Université Laval – 2019 SDG Leadership Awards

Université Laval

Website: www.ulaval.ca

Industry: Institutional (higher education)

View previous sustainability report (French) (English)

Primary SDG Focus

Secondary SDG Focus

Which of the 10 Principles of the UN Global Compact applies to your emerging practice project/initiative?

  • Principle 7: Business should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges.
  • Principle 8: Undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility.

Please summarize your company’s SDG focus, how was that SDG was implemented and how did achieved and measured the impact.

Université Laval’s engagement toward sustainable development began in 2007, prior to the adoption of the sustainable development goals of the United Nations. Climate action was and still is a major issue to be addressed. Université Laval used its campus as a living lab for measurement, evaluation, reduction and compensation of greenhouse gases emissions (GHG). Different programs were developed to involve our institution’s community in that regard, in a voluntary approach (to strengthen the empowerment and self-responsibility of individuals), such as :

  • Eco-responsible events certification (from 50 events in 2014-15 to 196 events in 2018-19);
  • Electric circuit stations (6 and more to come);
  • Self-service bikes (64) ;
  • Carpooling services (from 1200 users in 2010-2011 to almost 6000 in 2018-19);
  • Voluntary GHG compensation for travels and commuting linked to plantations in the teaching and research Montmorency forest (1300+ participants, 11000+ planted trees each year).

To answer the demand, 405 parking lot for bicycles were added in the last 4 years (+5%/year). Also, less “cars parking lot” were sold: a reduction of 11,5% was observed between 2012-13 and 2018-19. These initiatives culminated in 2015 when Université Laval achieved carbon neutrality, first in Canada to do so in the absence of any legal imperative.

Université Laval’s sustainability efforts earned a gold rating as part of the international STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™) program administered by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). In 2016, Université Laval scored the top rating among Canadian universities and is ranked 2nd among 800 universities worldwide registered for STARS, with a score of 82.53 out of 100, and is now aiming a platinum rating for its next candidacy in Fall 2019.

In the last three years, UL maintained its carbon neutrality and developed new partnerships with Chateau Frontenac (2016, tree planting for their clients GHG compensations) and with Energir (2018, renewable natural gas). By becoming a carbon-neutral campus, Université Laval inspired other organizations and communities to follow in its footsteps.

Climate action (SDG13) also oriented some of the food contracts specifications as part of the ethical sourcing of food and supplies policy (in French) (in English) – local purchasing, compost&recycling, student-grown food valorization (ex: free “UL” honey to put in coffee), etc.

Lastly, in parallel of Quebec city’s structuring public transport, students decided by referendum to embark in a “LPU” (for “laisser-passer universel”, “universal transport pass”). Université Laval strongly support their initiative and will invest time and resources to offer this service to all its students in Fall 2019.

How was your primary SDG focus identified and prioritized in the company’s value chain?

Carbon neutrality at Université Laval has become a defining attribute, a statement that embodies the whole approach toward sustainability. It is being articulated in its business process :


The commitment toward sustainability has strong roots in Université Laval. The campus’ community, students and employees, strongly agreed, engaged and supported the strategic orientations defined in 2007 by former president Denis Brière’s administration. Although sustainability was addressed before 2007 by individuals, it was then being articulated with a vision. In 2018, strategic orientations were redefined by actual president Sophie d’Amours’ administration with a participative approach. After these necessary reflections and dialogues, “sustainable development”, as reflected in the different round tables and committees, was inscribed in Université Laval’s mission as part of its culture.

Université Laval is actually updating its sustainability policy and is working on its next sustainability action plan : SDGs will be addressed in various forms, consultations are under way.

Mission (https://www.ulaval.ca/en/about-us/strategic-plan/mission-vision-values.html)

Driven by a deep-seated culture of sustainable development, Université Laval educates engaged and creative students, model citizens, scientists, and business leaders who have an important impact on the direction that society takes. As a leading French-language institution with a strong international focus, Université Laval strives for excellence in education and research. It seeks to be both a reference and a source of inspiration for its partners by mustering the forces of change in the heart of Québec City’s vibrant university community.

