Earth education

How other schools in North America are becoming more environmentally friendly

University of Toronto’s Rewire program wire-cutting opening ceremony in 2006.
University of Toronto’s Rewire program wire-cutting opening ceremony in 2006.
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The University of British Columbia sustainability office is funded from utility costs savings.
The University of British Columbia sustainability office is funded from utility costs savings.
Credit: 
Supplied

Dean Koyanagi, Cornell sustainability co-ordinator, said it’s natural for universities to promote sustainability.

“Higher education has that intellectual capacity to grasp things sometimes before the rest of the world. … It’s not just a business that’s focused on profit margin,” he said.

Cornell tries to focus on the broader picture of sustainability, Koyanagi said.

“It’s the way we do business across the entire university,” he said.

“That’s a little bit of a different approach than some of the other sustainability efforts who focused it strictly on … a single operation unit. We need to create a culture of sustainability so we can actually move the institution in that direction, across all departments, all job levels.”

Cornell’s lake-source cooling plant, completed in 2000, reduces the university’s energy use for chilled water by 86 per cent. The project cost between $55 and $60 million and was the first major deep-lake water cooling system in the United States.

Canada’s first deep-lake water cooling system, using water from Lake Ontario, was installed in Toronto in 2004.

Cornell’s combined heat and power plant, which is in the developing stage, will put the university’s energy consumption 30 per cent below its 1990 level, Koyanagi said.

Edward Wilson, Cornell’s head of utilities and energy management, said the university has had a combined heat and power plant since the mid-eighties, but changes to the plant over the next couple of years will make it more efficient and cost-effective.

In a combined heat and power plant, boilers create high-pressure steam using coal, oil or natural gas, Wilson said. The steam moves through a steam turbine generator that spins a fan wheel, generating electricity by taking some of the energy out of the steam. Meanwhile, low-grade energy in the steam is exhausted through a network of piping and used on campus.

“You’re not only heating buildings, but you’re generating electrical power, and by doing that, your thermal efficiency is close to 75 per cent,” Wilson said, adding that a typical power plant, which only generates electricity, is only 35 per cent efficient.

The current plant generates 15 per cent of the campus’s electrical needs. The other 85 per cent come from the electric grid within the state, he said.

“In the future, we’ll be generating 85 per cent of electrical needs in all of our heat. So we’ll be producing more of our energy ourselves at a higher efficiency,” Wilson said.

The plant has an operating budget of about $18 million annually, $9 million of which goes to fuel. With the new components, the annual budget will be about $40 million, but the university will be producing most of its own energy.

The project, which is expected to be completed in 2009, will add two gas turbine generators with heat recovery steam generators at the current heating plant.

Koyanagi said the project was initially estimated at $62 million, but with increasing construction expenses, it’s projected at just under $80 million.

He said the funding for the project is borrowed, but the university is fundraising for it.

“People are recognizing that these kinds of expenditures have a good economic value,” Koyanagi said in an e-mail.

He said the university doesn’t have a budget specifically for environmentally friendly initiatives.

“When we asked for some additional money to retrofit a bunch of hallways, the administration just gave utilities $3.5 million … and it was never called a sustainability campaign,” he said.

“It was just, ‘Oh, that makes sense for the university to do—we’ll find the money to do it. It doesn’t matter whose budget it goes to.’”

The Cornell Dining Local Foods Advisory Council is a student-driven initiative council that aims to increase the percentage of locally sourced foods.

The Cornell Green Building Initiative ensures new buildings on campus follow the university’s sustainability standards. Cornell has used the LEED rating system in the design process for a number of campus buildings. One of the university’s residence halls was approved as LEED certified in May 2005.

Cornell President David Skorton signed the American University and College Presidents Climate Commitment earlier this year. The pledge has 434 signatories from across the United States.

According to the website for the commitment, those who sign are required to begin developing a plan to achieve climate neutrality within two months of signing. Signatories must initiate two or more “tangible actions” to reduce greenhouse gases while the plan is in development, such as increasing access to public transportation or establishing a LEED building policy. They also have to make their reports publicly available by providing them to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

Koyanagi said the Cornell Campus Life Green Team is setting up an educational program to inform incoming students about their environmental impact.

