Ideally, U of T would like to comply with the Kyoto Protocol, says Beth Savan, the head of the university’s new sustainability office. However, she acknowledges that her task will be “extremely challenging.”
Toronto’s second-largest non-profit landowner after the city, U of T produced 130,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in the 2002-03 academic year, equivalent to about 250 times the volume of the Robarts Library. Scaling back emissions to the magic figure of six per cent below 1990 levels, as specified by Kyoto, will be especially difficult in light of recent enrolment increases. “It’s tough when you’re growing,” says Savan, who teaches environmental studies at Innis College.
A fixture for years with the city’s environmental movement, Savan is spearheading an ambitious plan to turn U of T into a highly energy-efficient operation, where green technologies and conservation are hard-wired into the way the campus manages its growth.
Energy consciousness at U of T’s St. George campus goes back to 1912, when administrators chose to outfit the rapidly expanding campus with a district heating and electrical system, linking the buildings with networks of steam pipes and electrical connections. Since the mid-1970s, the university has undertaken waves of energy improvements, says Bruce Dodds, director of utilities and building operations. It has upgraded its heating system, installed more energy-efficient lighting and, most recently, invested $5.4 million to maximize energy efficiency at its natural gas-fired co-generation plant. Rising electricity rates, coupled with the university’s tight fiscal environment, have spurred innovative thinking. “We have to be clever in how we deal with [energy costs],” says Dodds.
The Toronto Atmospheric Fund, and working with a team of a hundred students, the group is drawing up an inventory of energy use in each of U of T’s 250 buildings. It has also launched a campaign against cars and trucks idling on campus and is providing information for students on how to reduce energy use in residence rooms, among many other initiatives.
The group’s longer-term goal is to develop design and construction guidelines so that all new capital projects comply with emerging international standards for green buildings. Successful green initiatives include the new Student Centre at the University of Toronto at Scarborough and the Bahen Centre for Information Technology (which was designed with energy-efficient chilling capacity that is being linked to several nearby buildings). The University of Toronto at Mississauga has launched a number of environmentally friendly projects under the slogan “Grow Smart, Grow Green.” These include an advanced waste reduction plan, fuel-cell powered town homes and a car-pooling program.
A key element of U of T’s sustainability initiative involves the education of students and staff. Savan observes that the university is so vast that certain types of green policies, such as centralized purchasing, are difficult to implement. “There aren’t guidelines to tell you to buy energy-efficient equipment,” she says. Nor are individual departments or colleges financially rewarded for identifying cost-savings through smarter energy use.
To focus the university’s efforts, the campaign is setting specific goals for environmental improvements. Savan points out that the sustainability office first must collect and disseminate data to paint a picture of the university’s current emissions, waste streams and energy use. “I hope we’ll be in a position to set some ambitious targets, but we’re not at that point yet,” she says.