Sept. 21, 2022

These solar-powered phone chargers are free to borrow at UCalgary. Here’s the story behind them

Student-led Sustainable Development Goals Alliance finds local solutions to global issues outlined by the United Nations. Here’s how you can get involved in sustainability on campus
student laying on grass
Dayna Wiebe worked on a pilot project that made portable, solar-powered phone chargers available to students, faculty and staff. Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

The new school year can be a challenge, from starting new classes to picking which extracurricular activities and clubs you may want to join.

There is another option available to students to try their hand at: modelling and testing sustainability practices to make the University of Calgary campus more sustainable.

This is made possible through the Sustainability Leadership Innovation Program (SLIP), an extension of the Campus as a Learning Lab initiative which enables experiential learning opportunities to tackle some of the biggest sustainability challenges that we are faced with.

The Sustainable Development Goals Alliance (SDGA) is a student-led group that collaborates with students, faculty, and staff and the larger Calgary community to tackle sustainability issues as outlined by the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. Each year the SDGA hosts the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit where the focus is to build student capacity in advancing sustainable development by empowering innovative thinking to deal with sustainability-related problems. 

Sustainable Development Goals Summit

The 2021 Sustainable Development Goals Summit was attended by 90 participants and resulted in over 30 student applications to the Sustainability Leadership Program.

Zahra Syeda

“We wanted to promote the idea that students could create actionable change out of their ideas surrounding sustainability,” says Carolyn Horwood, a co-organizer of the 2021 SDG Summit.

The 2021 summit was a week-long series of events featuring both in-person and online events that both students and external community members were able to attend. In total, 90 participants attended the week’s events. This year the summit will explore the ongoing challenges around SDG 5: Gender Equality and SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities, by highlighting topics such as eco-feminism, gender equity, youth stewardship and more.

As a result of the large turnout at the summit, there were more than 30 student applicants to the SLIP program, and 11 projects were launched on campus, addressing 14 out of the 17 SDGs.

“These projects targeted community hunger, bee populations, sustainable infrastructure,” says Horwood, who is entering her fourth year in the Bachelor of Health Sciences Honours program with a major in health and society. “There were so, so many broad and creative ideas that students put forth as a result of the summit, which is just really incredible.”

One of the students who applied to SLIP was Dayna Wiebe, who had been involved with the SDGA since arriving at UCalgary and had helped plan the summits in 2019 and 2020. However, the SLIP program was something new to her.

    UCalgary student at library

    In January 2022, five of the solar chargers were made available for use at a self-serve kiosk in TFDL.

    Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

    “I applied because you get to work with the SDGA and the Office of Sustainability,” she says. “If you have an idea, you work with the team to actually make it a reality.”

    Successful applicants to the SLIP program are paired with a group of two to four other peers and a university or community mentor with expertise in an area of sustainability and leadership training. The students then spend a year designing, implementing and evaluating a project or initiative that advances sustainability, with the dual goal of enhancing both campus engagement in the SDGs and student leadership and skills development.

    Wiebe’s group brainstormed ideas about how progress can be made toward the goal of access to affordable and clean energy.

    To that end, they worked on a pilot project to have portable, solar-powered phone chargers available to students, faculty and staff. In January 2022, five of these chargers were made available for use at a self-serve kiosk in the Taylor Family Digital Library. These are currently available, in a collaboration with Libraries and Cultural Resources, for all of the campus community to use for free.

      UCalgary student with solar phone charger

      The chargers are available for the campus community to use for free.

      Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

      Wiebe says there were multiple objectives to this project. The group wanted there to be more access to renewable energy on campus, and for that energy to be free (a UCID is all that is needed to access the chargers). Additionally, the project aimed to utilize green spaces more, since the chargers could be taken outside instead of students sitting near an outlet to charge their phones.

      “We can sit outside and charge our phones when we need to, and we can also not feel guilty about polluting or creating carbon dioxide emissions while we’re doing it,” says Wiebe, who is gradating this year with a Bachelor of Science in the Natural Sciences Honours Program, with concentrations in energy science and chemistry, and a Certificate in Sustainability Studies. 

      Ideas like these came about through one of the most successful events at the SDG Summit, a blank canvas activity.

      Students were given sustainability issues prompts and were put in teams to come up with creative solutions to solve them. Students can expect to participate in similar experiential learning and professional development opportunities at the 2022 Summit.

      Be it through the summit or the SLIP program, Horwood says an important thing to note is the SDGA is student-led and approaches sustainability from a student perspective. For its sustainability work, the SDGA was recognized in the Government of Canada’s annual report on the 2030 Agenda.

      “We are working toward long-term sustainable solutions not only on the University of Calgary campus, but the City of Calgary and the broader community, through initiatives like the SLIP program.”

      The SDG Summit is a full-day conference held in person at the University of Calgary campus on Saturday, Oct. 1 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Register to attend

      Already have an idea for a project? Explore next steps and application process.

      The Campus as a Learning Lab initiative is a way for students, faculty and staff to work together in advancing sustainability on campus.

      • For students, CLL can supplement volunteering, course projects, and research ideas with real-world data and experiences.
      • For faculty, CLL can supplement course curricula using real-world campus data and environmental situations.
      • For staff, CLL can provide access to student support and expertise through projects that will add capacity and achieve operational priorities.

      The University of Calgary’s Institutional Sustainability Strategy provides a road map for continuous improvement in our pursuit of excellence and leadership in sustainability. We aim to be a Canadian post-secondary education leader in sustainability in our academic and engagement programs, administrative and operational practices, and through supporting community and industry in their aims for leadership in sustainability. Learn more about UCalgary’s leadership in sustainability.