“Economics and science are showing that we have to do these things. Population growth problems to water to climate change … the awareness that we have to change the way we do things is becoming commonplace. There’s not a single department that I can think of on our campus who says, ‘Oh this isn’t that important.’”

* * *

Charlene Easton is the director of Sustainability at the University of British Columbia, which has had a sustainability office since creating its sustainability development policy in 1997.

Easton said the policy outlined a “triple bottom line”—ecological, social and environmental impact.

Easton said 46 per cent of the university’s waste is now being diverted from landfill. An organic composter collects organic waste from about 50 sites on campus.

Brigid MacAulay, co-ordinator of UBC’s Sustainability Co-ordinator Program, said the composter has digested more than 300 tonnes of waste since its installation in 2004.

“The soil generated from the in-vessel composter is currently used by the campus landscaping team, saving the university the cost of purchasing it elsewhere, and the emissions from transport,” MacAulay said in an e-mail to the Journal.

In 1998 the UBC President’s Office put $50,000 towards establishing the sustainability office, MacAulay said. The office was given control of campus utility costs.

“In effect, all of our office funding, including the salaries, are paid from the savings we achieve through reductions in utility costs,” MacAulay said.

“All of our projects are funded in the same way. We take out a loan from our Treasury department and pay it back from the savings to the utility costs.” The UBC Sustainability Office is funded through energy savings, Easton said—in dollars, she said it’s about $500,000 to $600,000 per year.

“Energy savings are about $2.6 million a year, but we use the rest of the money to pay down the debt that we took out to do the retrofits,” she said.

When UBC’s sustainability office first opened, it focused on managing the campus’s energy portfolio, Easton said.

“Over the years it grew into a $35-million retrofit on the 277 academic buildings on campus,” she said.

The retrofit involved hanging light fixtures, putting in more water-efficient fixtures, working on insulation in walls, windows and roofs and doing some upgrades to the utility plant on campus.

She said UBC’s greenhouse-gas emissions have dropped 25 per cent per square metre since 2000.

“Whereas the rest of the world was going up and peaking in term of energy use, UBC was actually reducing its footprint,” Easton said, adding that the project was the largest retrofit of its time on a campus in Canada.

The retrofit, completed in 2006, cuts UBC’s energy costs by $2 million every year. It also saves 15,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, reduces water use by 30 per cent and energy use by 20 per cent.

At the same time, Easton said, UBC has programs to engage with students, staff and faculty.

UBC Social, Ecological, Economic Development Studies (SEEDS) program brings students, staff and faculty together to research sustainability-related topics.

The program has initiated campus sustainability projects such as sustainable purchasing policies and programs in campus food services.

“Food services has made sustainability a part of its culture,” Easton said, adding that this year a sustainable seafood purchasing program is being implemented.

Five threatened seafood species—monkfish, snapper, long-line caught tuna, sevruga caviar and swordfish—were removed from campus menus. The project also makes recommendations on the sustainability of shellfish, steelhead trout and rainbow trout and shrimp.

This year, Easton said the university hired a full-time student engagement officer to manage outreach and engagement programs.

Another new initiative at UBC is the Residential Environmental Assessment Program (REAP). In 1910, 3500 acres of land on Vancouver’s Point Grey peninsula were reserved for UBC to use for comprehensive urban development.

Easton said the university is transforming some of that land into residential communities so people don’t have to commute.

“We’re also working with the developers to implement green development standards,” she said, adding that the standards stress water efficiency, material efficiency and energy efficiency.

The Sustainability Office is working with UBC Properties Trust, Campus and Community Planning, faculty from the School of Architecture and local green building consultants to implement the standards.

“It’s a really good example of how the campus community and staff come together to create and innovate around sustainability,” Easton said.

UBC is also a member of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

“I think there’s tremendous value in looking at other universities. There’s some great innovation going on in other North American universities and we can also share and learn from that,” Easton said.

She said UBC students are active advocates of environmental sustainability.

“The culture of people on the west coast is very much predispositioned to think about some of these issues,” she said. “Students who are engaged with this office are passionate about sustainability. We have a very active student union, as well, and they just hired a sustainability co-ordinator.”

The UBC Sustainability Office employs four part-time students, in addition to four full-time staff.

