Culture & Society

Green Ideas Are Sprouting at all Three Campuses

U of T has set aggressive targets for becoming more sustainable, and is enlisting faculty and students for help

The old stone buildings around King’s College Circle give the St. George campus its character, but they pose a real challenge for Paul Leitch, the university’s sustainability director. Leitch works with staff in Facilities and Services to help reduce carbon emissions across all three campuses, and older buildings use a lot of energy – especially heat.

The work isn’t flashy, unless heating and cooling systems are your thing. But the department works on a wide range of sustainability initiatives – from solar panels to recycling to lighting retrofits.

Lately, the team has been drawing on the talent of faculty and students, through work-study programs, engineering capstone projects and regular course work to generate new environmental ideas and plan upgrades. It gives students the opportunity to work on real-life problems and enables his team to accomplish more. As Leitch notes, meeting our sustainability goals won’t be easy. “It’s all hands on deck,” he says.

Photo of sunflowers on the roof of a U of T building
Students in physical and environmental sciences at U of T Scarborough tend to a garden atop the Instructional Centre. Each year, the plot yields as many as 30 different crops – from corn and tomatoes to basil and cardamom. The Sustainability Office uses some of the produce in its Food Discussion Cafés, where participants learn more about the origins of the food they’re preparing. Photos by Mark Sommerfeld.
The Green Roof Innovation Testing laboratory at U of T, with the city skyline in the background
Close-up of the Green Roof Innovation Testing laboratory at U of T
Over the past seven years, U of T’s Green Roof Innovation Testing (GRIT) Lab at 230 College St. has found that green roofs can retain up to 70 per cent of rainwater, making them a crucial tool in reducing urban flooding. Their surface is also two degrees cooler, on average, than the air temperature – and as much as 50 degrees cooler than conventional rooftops. A second facility atop the Daniels Faculty at 1 Spadina Cres. will investigate the effect of using surface water runoff, which contains urban pollutants, to irrigate green roofs.
Two beekeepers inspect a hive on the roof of the Faculty Club at U of T
Michael Muir (left) and Clement Chow of the U of T Beekeeping Education Enthusiast Society (B.E.E.S.) inspect a hive on the roof of the Faculty Club. The student society formed in 2008 to promote urban beekeeping.
Photo of the Twin Suites Lab atop U of T's Sandford Fleming Building
More than a fifth of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, so making changes to how we design, heat and cool these structures will be important as we aim to reduce our carbon footprint. The Twin Suites Modular Lab, perched atop U of T’s Sandford Fleming Building, holds two identical, reconfigurable rooms where U of T researchers are investigating new building materials. Having two identical pods is key, explains Prof. Marianne Touchie of civil and mineral engineering: One room provides the baseline measurements, while the other is the guinea pig. To test a new kind of insulation, the team would install it in just one of the units, then measure both to detect how that material affects indoor temperature, energy use, air quality and other factors. Until now, this type of research has had to take place in people’s homes, which is both costly and time-consuming.
Prof. Kim Pressnail inside the Twin Suites Lab atop the Sandford Fleming Builiding at U of T
A photo of a hand reaching up to adjust a dial at the Twin Suites Lab at U of T's Sandford Fleming Building
The Twin Suites labs will allow the research team, which includes professors Jeffrey Siegel and Kim Pressnail (in doorway) of civil and mineral engineering, to perform tests quicker and more accurately, and enable them to do longer-term studies.
A photo of an energy-saving LED light at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health
A photo of a laboratory fume hood
Efforts continue at each of U of T’s three campuses to reduce their greenhouse gas footprint, save on energy bills and put money back into student programs. 1: This LED light in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health dims to 20 per cent when the area is not in use. It is one of 100,000 installed at U of T over the past two years. 2: Ensuring that each of the 1,100 fume hoods used in laboratories on the downtown campus are closed after use could save $100,000 a year.
A photo of solar panels
A photo looking out through an energy-saving window at U of T's Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship
1: U of T generates solar energy at all three campuses. This array, atop the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre at U of T Scarborough, reduces the building’s energy use by 10 to 15 per cent. 2: The Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the St. George campus, which opened in fall 2018, uses specially constructed windows to reduce the cost of heating in winter and cooling in summer.
David Oliver fixes a bike at Bikechain
David Oliver helps keep cyclists moving at Bikechain, a not-for-profit group on the St. George campus that fixes bikes and teaches people how to do their own repairs. More than 25,000 cyclists have used the service since it opened a decade ago.