How was your primary SDG integrated and anchored throughout your business?

UL’s sustainability strategic orientation is supported by policies and plans of actions. Climate action was one of the 10 strategic axis of the three previous Sustainable development action plans (2009-12, 2012-15, 2015-18), alongside education, sustainable transportation, research and creation, governance…  The actual concertation table in sustainable development is working on its next action plan that will encompass sustainable development goals.

In the last action plan, UL’s different units (faculties, departments, services…) had to link their business case with sustainability, and climate actions were often addressed by contextual actions. Direction of finance adopted regulation around responsible purchasing and are working on a divestment project along with students unions (fossil fuels disinvestment) ; “campus event office” manage a eco-responsible event label ; study direction developed tools for mapping sustainability within formation ; prevention and security service provides community with alternatives for the auto solo… These efforts, amongst others, contributed to maintain carbon neutrality, as our total GHG emissions have been lowered by 26% since 2006.

In short, the institution shows the target (climate actions), puts into place some key accomplishments (as carbon neutrality), and asks its services to act accordingly and contextually.

Did you employ any innovative approaches in your efforts to implement the goal?


The main innovation resides within the whole-institution approach. Such an integrated approach is rarely the case, especially in higher education institutions, whereas the collegiality along with “silo” approaches make this integrated-approach difficult at the least. The top-down planning gave enough flexibility, enough space for the bottom-up initiatives’ growth, making the change possible within our campus, in a sustainable and respectful approach.

Certain particular innovations were implemented to support the sustainability engagement of our institution such as the voluntary offset program for GHG compensations or the unique methodology for mapping sustainability in the curriculums (courses and programs) as described in « Implementing Sustainability in the Classroom at Université Laval » (Richard, Forget et Gonzalez, 2017).

The top management’s decision to make sustainability, and within it climate action, a strategic orientation at first (2007-2017) and now, a defining attribute inscribed in its mission, can be perceived as audacious or daring. But if Université Laval cannot or will not implement an ecologic transition within itself, how could we expect the whole society to adopt this level of change? That’s what’s driving the institution, that’s the main innovation: a major institution, a major Quebec city employer, tackles the climate and sustainability challenge on a campus-scale open-approach.

Were any partnerships leveraged or created?

Different partnerships emerged for our climate action objectives in the last three years. Here is a short list of the partnerships created to obtain and maintain carbon neutrality.

  • National Écocrédit and Ecotierra were necessary partners to reach carbon neutrality by buying carbon credits and their business purposes were linked to research as well;
  • Forêt d’Arden is a NGO partner that works on educational carbon credits. Carbon credits our institution bought from them came came from local tree planting projects with K-12 partners, liked to an environmental education approach;
  • Séminaire de Québec has offered Université Laval, for a fixed five-year period, carbon credits generated by the additional amount of carbon stored and retained in the forest biomass due to the reduction of its annual forest harvest on a portion of the Seigneurie de Beaupré;
  • As mentioned earlier, partnerships emerged with Chateau Frontenac (2016, tree planting for their clients GHG compensations) and with Energir (2018, renewable natural gas).

Forêt Montmorency is not to be forgotten, as it represents our major carbon sink, playing a key role in the university’s GHG reduction strategy. This forest is the largest teaching and research forest in the world, totalling 412 km2. Since 1964, Université Laval students have had the opportunity to learn about good practices in forestry, forest management, forest protection, and logging, while researchers have been able to conduct studies in this open sky laboratory.

Students unions are strong partners that represent the student community. The referendum in fall 2018 for a public transport universal free pass contributes strongly to the institution desires around climate call for action.

Along with these partnerships for obtaining and maintaining carbon neutrality, other partnerships linked to climate action emerged in different areas, especially in research. As for an example, a new institute, INQ (institut nordique du Québec), developed innovative partnerships with local inuit communities.

What communications strategy did you employ to share the initiative with your stakeholders?

As for the general approach and how the university managed to share its vision with its stakeholders, it was about reputation and leadership. Université Laval is proud to represent a living laboratory for sustainability and climate action initiatives. It does so in order to assess nowadays society challenges, and also to maintain a sustainability leadership in higher education, whereas reputation is the key to recruitment. The fact that new partnerships are emerging is a demonstration of Université Laval’s community outreach and positive influence.

