Queen’s green scene

The present and future of sustainability on campus

Vice-Principal (Operations and Finance) Andrew Simpson says lighting retrofits are a practical way to go green.
Vice-Principal (Operations and Finance) Andrew Simpson says lighting retrofits are a practical way to go green.
In the 2006-07 fiscal year, approximately 2,291 tonnes of Queen’s waste went to the landfill.
In the 2006-07 fiscal year, approximately 2,291 tonnes of Queen’s waste went to the landfill.

Queen’s scored a less-than-impressive grade of C on the 2008 College Sustainability Report Card, which compared green initiatives at 200 North American universities. That’s something the University is trying to change.

But going green isn’t as simple as installing a solar panel or turning the lights off in Stauffer Library at night, says Physical Plant Services (PPS) engineering director John Witjes.

“We’re obligated to look at all of these different options. We do get a lot of questions about the simplicity of, ‘Why aren’t you doing this?’ and a lot of it is driven by economics,” he said. “If the ideas are economically viable and sustainable, we do pursue them.”

Witjes reviews designs for new buildings and installations, provides technical advice to the operations side of the University and looks after energy management initiatives on campus.

He’s also responsible for the Central Heating Plant—which serves Main Campus, West Campus, Kingston General Hospital, Hotel Dieu and Providence Care with heat—and managing the University’s $15.5 million utilities budget.

Every effort made to conserve energy helps, Witjes said.

“I think on that front we’re going to have the greatest impact if we can get everybody doing their little share,” he said. “It makes Queen’s a much stronger university as a whole. It’s important with increasing commodity costs that we make an effort to reduce the energy in buildings we already have.”

PPS waste information co-ordinator Rebecca Spaulding said food waste is one of the biggest components of waste Queen’s sends to landfill.

PPS has been working for years trying to divert it, she said.

“We ran a program for two years at one kitchen at the Jean Royce Hall kitchen, and using a facility through correctional services and looking at expanding that program, but it closed its doors to Queen’s and also everyone but the national defence and correctional facilities,” she said, adding that since then they have been looking for a similar alternative.

Spaulding said the city is developing a public composting system, and she thinks Queen’s will eventually get one as well.

“I would think within the next two years we’re going to be composting as a university,” she said. “Every setting is unique in terms of the space and logistics, so we’d implement it gradually, starting in one location and moving it forward into another area.”

In February 2005, PPS started an electronic waste recycling program.

“Those materials are picked up on our Wednesday large-article pick-up along with old fridges, broken desks and articles that are too large to go into a regular dumpster,” she said. “Instead of landfilling those computers, they’re going to Sims Recycling Solutions in Brampton.”

Spaulding said one of the most challenging aspects of promoting recycling on campus is making recycling containers visible and clearly labelled.

“In certain buildings sometimes recycling containers get moved around, and may not be available at the time a student is walking through,” she said.

Spaulding said PPS tries to make every opportunity available for people to recycle by purchasing more recycling containers and making sure they’re visible.

“I do believe most people want to at least recycle,” she said. “Sometimes, the opportunities may not be as present, and that’s something we’re working on to improve.” As PPS energy engineer, Nathan Splinter identifies spots on campus where Queen’s can save energy and money.

Splinter said a major $335,000 retrofit to replace old lighting fixtures in hallways, classrooms, lecture theatres and offices with high-efficiency fluorescent lights is underway. PPS has put forward a proposal to show that this project will recover the $335,000 within three years on energy savings alone, so the university administration has funded that project for PPS.

Splinter said an important aspect of aspect of energy management is lighting retrofits in older buildings, where old lighting is replaced with new energy efficient lighting.

If the money invested into the retrofit will be negated through energy savings three years or less, the University will fund the retrofit.

Splinter said he determines a room or building’s power use by doing an inventory of its light fixtures and speaking with the building’s users to gauge when they’re turned on.

He designs a 3D model of the room and uses a software program to virtually lights it as efficiently as possible.

At the same time Splinter creates a spreadsheet that will allow Physical Plant Services to calculate the costs and savings of the project. The project is then submitted to Queen’s administration for approval. If it’s approved, he can move ahead.

“I meet with the area managers and we discuss the project. We develop a timeline and decide if the project will be completed in-house or by a contractor,” he said. “Once the fixtures arrive and we can access the room without disturbing the occupants we begin the physical changes to the fixtures.”

PPS also tracks retrofits after they’re completed to monitor the energy savings.

In late August, PPS energy engineer Nathan Splinter sent a brochure to about 4,500 staff and faculty members at Queen’s asking them to turn off their computers at the end of the day and use energy saving settings.

With 8,500 computers on campus, Splinter said implementing these changes can help make a big difference.

“There’s even a couple computer labs that have worked with ITS after seeing the brochure to automate their shut downs of their computer labs,” he said. “Before, it would take them 20 to 30 minutes to do it manually; now it’s automated.”