All of the school’s diesel fleet vehicles are being converted to biodiesel fuel, pesticides are being eliminated across campus and green cleaning supplies are used in 36 buildings across campus.

“People have integrated sustainability as a part of how they do business and that’s the direction we need to move in collectively,” she said.

Easton said she wants to have a dialogue with other universities around the climate-change agenda—especially Canadian universities.

“There’s a network that happening in the States,” she said. “We’ve started in BC but we do need to expand that dialogue to our fellow Canadian universities. For Queen’s a focus on climate would be really timely.”

* * *

University of Toronto sustainability co-ordinator Ashley Taylor thinks U of T has the chance to make a large impact on the city in terms of sustainability.

“The University of Toronto is the second-largest landholder in the city other than the city itself, and I think being downtown in such a large, diverse city, it’s really important for us to take a leadership role,” she said.

The St. George Campus in downtown Toronto has had a sustainability office since November, 2004. The university established its Mississauga campus environmental affairs office the same year and a sustainability office on the Scarborough campus in May, 2007.

Taylor said the biggest initiatives at the downtown campus have involved energy, transportation and a major lighting retrofit.

Rewire aims to change behaviour related to energy use in residences and offices and is running in seven residence locations and a few offices on campus.

Stuart Chan, also a sustainability co-ordinator, said each residence has a co-ordinator who recruits 10 volunteers to help them use posters, e-mails and stickers reminding students to turn lights off.

“Every two months we have a new theme,” he said.

The theme for the second month was lighting.

“All the co-ordinators there will talk to their people about lighting and energy consumption related to lighting, and using the posters and the e-mails and the prompts, they will try to get the residents to change their behaviours,” Chan said.

Preliminary results from a pilot of the project last year showed a 10 per cent reduction in electricity use in residences.

Bikechain, a facility on campus where students can repair bicycles, is a student-driven initiative.

“People can go there and there’s all of the tools and people will teach them how to fix their bikes,” Taylor said. The service, which is also open to the public, encourages active transportation on campus, she said, and makes cycling more accessible.

This year the university is also doing a retrofit that will replace 18 chillers, which provide cool water to buildings, and all of the lighting in three major buildings on campus—Robarts Library, the Medical Sciences Building and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

“They’re replacing something like 80,000 bulbs … with more efficient bulbs,” Taylor said. The project, which costs more than $2.3 million and is about two-thirds complete, is expected to save about 12 million kilowatt hours a year.

The cooling infrastructure is set to be upgraded by April or May of 2008.

Taylor said the retrofit will amount to approximately $1.3 million in energy savings annually—$330,000 in cooling infrastructure and $970,000 in lighting.

In January the university is piloting a program called ReSource, Taylor said, which aims to reduce paper use in offices. The project will upgrade printers to have double-siding capacities and use paperless record-keeping systems and 100 per cent post-consumer recycled paper.

She said the sustainability office is also researching transportation options.

“We’re looking at what we can do to green our fleet—our groundskeeping vehicles and waste management vehicles,” she said. “We’re also looking into how possible it would be to set up a carpooling program.”

Taylor said a Greenhouse Gas Inventory that measured energy consumption on the St. George campus since 1990.

The inventory found that from 1990 to 2006 the campus grew 23 per cent in gross floor area while the student, staff and faculty population increased 13 per cent. Electricity consumption in that time rose 55 per cent and thermal energy consumption went up 29 per cent.

According to the report, the campus is still 41 per cent above emissions targets set by the Kyoto Protocol, which calls for a reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases to levels at least 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012.

“We are preparing an energy plan that will have several targets, the most ambitious of which will be meeting Kyoto,” Taylor said in an e-mail to the Journal, adding that it will be a challenge.

“There’s a lot of stuff on the horizon for us,” she said.

Overall the St. George Campus office has a budget of about $400,000 to $500,000 a year, Taylor said.

Taylor said U of T has been looking closely at Harvard’s sustainability model. Although UBC has had a sustainability office for a long time, she said, U of T turns to the States when looking at what other schools are doing. U of T is also a member of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

“We’re really tapped into their news and to what they’re reporting on just so we’re in the know of what other schools are doing,” she said.

“In Ontario, there’s no other school that has a sustainability program that’s as large as ours and that’s been around for as long as ours.”

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