The plan to take sustainability to the next level
When TRU set out its strategic priorities for the next five years, one of them was to increase sustainability, and according to environment and sustainability director Jim Gudjonson, this prompted the university to create its first ever Campus Strategic Sustainability Plan starting last March.
“We’ve never really had sustainability plan at TRU,” Gudjonson explained. “I’ve always had this underlying desire to get a plan going, and I’ve been setting aside money over the past few years to get it going.”
The plan, which was officially announced in December last year, sets out roughly 130 goals that correspond to the STARS rating system established by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The STARS ratings range from gold, silver and bronze to no distinction at all, depending on how much of association’s requirements are met. Over 200 institutions across North America use STARS as their environmental benchmarking tool, according to Gudjonson.
“Three years ago we went through the STARS process and we got a silver rating, which is good, but obviously we want to increase to a gold rating,” he said.
The gold rating isn’t TRU’s end goal, but it provides a reliable baseline when comparing TRU to other institutions.
According to the STARS website, TRU’s silver rating, which was published on Dec. 19, 2011, is now expired. Three B.C. universities currently hold up-to-date STARS gold ratings: the University of Victoria, Royal Roads University and Simon Fraser University.
TRU’s 85-page plan groups its 130 sustainability goals into four broad focus areas: operations and planning, advocacy and engagement, learning, and administration. The operations and planning focus is the broadest, entailing themes ranging from waste, energy and water management to information technology services and purchasing. The plan’s administration goals also cover a lot of ground, ranging from governance and human resources to investments. TRU’s advocacy goals are split into internal and external efforts, while the learning goals are split into curriculum-based and research-based efforts.
Gudjonson hopes to implement a system that will allow the com munity to stay informed on TRU’s progress.
“The next step, and we’re doing this now, will be to take this framework and make a dashboard so that the community will be able to look at the 18 areas, and every three months that will be updated on our website,” he said. “So, someone will be able to say, ‘How’s it going in terms of TRU’s zero waste initiative?’ and every three months they will be updated.”
This dashboard will be made available on TRU’s website.
Eventually, Gudjonson said all 130 operations will be included in the dashboard, although for the time being, it will be limited to the operations TRU has begun to focus on.
“Right now for example, under operations, we would have a whole list of energy-related projects, including graphs showing our decrease energy use,” he said. “Then you can click under various other links and say, if you’re interested in solar panel installation, you can click on that link and it will take you to a site that shows you exactly how much energy that it’s producing. But something such as water, for example, that we haven’t tackled yet, won’t be in [the dashboard] until we start to make progress on it.”
Gudjonson said TRU is already off to a strong start in all four of the plan’s focus areas, but explained that a lack of resources will affect their rate of progress.
“Resources are always tight, both in terms of how much horsepower we have here in the office and how much money we have, so in a perfect world there would be two dozen of us and one person would be focused on water, one on waste, and so on,” he said. “But, there are only three of us, and so we’ve been focusing on energy and we haven’t had time to look on other things like water.”
He said the department hopes to hire a new staff member to work with TRU’s faculties to help increase sustainability-related content in course curricula.
He also acknowledged that TRU administration has been supportive of virtually all his department’s endeavours.
“To date, I don’t think we’ve been turned down for money when we’ve asked for anything, whether it’s for compost, zero waste or energy projects. We have been supported every time from administration, and that speaks volumes.”