Amy Spark with students
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Reimagining the future through sustainability

For Amy Spark, sustainability is about increasing our positive impact on the environment.

As a kid growing up next to Fish Creek Provincial Park, Amy Spark would spend every day outside climbing trees with her friends. By junior high school, she was an advocate for the environment, telling her teachers about recycling. 

“It's no surprise to me or my family that I'm doing the work that I'm doing,” says Amy, a fourth-generation Calgarian. 

But when Amy was doing her bachelor’s degree in environmental science at the University of Calgary and her master’s degree in environment, culture, and society from the University of Edinburgh, the work that she’d end up doing wasn’t so obvious. “What I kept being told by the program and professors is that the vast majority of environmental scientists worked as environmental consultants, and they spend a lot of their time mitigating damage of development projects. But I was looking for a field where I would get the opportunity to imagine what a more sustainable future may look like.”

Amy wondered how an environmental scientist could work for positive change. After a stint working in science and environmental education, she got a taste of the world she was looking for through a job with the Alberta Ecotrust Foundation, who invests in people and projects that protect natural systems. A few months later, she saw the posting for the sustainability coordinator job at Bow Valley College. “I knew what a sustainability portfolio looks like in theory, but the chance to be part of the team of sustainability at the College was really exciting,” she says. 

Amy adds that both of these opportunities have led her to a niche of systems-building and sustainability, which she describes as improving our existing systems instead of being set in the ways of how things have always been done. “[It’s] a space where you can re-imagine what the future looks like rather than feeling like you have to respond to damage that is already taking place,” she says. “It's about being proactive instead of merely responsive. And not only proactive, but actually improving the environment rather than just preventing harm.” 

When applying to the College, Amy says what was really compelling for her was the job description said “You are an agent of change for the College.” 

“I read that as someone who was willing to look at the status quo and say, “How can we be doing something better. How do we prepare the College to be climate-resilient in 200 years?” ” she says. 

Since Amy joined the Campus Services team in July, 2017, the College has won an international award from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Larger schools like the University of Alberta have approached her for resources on sustainable purchasing. And recently, the International Green Gown Awards, which are supported by UN Environment, selected the Intercultural Centre at Bow Valley College as a finalist in sustainability excellence. Of the AASHE win, Vaughn Ravenscroft, Vice-President, Strategy and Chief Information Officer at Bow Valley College, says Amy’s creativity and team approach took the College from a single idea to an internationally recognized sustainability program within 18 months.

As for Amy, she enjoys the College’s culture of collaboration. “Even though I'm based in Campus Services, I get to collaborate with people across the College,” she says. 

For example, for last year’s Earth Day, Amy worked with the Intercultural Centre to organize an event that showcased artist Miguel Barros’ work on glacial melts. For this year’s Earth Day, the Intercultural Centre and Amy collaborated again on an interactive display on climate stories, which featured a website that tells the stories of people around the world experiencing or dealing with climate change. 

Other events that Amy is proud of are Bike to Work Day and Feeding the 5,000. Bike to Work Day is a city-wide event that the College has been participating in since May, 2018, encouraging students and staff to cycle to the College and offering them free tune-ups on their bikes. In June 2018, Amy collaborated with a number of external partners on Feeding the 5,000, an event that used rescued food — items that would otherwise be rejected because of the way they look — to serve a free lunch to 5,000 Calgarians. A few students and staff from the College volunteered.

Recently, in collaboration with many teams at the College, Amy applied for a grant through Employment and Social Development Canada. The grant’s purpose is to further the work of the Sustainable Development Goals, which are a blueprint to achieve a more sustainable future. The Sustainable Development Goals were set by the United Nations, with a target achievement date of 2030. They include Goal 4: Quality Education and Goal 5: Gender Equality, two important values for the College. 

In addition, Amy and Trevor McIvor (currently on secondment with the Teaching and Learning team) will soon be launching a resource for instructors who want to embed sustainability into their classroom and curriculum. It will be available on an online portal for instructors, and will include videos from other instructors who’ve incorporated sustainability into their students’ learning.   

What’s in store for Amy’s education and professional development? She is considering doing a doctorate in social sciences within the faculty of Interdisciplinary Studies at Royal Roads University, but in the meantime, she is really enjoying the positive change she can bring forth through sustainability. 

To learn even more about Amy's recent work, check out our 2018 Sustainability Report.

Posted on August 6, 2019

Story by Julie-Anne Cleyn, photos by Chris Bolin

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