puts higher importance on the human and environmental well-being rather than profit.

In the name of all students and professors in this room, I can clearly confirm that everyone was really touched by Gavin’s speech when he was talking about the success stories on helping out former addicts or people with mental illness and giving them a purpose in life again. One major learning gained was surely that meaningful work and giving back to the society can lead to a much more satisfying and happier work life!

The morning continued by touching on the pillar of Planet. Deborah, a student at the Greystone College, talked with deep passion and enthusiasm about the present issue of plastic in the ocean. With figures and facts Deborah underlined the importance of caring more about the planet and shopping more consciously in order to reduce the amount of plastic! Considering that in 2050 the same number of plastics in the ocean will be as high as the number of fishes was quite shocking to hear for all of us and made us rethink our style of living.

After listening to these three informative presentations we were rewarded with pizza and soft drinks during lunch time. We additionally used the time to network with the diverse students and learn about their life and studies in Canada! In order to finish off the topic of the Tripple Bottom Line, John organized a visit to the Port of Vancouver that presented the perfect case study of sustainability.