'Rooms' to Grow: How UTSC can continue to advance the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals by Claire Marshall, Sustainability Ambassador
In the face of rising human population growth and urbanization, humans are extracting more resources from the planet than ever before. This competition for resources has led to increased stressors on our natural environment. Inequities exist between the accessibility of these resources; from medicine, to food, to fair-wage jobs between and within nations. To bring these issues to light, the United Nations (UN) developed 17 goals for nations to works towards to achieve a sustainable future. These goals range from reducing poverty to bringing education, clean water, and sanitation to all people. These goals also include achieving the conservation of our natural lands and water, recognizing that the success and prosperity of the human race is interdependent on the health of our terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
These goals have prompted organizations from around the world to come together to engage their communities by holding open discussions on the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In October of 2021, the Sustainability Office at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) hosted one such event. The UTSC 17 Rooms Event saw over 100 participants come together to discuss the SDGs and how they are being addressed in the UTSC community and beyond.
“I felt very welcome to participate in the discussion, in fact we never stopped talking. I felt excited, welcome and comfortable. It was enjoyable and uplifting to discuss and hear others’ ideas pertaining to your own in such a polite setting.”
17 UTSC faculty and staff from five departments on campus moderated breakout rooms and facilitated vibrant discussions on what UTSC is currently doing to address the SDGs. Some outcomes of these conversations included what the community hopes to see more of in the future towards further advancing initiatives to make UTSC a more equitable, accessible, and environmentally-conscious campus.
“The small break out rooms ensured engagement and provided students with a specific understanding of a goal. The sharing of all findings near the end of the meeting provided students with a general idea of each SDG.”
Breakout rooms during the event focused on one, or several related, SDGs. In each room, participants talked about how specific goals related to their life experience and how they felt UTSC could further improve upon making that goal more widely attainable. At the end of the breakout session, everyone rejoined the main room and breakout groups provided a summary of what was discussed and what lessons were learned in each session.
“We all come in from a diverse background … all have our own personal reasons to prioritize gender equality”
My role as a notetaker in Room SDG 5, which focused on Gender Equity, allowed me to participate in an engaging and powerful conversation that resonates with me to this day. From discussing what this SDG means to each participant (and participant educational backgrounds ranged from political science studies, climate change and environmental science graduates, and cultural geographers), to contemplating how UTSC and the community has approached this SDG, to how we can, as a community, expand upon it, the room was bustling with ideas to the very last second before the room closed. I remember thinking “I wish I could stay in this room and talk to these people all evening…”. I learned so much about the non-male experience and how no matter what field we are in or where we grew up, we have all seen signs or been the victim of gender inequity. Having courses that centre on intersectional feminism and queer and gender studies is a great start, but there is room to grow and incorporate gender inequity in all courses. An example of how to incorporate equity in courses comes from my graduate course, Climate Change Impacts and Modeling, where I learned about great scientists such as Eunice Foote who pioneered research on climate change, but is often not credited as being an instrumental contributor to the field. Thanks to the Professor, Dr. Karen Smith, I am able to share this knowledge with others on the works of hidden figures throughout history.
“I feel the event was a starting point for conversations regarding the SDGs and how they are applicable to our community here at UTSC. It is important to do so because it helps us think about how we can start small in our community by creating a more sustainable campus for all the concerned such as faculty, students, and staff.”
As the old saying goes, we have to think globally and act locally! The UN has spent years researching sources of inequity across nations and how humans are impacting the planet. Now that they have this framework on an international scale, it is the responsibility of communities within cities, towns, and even campuses, to ensure these goals are met on a local scale.
“Facts about the campus itself such as the disposal of waste in the student centre, the level of green space vegetation, and the purpose of the net coverings on the slope at the back of the main campus… I didn’t even know a farm on campus existed!”
In addition to bringing awareness to the individual SDGs during the event, participants also learned more about our campus and some of the ongoing projects, such as our Waste Reduction Work Plan and our Campus Farm.
“We don’t only want to circulate information and knowledge to the community, we want to receive it from the community”
When it comes to sustainability, we have to remember that it goes beyond making an impact within our own sphere. UTSC is committed to working towards achieving the SDGs for our students, faculty, staff, and for the larger Scarborough community. As another great saying goes, it takes a village! The SDGs are wide-ranging and as diverse as the communities across the planet they were intended to help. Involving as many people as possible, and engaging with our neighbors and businesses, while encouraging community members to consider and build upon the SDGs is a critical step in implementing long-lasting, sustainable change.
The Sustainability Office is building upon the momentum generated from discussions during the 17 Rooms at UTSC to keep the conversation going about SDGs on campus by hosting an SDG Knowledge Café on March 23, 2022. If you are interested in participating, please register for the event here. Thank you everyone for joining the conversation, and we hope to see and hear from you again in the future! If you are interested in learning more about the UN SDGs, check out the resources listed below as a starting point. Follow the UTSC Sustainability Office on Instagram for more updates.
United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Resources