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Selkirk College Takes Lead in Canada’s Effort to Create a Better Planet

Selkirk College President Angus Graeme (right) and Sustainability Coordinator Laura Nessman (left) helping lead the Canadian post-secondary sector in meeting the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The two college leaders stand outside the Mir Centre for Peace on the Castlegar Campus where three of the targets—peace and justice, climate action, and affordable clean energy—are represented.

Adding a vital voice to the concerted worldwide effort to create a more sustainable and just planet, Selkirk College is leading the way amongst Canada’s post-secondary institutions by showing that strong local efforts can contribute to global goals.

In 2015, all 193 member-states of the United Nations signed onto the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which is a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure all people can enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. As the effort moves into its push for a decade of action, Selkirk College is one of the first Canadian post-secondary institutions to sign onto the SDG Accord for the world’s colleges and universities.

“Being a leader in Canada is definitely exciting,” says Laura Nessman, Selkirk College’s Sustainability Coordinator. “What will be even more exciting is to see who signs next and to see our efforts begin to accelerate. Signing the accord has opened up a space for sharing the best practices and resources within both a national and international network of support. My hope is that all areas of the college can see how their work contributes to our ultimate goal of creating a better world.”

There are 17 SDGs that include no poverty, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, decent work and economic growth, climate action, and quality education. The SDGs are integrated to recognize that action in one area will affect outcomes in others for what the United Nations calls “the great transformation.” 

The SDGs require partnerships with government, private sector, civil society and citizens in order to create a better planet for future generations. Selkirk College joins a growing list of 207 SDG Accord signatories that include post-secondary institutions in Sri Lanka, Peru, Ghana, Finland, Iraq, United Kingdom and every other corner of the world. 

“Taking the lead on joining an ambitious worldwide effort from a rural community college might seem like a very small step, but it amplifies what is required from post-secondary education to increase collaboration, act with intention and make a difference,” says Selkirk College President Angus Graeme, whose name is signed on the SDG Accord. “More and more, students are expecting this from us and we need to support them. The college’s current strategic plan is aligned with may of these goals, so it feels right to formally join and commit to this effort. The college will continue building on what we are doing well and collectively figure out ways to do better in areas that need work.”

Gaining Traction and Expanding Support

Signing onto the SDG Accord goes well beyond a ceremonial signature. The college has committed to expanding work towards the goals and embedding it within the college, including curriculum. As a formal participant, Selkirk College is required to report annually on progress that is then presented at the annual UN High Level Political Forum.

Through Colleges & Institutes Canada (CICan), Selkirk College received funding for a student intern to help with bringing further awareness to the SDGs and gain support across the institution. Only four months into official participation, Selkirk College has highlighted work being done on all 17 SDGs. From a bioswale project in the Castlegar Campus parking lot to ongoing social justice work at the Mir Centre for Peace and the college’s Indigenization Plan to its Trades Discovery Program for Women, a foundation of current work ties in well to the overall goals. 

“Selkirk College has so many initiatives that are taking action on SDGs and we have accomplished a lot,” says Nessman. “It’s an important moment for the college and our work towards sustainability. We have accomplished a lot, but we are still only scraping the surface. This is a turning point and will expand what can be achieved on a college-wide level.”

Nessman arrived to the West Kootenay after working for local government on Vancouver Island on waste diversion. A graduate of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Studies Program, she enrolled in Selkirk College’s Advanced Diploma in GIS to further her formal education and then worked as a student intern at the Applied Research & Innovation Centre. Nessman was hired as the college’s first Sustainability Coordinator in August 2017 where she has worked with staff and students on numerous projects.

Though much of the work Nessman has been leading over the last few years has been focused on initiatives related to environmental sustainability, the SDGs open up more opportunity to collaborate with other areas on campus and integrate issues that will result in positive change within the region and beyond.  

“The SDGs matter to everyone and we are expanding our idea of what sustainability really looks like, it’s not just about recycling and emission reduction,” says Nessman. “This initiative is about making sure we have a fair and just world for the future, and a healthy environment to support us.”

Post-secondary institutions across the world are key to meeting the UN’s ambitious targets. Through education and outcomes, both students and staff have an opportunity to work within the framework to help reach the timelines of global goalsetting.

“One of the priorities of my outreach work is to attempt to bring these large goals down to a personal level,” Nessman explains. “It’s sometimes difficult to see how one individual can make an impact on achieving zero hunger for everyone by 2030. That’s a huge task. But if you narrow it down to habits to change in your daily life, places you can volunteer or initiatives on campus that further support our students, one can see that our efforts matter on a local scale.”

You can find out more about Selkirk College is working with the United Nation’s SDGs at: https://selkirk.ca/sustainable-development-goals