As for communication and community engagement process, stakeholders were part of the sustainability and climate action planning from its beginning. Students, employees and stakeholders have been consulted and are involved in the process, and all partnerships and projects around “climate action” are communicated accordingly to their contexts. Students-based projects, as the “LPU”, were communicated and managed by student unions ; partnerships with private sector are negotiated and then communicated by press conference and articles ; local initiatives are communicated locally…  Also, a sustainability newsletter is sent every month to the whole community, to communicate and resume the different initiatives and events in that regard.

For carbon neutrality and its maintenance, GHG assessments of scope 1 and scope 2 GHG emissions are achieved on an annual basis and a complete assessment of all emissions every three years.

For tree planting (GHG sink), Université Laval used a model developed by the UNFCCC to evaluate and measure GHG offsets. It’s worth to mention that all these plantations respected the principle of additionality, and that six graduated (or soon-to-be graduated) students projects were linked to Forêt Montmorency offsetting program.

How were KPIs and the levels of success outlined and defined?

Different work groups under concertation tables and committees established contextual key performance indicators when needed. For example, to establish the list of courses in sustainability at UL, a mandated workgroup defined criteria and methodology for this kind of assessment, according to the context of teaching and learning in a higher education institution.

In the last action plan (2015-18), units and services, supported by the sustainability coordination team, defined their actions toward sustainability by proposing different actions linked to targets and objectives. Different levels of success could then be outlined and defined: at the end of each year, the local respondent in sustainability was asked, for all the actions that were identified, what was the progression rate. For making this accountability easier, level of success was to be chosen between 0, 25, 50, 75 and 100%.

Sustainable reports, highlights, indicators and results are posted on a website and are shared to the community by newsletters.

How were reporting and monitoring conceptualized and undertaken?

On an annually basis, units and services have to identify a responsible for the “sustainable development action plan” who’s contacted by the sustainability coordination team to report on the progresses in any action planned toward sustainability and climate action.

Along with action plans, key performance indicators are produced this way each and every year. They are summed up in annual reports and highlights brochure (2017-2018 highlights are in translation). Data collected is vulgarized through short resume that are communicated to the community for a better appropriation of the information by the sustainability newsletters.

Targets for each action planned are defined by the unit or service. For the last action plan (2015-18), 283 different actions were proposed by units and services and the overall progression rate was of 72% at the end of 2017-18.

For carbon neutrality and its maintenance, as mentioned earlier, assessments of scope 1 and scope 2 GHG emissions are achieved on an annual basis and a complete assessment of all emissions every three years.


What were some key lessons learned?


One of the main key lessons learned is that you can’t implement an interdisciplinary, integrated approach by making an action plan with 10 different axis “in silos”.  The workgroup that is writing the next action plan and updating the sustainable development policy is trying to assess this paradigm through an innovative approach. This approach in on the worktable for now.

Another important lesson is to try to make sustainability and climate action a part of the core business of every units and service by supporting them, but also by recognition of any efforts already made already in that regard. Dialogue is the key.

Mobilization of the community and of the partnerships is also an issue. Inspiration comes from example and coherence, and Université Laval, by its top management’s sustainability engagement, is developing its potential to represent its own living laboratory for tackling sustainability in a campus integrated approach, which is inspiring for the community within and outside of the campus.

At last, even if it was important to make sure that key performance indicators were well measured and evaluated, processes were simplified to avoid that sustainability and climate action accountability would become an overload for employees.

What were the key impacts and results?

A major impact is the annual carbon neutrality of the campus, obtained in 2015 and maintained ever since.

Université Laval’s influence made some key partnerships to emerge (Chateau Frontenac, Energir) and engage in the pursue of their own carbon neutrality.

Sustainability and climate action are certainly more than a trend, and Université Laval’s commitment toward these objectives can be seen in various forms :

But more important, Université Laval managed to find a way of implementing sustainability and climate action within its own core business by establishing a dialogue with its stakeholders.