Lakehead University launches first Sustainability Plan, opens outdoor classroom

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THUNDER BAY – Lakehead University released its first Sustainability Plan in tandem with one of the Plan’s first projects, an outdoor classroom and stormwater demonstration area, on Wednesday, Oct. 2.

The 2019-2024 Sustainability Plan demonstrates Lakehead’s strong commitment to sustainability at both Lakehead Thunder Bay and Lakehead Orillia, and in the wider community.

At Lakehead University, sustainability is considered in an inclusive way, encompassing human and ecological health, social justice and equity, Indigenous rights, secure livelihoods, workplace well-being, and leadership for vibrant and resilient communities.

“Sustainability is about protecting and maintaining the health of the Earth, and all living beings that the Earth supports. It is an urgent matter,” said Dr. David Barnett, Interim Provost and Vice-President (Academic).

“There are numerous sustainability challenges, including climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss, to name a few. Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can also be viewed as important in the context of sustainability,” Dr. Barnett said.

Universities have often modeled sustainable behaviour and developed innovative solutions to major sustainability challenges. Two primary functions of universities are to educate students and develop research.

“Situated next to the boreal forest, and on the shores of Lake Superior and Lake Simcoe, we are reminded of the vital role these natural ecosystems play on the Earth’s health,” Dr. Barnett said.

Lakehead’s Sustainability Plan is comprehensive, covering the sustainability of the institution’s academics, operations, engagement, and planning and administration. While implementation of the plan will be a collective effort across the University, the Office of Sustainability will oversee its fulfillment.

The plan was a collective effort, developed by the Office of Sustainability, in collaboration with numerous faculty, staff, students, and community members who sit on the University’s Sustainability Stewardship Council and its Working Groups.

The plan will benefit students, staff, faculty, and community members through the various commitments it makes, from increased sustainability programming to enhanced stormwater management of its grounds.

The recent Depave Paradise project is an example of the implementation of the Sustainability Plan. The project removed 100 m2 of concrete from the Centennial Building courtyard in Thunder Bay, transforming it into an outdoor classroom with four demonstration gardens. The project is part of a broader movement to ‘depave’ hard surfaces and increase water infiltration, thereby decreasing flood risk and filtering pollutants before they enter the watershed.

The space was named M’wade Gaazhi Namaadibinaanowin Outdoor Classroom (Anishinaabemowin for “A Place Where People Sit Down”). The classroom is nestled within the University’s arboretum. To continue the theme of ecological learning, it was designed as a space where students and community members can both gather outdoors for classes and learn about native plants. Interpretive signage will highlight some of the plants and their traditional uses.

“The four demonstration gardens represent the boreal forest ecosystem, the tallgrass prairie ecosystem, ethnobotanical uses of plants, and pollinator-friendly plants,” said Ledah McKellar, Sustainability Coordinator. “Many of these plants are locally and culturally significant and are used widely by Indigenous Peoples for edible, medicinal, and ceremonial purposes.”

The classroom and gardens are important – they are a symbol of reclamation and resurgence of Indigenous traditional knowledge and they create a space to celebrate the importance of our relationship with the Earth.

The Depave project was made possible by Lakehead University, Depave Paradise, Green Communities Canada, Ontario Trillium Foundation, TD Friends of the Environment, EcoSuperior Environmental Programs, the City of Thunder Bay, and the many students, faculty, staff, and community members who assisted along the way.

Embracing a culture of sustainability is a challenging but necessary transition. The power to create a more sustainable Lakehead University lies in this collective action. The University invites the community to become involved in the implementation of the Sustainability Plan.

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