Department of Environment and Sustainability wants input on where they should focus their resources
We’ve got solar panels on top of a bunch of buildings, composting bins in the halls and we use one-third less paper as an institution than we did four years ago.
Now the TRU Environment and Sustainability department wants you to help them plan their focus going forward.
With the recent development of a strategic plan for the university itself, department director Jim Gudjonson said it’s time for them to re-evaluate, as well.
“We thought that the strategic sustainability plan should have a similar timeline to the overall campus strategic plan,” he said. “Because sustainability has been highlighted as a priority for the next five years [by TRU], our plan can dig a little deeper into how we can line up the resources, both departmental and divisional, to address that priority that has been set by the university itself.”
Now that the school, through initiatives put in place by Gudjonson’s department, has reduced its overall energy use by about 15 per cent, “and we’re targeting 25 per cent by the end of 2016,” he said, they can shift the focus of their office while “staying the course,” on those implemented energy initiatives.
But first they need to find out what the community itself wants from them.
The plan for that meeting is to take all the priorities – transportation, waste management, purchasing, engagement, etc. – and begin the consultation process with the TRU community to find out where students, staff and faculty think they should be focusing their efforts before the strategic sustainability plan is set out, in order to better serve those who live, study and work on campus.
That consultation will ask questions on 18 themes in four categories, so it will be fairly thorough in an attempt to get as specific as possible so that goals will be realistic.
“We hope to really drill down and get a sense of what the TRU family wants, and then we’ll create a plan about how we’re going to go about achieving that,” Gudjonson said. “For example, if everybody thinks we should do a better job of water conservation and irrigation…and only 50 per cent of people think we really need a community garden, our limited resources will go to water for the next couple of years.”
One thing Gudjonson and his team would like to work on, and he hopes the community agrees should be a priority, is getting more specific water metering in place around campus so they can get a better feel of where the water waste happens so they can target its reduction.
“Water is something that, with our limited resources, both human and financial, we just simply haven’t gotten to yet,” he said, noting that in the past few years, their focus has been on energy conservation and generation, as well as waste management, recycling and diverting waste away from landfills in various other ways, such as composting.
“Right off the top we’re going to target a 25 per cent water reduction in the next five years.
That will require metering every building on campus, as well as various irrigation zones, in order to determine the most efficient way to save, both in short and long terms.
“Right now we have one campus-wide meter,” he said, which reports the overall amount of water usage, but that information is really not very useful. If they are going to make an impact on water usage, they need more specific information to be able to plan their approach more effectively.
Once that water usage information is available, however, Gudjonson is ready to implement changes.
Between short term adjustments like installing more efficient irrigation heads and equipment as well as better scheduling for sprinkler systems, and the long-term, large-scale projects like replacing the groundcover itself with varieties of plants that require less water, installing low-flush toilets, and capturing rainwater and grey water (water captured using on-site recycling systems), and using that water for things like toilet flushing, Gudjonson has a ton of ideas to make that 25 per cent reduction happen.
More on what they’ve been up to recently
As they move forward with the creation of the new plan, Gudjonson took a moment to highlight some of the office’s accomplishments thus far. He said he is particularly proud of the new composting program, which, aside from a few fruit fly complaints, which were “easily dealt with,” is diverting a huge amount of waste from the landfills, especially when viewed in conjunction with the zero-waste stations and recycling programs that were already present.
He’s also extremely impressed with the energy consumption and emission patterns he’s been seeing. “We’ve managed to continually lower our emissions in spite of our campus continuously growing since 2009,” he said. Between the House of Learning, the Old Main addition, the New Residence, the Campus Activity Centre addition, campus has increased in size 12-14 per cent, he said, and have reduced emissions every year.
Right now, according to Gudjonson, TRU saves about $225,000 a year because of the projects his department has undertaken, creating a “revolving energy fund.” which is where the majority of their financial resources come from.
“Instead of that money going to the utilities companies, that money comes back to this department,” to put toward more energy saving and sustainability initiatives.
They’ve also been working in tandem with TRU IT Services, installing power-saving software, “smart bars” that turn off everything plugged into them when your computer turns off, and other initiatives.
The department has also reduced paper usage on campus by one-third.
Sustaining the interest in sustainability
“There’s almost a sense of triage,” Gudjonson said in regards to the obstacles he sees with sustainability initiatives and their implementation.
“When you have so many things you’d like to do and you can only pick a couple,” because of limited financial resources, he said, it makes prioritization very important. “It’s been tough in the post-secondary sector. There hasn’t been a lot of new money for facilities maintenance and that kind of thing. Everybody’s dealing with financial constraints…so that’s always the main challenge.”
It’s far from the only challenge, though.
Another challenge is the need for a behaviour and cultural change surrounding sustainability. Despite seeing an overall increase in engagement over the past few years, Gudjonson said “there are still a large percentage of folks who are simply really busy, and there’s only so much time in a day.”
When you combine the lack of people’s available time with the fact that they don’t feel engaged to the university community itself, it’s no surprise that their limited time isn’t spent worrying about ways to make it more sustainable.
“It’s a fundamental issue, and one of the toughest nuts to crack,” Gudjonson said, “We could nourish the sense of community here a bit more…and create a sense of place for students to feel attached and engaged.”
Despite this, Gudjonson said that he has seen an increase in interest and engagement, at least from faculty and staff, in what the department has been doing.
“Whenever we put a call out for a survey, or need help with an initiative, there are increasing numbers of folks that want to help out.”
Gudjonson is excited to hear what members of the TRU community want to see them take on going forward.
Besides his hope for water conservation, he’s also hoping to help continue developing some opportunities on the academic side of the institution, despite the majority of their focus being “operational” in nature.
“Through things like our Sustainability Grant Fund,” he said, as an example, “there’s an opportunity for students to tap into some money to do research around sustainability, and also to engage the local businesses and broader community for some real win-win projects that we can help fund. I think there’s a lot more opportunity for us to be of assistance, not only to help and support the local community, but to also to give the students a richer experience while they’re here—to give them some real skills in working with business and get them civically engaged which is something they can take with them when they leave.”
You can get more information about the Strategic Sustainability Plan by attending the consultation meeting on June 19, or by emailing the department directly. Gudjonson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, or you can surf around on their website at tru.ca/sustain.