Canada's educational institutions lagging in addressing sustainability say researchers

Half of Canada's educational institutions have been laggards in committing to environmental sustainability, according to two research briefs released online by University of Saskatchewan environment and education researcher Marcia McKenzie.

The researchers looked at sustainability and climate-related education policies in all of Canada's 220 accredited post-secondary institutions, the 13 provincial and territorial ministries of education and all 389 K-12 school divisions.

McKenzie explained that only half of Canada's post-secondary institutions have any policies addressing sustainability issues. Similarly, only half of the country's K-12 school divisions have policies focusing on sustainability, with only 20 policies specifically addressing climate change.

"The challenges of climate change require an informed and motivated citizenry, and education has a key role to play in enabling Canadians to address these important issues of our times," said McKenzie, who is principal investigator of the Sustainability and Education Policy Network (SEPN). The national network of researchers and organizations advances sustainability in education policy and practice.

Her comments come as representatives from governments around the world gather this week for the annual United Nations-led climate change conference (COP20) being held this year in Lima, Peru.

Post-secondary institutions were scored on their uptake of four sustainability initiatives (SI): undertaking a sustainability assessment; signing a national or international environmental or sustainability declaration; having a sustainability office or officer; and having sustainability policies.

When institutions were grouped and ranked according to provincial averages, the researchers found that Saskatchewan and the three territories had the lowest SI scores. Québec and British Columbia had the highest SI scores and the greatest number of sustainability leaders.

As for K-12 schools, the researchers found that school districts in Ontario and New Brunswick had the highest SI scores and the three territories had the lowest. Of the 224 school division policies with a focus on sustainability, only 20 focused on climate change.

SEPN is currently analyzing data from a second cross-country study sampling 50 post-secondary institutions. So far, the researchers have found 57 per cent have sustainability-specific policies that address climate change, while 44 per cent have more detailed climate action policies or plans. Most of these policies focus on institutional greenhouse gas emissions and operations, rather than how institutions will respond to climate change through academic curriculum, research or community outreach.

"There has been a steady increase in uptake of sustainability across the formal education sector over the past decade," McKenzie said. "However, our research suggests there is more to be done to ensure this goes beyond reducing institutional greenhouse gas emissions to consider broader implications."


For more information, contact:

Marcia McKenzie



Michelle Beveridge

Communications Coordinator

306-229-2230 (cell)
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