Sustainable practice through mentorship

The Office of Sustainability at the University of the Fraser Valley has been leading the institution towards more sustainable practices. Part of that effort includes ensuring faculty, staff, and students are aware of and actively working to achieve the 17 UN Global Sustainable Development Goals.

It should be no surprise then that one of the office’s core strengths is leadership, something that sustainability manager Jennifer Martel imparts to her team at every opportunity.

team photo 1Martel, who earned a UFV Bachelor of Science in biology in 2014, went on to grad school with the intention of expanding her leadership capabilities, earning a Master of Science in strategic leadership towards sustainability at the Blenkinge Institute of Technology in Sweden.

“I ended up choosing to focus on strategic leadership and sustainability,” says Martel. “The program provided me with opportunity to address the social side, the leadership side, and the environmental side and really learn how to better work with all the systems.”

“What was the point of treating someone’s ailment if when they walk outside, they can’t breathe because the air is so polluted, or they end up right back at the hospital because their water is toxic?”

In reality, Martel began her career in leadership well before that.  While working towards her bachelor’s degree, her plan was to enter the medical field, but she quickly realized that the work she would do there would be limiting.

“By going into medicine, I felt I would have been figuratively and literally bandaging situations,” says Martel. “What was the point of treating someone’s ailment if when they walk outside, they can’t breathe because the air is so polluted, or they end up right back at the hospital because their water is toxic?”

Martel says she was inspired by her coursework to make the shift towards sustainability, not just environmental, but social as well.

“I appreciate being able to look in a very purposeful way at the social sustainability aspects, such as human rights and social justice,” says Martel. “And that’s the thing about sustainability. It can be really overwhelming, but all these different systems must work together in order for any of the systems to succeed going forward.”

Jennifer, she doesn’t view leadership in a traditional way. To her, its more about connections.

“I learn so much from my team members,” says Martel. “You can be a leader in many different ways. And it’s not just the person who’s at the front of a room. It’s the people doing the work in the background leading just as much.”

The students working at UFV’s Office of Sustainability have been given an opportunity to learn in ways a classroom would not typically provide.

With March for Sustainability around the corner, students have been given the opportunity to support the planning of individual events.


“She definitely has a lot of trust in everyone in the office,” says Cameron James, a fourth-year environmental studies student who is completing an internship in the Sustainability office. “Working in the office, I’ve been able to lead different projects, take on new responsibilities, and connect with people that I never would have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

“Networking is absolutely huge, and Jen does a really good job of introducing us to different people and exposing us to a lot of the things that she does in her role. It gives us a taste of what our future career opportunities could look like post-graduation, and helps us develop different skills.”

James began her career with the Office of Sustainability with the creation of a pollinator garden behind the Lá:lem te Baker residence building.

“I had to research what types of plants are native to the area and which ones attract different types of pollinators,” she says. “It was very rewarding to see our vision come to life once we got to plant the garden.”

It was a moment of excitement for James, and one she will be able to revisit as she expands the garden as one of her final projects for the office before graduation.

As March for Sustainability approaches, James and the rest of the Sustainability team are preparing to coordinate 20 events over the course of the month. The events are co-hosted by various departments who have shown interest in participating. Members of the Office of Sustainability collaborate with the department teams as and support.

“There are so many different people hosting these events,” says James. “Our office is coordinating amongst all of the different event leads and doing the marketing and communications for the event series as a whole.”

With event season in full swing, Martel has encouraged students to take ownership over specific events.

“That trust from her means a lot,” says James. “It gives me confidence. It helps me acknowledge what I’m capable of take on more responsibilities.”

As James completes her studies, she hopes to take the skills she learned from working in the Office of Sustainability forward to BCIT where she plans to complete her Sustainable Business Leadership certification. The goal: to become a sustainability consultant for businesses, especially in the fashion industry. Two of her colleagues from the Office of Sustainability are considering joining her for the program.

As James graduates and continues her career and studies, Martel will continue to mentor co-op students through the Office of Sustainability at UFV, fostering a legacy of service-both on campus and in the community-through her own practice.

You can learn more about March for Sustainability here.