Wednesday, 7 May 2014

University of Saskatchewan Sustainability Initiatives

Students from the School of Environment and Sustainability educating other students about bottled water issues

The University of Saskatchewan resembles a city within a city. It is responsible for constructing roads and buildings, supplying heat and water, food, accommodation, and waste disposal. In the past, not much thought was given to the long-term costs to the environment, but that is changing.

In 2008, the University of Saskatchewan included sustainability in its Integrated Plan, the university’s core strategic planning document. A Sustainability Commitment Working Group was established with student, staff, and faculty representatives. A key element of their work was to involve the campus community in their discussions and to reach consensus.

The Working Group developed a draft Campus Sustainability Plan, which was recently officially adopted by the President’s Executive Committee. The draft plan addresses all areas of campus life: education, research, operations, governance, and community engagement.

“The University has turned a corner,” says Margret Asmuss, Sustainability Coordinator, Office of Sustainability. “Five years down the road things will look a lot different.”

Office of Sustainability
A small group of employees are responsible for initiating and coordinating the University’s sustainability initiatives through the Office for Sustainability. Margret Asmuss facilitates initiatives to help integrate sustainability into education and research. Kathryn Theede is responsible for energy and water conservation initiatives, while Heather Trueman liaises with campus units (e.g. Culinary Services) to assess and improve existing practices.

Repurposing bicycles that have been abandoned on campus

Pilot Projects
The first stages of the University’s sustainability efforts have involved a wide range of pilot projects, laying the groundwork for more comprehensive initiatives. Here are just a few examples.

Water Conservation: The toilets in the Education Building have been replaced with dual-flush, low-flow toilets, and the urinals have been retrofitted with a sensor system designed by Gord Poole, one of the university’s electricians. The changes have reduced water use in the building by 48%, saving 18.5 million litres of water a year and should pay for themselves in about three years.

Green Road Project: The North Road was reconstructed using salvaged materials (construction rubble, crushed concrete, glass). The asphalt in one section was applied using a less energy-intensive cold process, while permeable pavement was applied to another section. The road performance will be monitored and it is hoped that these techniques will lower emissions, improve road performance, and make use of waste that would otherwise be discarded.

Landscaping: The College of Education has established a Prairie Habitat garden, while the College of Agriculture and Bioresources marked its 100th anniversary by planting a garden of domestic fruit crops to demonstrate the potential for landscaping with fruit trees to support sustainable local food production. The Horticulture Club and the Seager Wheeler Residence have community gardens, and the Grounds division is experimenting with drought-tolerant plants and different turf grass mixtures to conserve water.

Green Buildings: There are a total of five completed LEED buildings on campus and one currently under construction. The College of Law addition received LEED Gold certification in 2008 and has a living roof. The additions to the Academic Health Sciences Building have various green features, including heat reclamation, a pond to manage storm water runoff, solar collectors, and sensors to control lighting and ventilation.

Photovoltaic panels at the 14th Street Horticulture Greenhouses

Major Initiatives
Three major initiatives will have a significant impact on the campus as a whole in the years to come.

Campus Sustainability Revolving Fund: Energy and water efficiency measures save money in the long run, but there is often an up-front cost that is difficult to absorb. The University has approved a two million dollar sustainability revolving fund to provide assistance. Colleges and other units will be able to apply for funding to cover the up-front costs and then pay it back from the savings.

Sustainability Living Lab: The Office of Sustainability provides students with course projects based on campus sustainability challenges. For example, fourth year mechanical engineering students investigated an air cooling problem in the Education Building and came up with a solution, while students in Pharmacy and Nutrition developed a database of local food sources that could be used on campus.

Using the campus as a living lab for teaching and research, students, staff, and faculty work collaboratively on projects that address campus sustainability issues and challenges – environmental, economic, and social. Students benefit by gaining real-life experience in project management and research and deepen their understanding of sustainability.

Work Green Program: In order to engage individual departments and workplaces in the campus’ sustainability initiatives, the Office of Sustainability plans to establish a network of workplace champions who will encourage their colleagues to implement more sustainable workplace practices. Workplaces will be measured against a checklist of desirable “green” practices in seven categories (energy, waste, outreach, purchasing, water, transportation, and innovation) and will be certified as Member, Bronze, Silver, or Gold, depending on how many of these measures they adopt.

Three workplaces are currently participating in the Work Green program on a pilot basis. The Office of Sustainability intends to launch the campus-wide program in fall 2014.

Students from a Sustainability Learning Community constructed a tree from hundreds of discarded paper coffee cups to raise awareness about their use

Student Involvement
Campus sustainability is a many-faceted activity with many different players. The Office of Sustainability works closely with the USSU and provides support for student groups. They also hire student interns to assist them.

The Diefenbaker Centre offers a one-hour tour of some of the University’s sustainability initiatives on an occasional basis.

Photo credit: Office of Sustainability, University of Saskatchewan