Queen’s has commissioned another group of students under a program called Technology, Engineering And Management (TEAM) to investigate and research alternative energy technologies that could be implemented on campus.

“They are going to be looking into solar heating panels, wind turbine power for electricity generation, deep lake water cooling, solar voltaic panels for electricity generation, fuel cells for both heat and electricity, geothermal heating and cooling, and lake water heating and cooling,” Splinter said.

Splinter said his next project will raise awareness on lighting, using a conversion method that takes energy use in terms of kilowatt per hour and measures it in carbon dioxide or fuel or other forms of energy.

“It’s really common-sense stuff, but it has a big impact,” he said. “Sometimes when you outline what those impacts can be, people go, ‘Wow, I had no idea.’” Splinter said explaining energy use in terms of carbon dioxide produced has a bigger impact because not everyone understands what kilowatt hour is.

“It’s a bit of an awareness that you have to initiate for other people to understand and have it have a greater impact on them,” he said.

Splinter said he’s working on an energy management plan to propose new energy-saving policies for the University.

“For example, with air conditioning, we’re looking at seeing if we can bump up the temperatures we maintain during the summer, because air conditioning is a huge portion of the electrical use on campus during the summer,” he said.

Associate Vice-Principal (Facilities) Ann Browne said new buildings on campus are built with sustainable practices in mind.

“With the newer buildings, we’re really making sure they’re energy-efficient,” she said. “We’re making sure what we’re putting in is the best there is out there at the time.”

Browne said this efficiency not only includes the final product, but the materials used in upgrading a building and the way in which they are purchased. “I’d like to see that we’re going to be more efficient in the way we purchase things, and that we purchase the right things,” she said. “Buying smart is really important.”

Browne said 20 years down the road she wants to see more sophisticated energy-management systems.

“It would be nice to think that every building would be a smart building and take care of itself, so that you walk in and a light goes on in a room, and when you leave and there’s no movement the light goes off,” she said. “Or … so that we can program everything to go on and off at a certain hour and readjust heating temperatures.”

The University announced plans this summer to create a campus-wide sustainability office. They interviewed applicants this week, and Browne said they hope to have someone in charge of the office by late December or early January.

Browne said the sustainability manager will improve upon what the University’s already doing in terms of sustainable practices.

“They’re going to go through and see what our standards are in terms of how we build our buildings, what we put in our buildings, what our systems are, and find different ways that we can make them better, more efficient, and user-friendly for the population at large.” Browne said she hopes the sustainability manager will make up his or her own salary with money he or she saves the University in energy costs.

“If we can get that person in there and start implementing, they will pay for themselves in savings,” she said.

Vice-Principal (Operations and Finance) Andrew Simpson said hiring a sustainability manager will help focus the University’s sustainability initiatives.

“One of the challenges we’ve encountered is that sustainability is a very broad topic,” he said.

“We need some leadership in this area and we’ve been building leadership.”

Simpson said lighting retrofits are a practical way to go green because the payback is so short—about three years—but the fixtures themselves will last for eight to 10 years, He said the types of green initiatives the University undertakes depend on cost.

“Usually when resources are required in order to do something, you end up in a discussion about, ‘Can we afford this?’”

He said the University needs to assess the initial cost of changes and then the timeline for payback.

“Even if we wouldn’t see any payback, is it the right thing to be doing?”

AMS Sustainability Co-ordinator Maryam Adrangi thinks sustainability is a very ill-defined word.

“Sustainability refers to the longevity of the environment and its ecological integrity. We depend on the planet for so much and so it is important to sustain these resources,” she said. “That being said, it shouldn’t necessarily be just about sustaining what we as humans need, but also about respecting natural earth systems.”

Adrangi is working on a Residence Energy Challenge, which will run from Feb. 4 to March 7.

The challenge will make residences compete for prizes by reducing their energy use.

Queen’s will also compete as a university against other universities in Ontario in a similar energy challenge.

“As a university, we are also competing with U of Guelph and U of Waterloo, and the winning campus will receive a solar panel from the Ontario government to raise ongoing awareness about energy use and alternative energy sources,” Adrangi said.

Adrangi said thanks to the increased media attention, issues like climate change and global warming have been receiving, more and more students are becoming receptive to environmental initiatives.

“Every time Al Gore points to an iceberg I role my eyes, and when I see a Much Music VJ talk about Flick Off I want to get off the couch and flick off the TV then and there,” she said. “However, part of these messages is helping me do my job.”

Adrangi said sustainable initiatives at Queen’s are particularly important because universities are the perfect environment for social change: they’re designed to have a concentration of knowledge and innovation, to bring together people from diverse backgrounds and disciplines and to encourage creativity.

“Universities also have the power to envision long-term goals,” she said, “This is in stark contrast from most organizations and institutions that can but are not willing to think further into the future than oh, I don’t know, the next election?”

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