“Sustainability is the topic and focus of everything we do, but the students continue to question, to push – they drive change within our program. It is student demand that drives us.”
Environmental Technology students at Camosun learn to develop innovative technologies and solutions to approach sustainability and to benefit society and the environment. “Our program is very focused on environmental sustainability – we live it every day,” says Steve Gormican, Chair of the Environmental Technology Program. Steve leads by example, volunteering with the Air and Waste Management Association (Vancouver Island Chapter), and fulfilling a role as a member of Camosun’s Sustainability Council, an open forum for the discussion of college-wide environmental initiatives, the goal of which is to improve and extend environmental practices at the college.
Steve strives to not only inspire sustainability throughout his programs but throughout his personal life as well. “I take steps throughout my day to minimize my personal impact,” he says continuing on to explain that he chooses to spend most of his free time outdoors – especially on the water. “Being surrounded with nature instills more of a commitment to preservation, more respect to the environment as a whole.”
Encouraging students to spend time outdoors and appreciate nature is a critical part of the program. Through the Environmental Field Camp (ENVR 218) students are “surrounded by everything they are learning about – they are completely immersed.” Throughout the week-long field camp there are no phones, no running water, and just a pit toilet. Students compost and use a small solar-powered generator for laptops (a necessity for students to complete field work). “The solar powered generator is a major improvement over the old gas burning generator we used in years past,” explains Steve and goes on to say that “being surrounded with wilderness while learning and completing work shows students things can be done in a sustainable way – and the solar energy adds to the experience.”
“Alternative energy is always of interest to students,” says Steve as he continues to discuss small changes he has seen within the program. The “smelly old engines” that were used during boat outings have been replaced with cleaner-burning four-stroke engines. “Anytime we can get rid of old polluting machinery we do,” says Steve and adds proudly “these little changes really make a difference and reflect the values we try to teach our students.”
Prior to his role at Camosun Steve was a consulting oceanographer and considers himself privileged to have been able to explore most of British Columbia’s coast while assessing water quality, environmental impacts, and shellfish aquaculture. Steve isn’t the only one within the program with a variety of experiences under his belt. “Students bring their past experiences with them,” he says and “many students have worked in environmentally damaging fields. They have seen the devastation and are inspired to work towards repairing the damage being done – they’ve had a revelation.” Students within the Environmental Technology program have a considerably higher average age than students from other programs at Camosun, mostly due to the fact that they have had years of work experience before enrolling. With the combination of past experiences and an older average age comes increased engagement and volunteerism Steve tells us, “they are very involved and all so passionate about the environment.”
Being surrounded by such an engaged group of students is what motivates Steve most. He says they keep him honest and up-to-date and continues to say “there is hope for our future with students like we have at Camosun.”
It is clear that students and their instructors help each other to stay motivated, but we can’t help but wonder about collaboration within the program. Steve alludes to the fact that the program is multidisciplinary in nature and that “collaboration happens in the classroom with students from our program and instructors from geography, math, biology, chemistry, English, and geoscience,” says Steve, highlighting the diversity of topics covered within the Environmental Technology program and the breadth of knowledge brought into the program’s classrooms. This type of collaboration is a great example of the type of cooperation and support necessary to continue furthering sustainability at Camosun – Steve believes all departments “need to get on board.”
“Collaboration helps bring about change, but what do you think really drives changes to move Camosun to more sustainable practices?” I ask him. He ponders for a moment and responds by saying “environmental sustainability is the topic and focus of everything we do, but the students continue to question, to push – they drive change within our program. It is student demand that drives us.” He explains that students in ENVR 110 (Environmental Seminar) are asked to identify three of Camosun’s sustainability initiatives, and then suggest three initiatives that are not already in place. “It is always enlightening, students see potential in everything and aren’t afraid of thinking big,” he says.
Thinking big is required to address today’s environmental challenges. When asked what Steve’s “big ideas” would be to make Camosun a more sustainable campus he responds enthusiastically – “I’d go all out! There is so much potential to make Camosun a more sustainable place, and a lot of that potential can be found in our buildings. I would like to see more solar energy harvested. In fact, I’d like to see a variety of green technologies put in place. I’d like to harvest wind energy, collect rain water, have green walls in our buildings, there’s just so much we could do.” He adds that Environmental Technology students are often “out and about across campus” looking for inspiration. Each new project could provide unique Living Lab opportunities, not only for them but for students from other programs as well – again highlighting the interdisciplinary possibilities held within sustainability projects that could occur at Camosun.
Steve and his students aren’t afraid of thinking big. So, I ask “what are the biggest challenges to advancing sustainability?” Steve responds in a matter-of-fact tone, “sustainability is about saving resources – including financial resources (which can be done by reducing, reusing, and recycling) – and conserving energy. However, introducing new, greener, technologies is often not economically viable without a long-term vision – they require major investment and that can be a challenge.”
Generally though, Steve believes Camosun is fortunate to be made up of so many sustainability leaders and to have adopted sustainability as one of our four guiding pillars. He also considers himself fortunate to be able to lead and inspire sustainable results everyday within the Environmental Technology curriculum.
“What advice do you have for future leaders of sustainability?” I ask. “Stick it out,” he responds, “students tend to be more environmentally friendly by default – they take the bus because they have access to the UPass, they ride their bikes, buy less and buy used, not only because they know it is a more environmentally friendly approach, but also because of their financial circumstances. I would like to see them stick it out and not get sucked in by society and the conveniences larger incomes can buy.” Although he is no longer a student, Steve tries to live by his own advice by recycling “lots and lots of stuff,” conserving energy whenever possible, carpooling, and riding his bike to work – a bike he converted to electric energy himself!
Through his efforts to reduce his ecologic footprint at home and at work, his continued support of sustainability within the curriculum, his great appreciation for the outdoors and his dedicated volunteerism, Steve truly is a leader of sustainability at Camosun. Thanks, Steve!