10 Years Ahead: an Interview with USMC President David Sylvester 

10 Years Ahead: an Interview with USMC President David Sylvester 

Photo Credit: Alessia Baptista, Editor-in-Chief

A look at USMC’s long standing commitment to sustainability, and what’s next 

Alessia Baptista, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

The University of St. Michael’s College (USMC) lives out five values in every activity: human dignity, community, social justice, service, and sustainability. Together, these values work to strengthen the USMC community and make it a better place within the University of Toronto (U of T) for all students and community members. 

In a Letter to the Community on October 27, 2021, President of U of T, Meric Gertler released a statement regarding the University’s divestment in fossil fuels, outlining a commitment to divesting the University’s over $4 billion endowment from investments in fossil fuels by 2030. That’s ten years from now. 

In response to the Letter, recent press has called on the federated colleges: Trinity College, Victoria College, and the University of St. Michael’s College, to divest from fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions. Given that the federated colleges function independently from the broader University, there has been a particular push for them to divest. 

As of 2023, Victoria holds large endowments in the fossil fuel industry, part of which funds the Vic One program. While USMC has not invested directly since 2013, the college holds a small percentage of indirect investments. 

The college has work to be done and actively takes pride in its commitment to sustainability. “St. Mike’s has been a leader in this for many years,” says USMC President David Sylvester. “We divested from direct investments in 2013. We’re on a commitment to reducing our indirect investments, we’re currently at 2.78% of indirect investment, which is really good, but we still have work to do.” 

Beyond the College’s involvement (or lack thereof) in the fossil fuel industry, USMC has implemented initiatives like the St. Mike’s 180 Strategic Plan to uphold the value of sustainability. With Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ “on care for our common home” as a core inspiration, the St. Mike’s 180 project seeks to preserve the USMC community. “It’s our job to keep this place running for years to come,” says Sylvester. 

The College has taken action to make St. Mike’s a more sustainable place on campus through its recent renovations in USMC residences. “Our Facilities Director specializes in sustainability [..] so any renovations done, [in] the Queen’s Park, Sorbara, Elmsley [buildings], those are all done through the lens of sustainability.” 

With the help of St. Mike’s staff, the President also calls attention to work done by Effie Slapnicar, Bursar and Chief Administrative Officer. “Effie has been a leader on campus and we’ve hosted three meetings of CAUBO members (Canadian Association of University Business Officers) in Charbonnel Lounge about how to look at what we do in universities through a social impact lens: how you buy things, where you buy them from, how you use your space, who you partner with. All of these things are related to sustainability. We’re really bringing that together.” 

President Sylvester also recognizes student groups like Clean SMC and the University of St. Michael’s College Student’s Union (SMCSU) for their efforts in making the College more sustainable. “Replacing all the water fountains is a partnership with SMCSU. We don’t promote or sell bottled water on campus; we won’t commercialize water on campus.” With support from administration at USMC, students are able to have a seat at the table and make significant contributions to making the College a better place. 

St. Mike’s is also committed to educating its community about sustainability. Canada’s first graduate diploma in social responsibility and sustainability began at St. Mike’s and continues to this day. According to the President, “the program works to train people in not-for-profit industries about how their companies can be leaders in social responsibility and sustainability.” Moreover, the Elliot Allen Institute for Ecology and Theology was established at St. Mike’s over two decades ago. 

Next steps for St. Mike’s 

“Our long term goal is to be a model for ethical investment and practices of sustainability that reflect our commitment to social justice. We have Laudato Si in our mission statement for a reason. We have to do it as human beings on this planet [and] as caretakers of our home.” 

The college is also actively looking to reduce its indirect investments to zero.

To learn more about St. Mike’s commitment to sustainability, you can check out our website linked here

Disclosure: This article was edited for clarity on March 14th, 2023.