By Colin Minor
The University of Calgary is now part of an international program that comprehensively measures and tracks the progress of sustainability practices in universities.
The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System will provide the U of C with data on sustainability initiatives. The program also reports sustainability practices publicly to encourage environmental accountability.
“What I’m anticipating is a much wider reach of discussion on sustainability,” said U of C sustainability director Joanne Perdue. “The conversations that we will have along the way in collecting the data are an opportunity to generate a lot of activity and a lot of learning.”
STARS will point out where the U of C is strong and identify areas for improvement. For example, the school currently buys electricity from Alberta’s coal powered grid. Burning coal for electricity emits large amounts of greenhouse gasses and is an environmental concern. The cogeneration plant, operational next summer, looks to address these concerns.
“We will burn natural gas to run a turbine which will generate power for campus and capture the waste heat from the power and use that for heating,” said Perdue. “We get two services, if you will, from one fuel. It is a really powerful step forward particularly in the context of the emissions profile of our electricity in the province.”
Perdue believes it is important for Calgary to be at the forefront of research on energy and the environment.
“The need for energy isn’t going to go away. The question is, ‘How are we going to supply that energy and how are we going to be more efficient in producing it and how we use it?’ ” said Perdue. “We have to, as an institution, be at the center of that exploration.”
Lance Ayer, coordinator of not-for-profit campus bike shop the Bike Root, welcomes the changes that STARS could bring. While Ayer applauds the U of C’s current comprehensive approach to sustainability he believes programs currently lack full analysis.
“How effective are these sustainability programs?” said Ayer. “Is it just an image thing or are they making any sort of real change in terms of sustainability?”
According to Ayer, taking a critical approach to sustainability can provide essential information as programs are often surrounded by a lot of talk while details are left out.
“That is exactly what needs to be included in the discussion,” said Ayer. “If STARS is able to quantify and capture that side of the discussion it will be a really successful way to measure sustainability.”
Students’ Union vice-president operations and finance James Delaney is proud of the progress the U of C has made, specifically in composting and energy use. The U of C recently finished the first of four phases in a multi-year energy performance initiative.
“We have completed what you call the common sense phase,” said Delaney. “Removing inefficiencies where they are coupled with unsustainable practices, everything as simple as turning off lights when you are not in the office and turning off computers to making sure that there are recycling bins at convenient locations.”
The SU sustainability board started the composting program on campus which was taken over in 2007 by the office of sustainability. Campus compost now goes to a large in-vessel container called the earth tub. The U of C is currently building a prototype recycling station that will include a compartment for post-consumer organic compost to go across campus.
“Students and young people have been leading the sustainability initiatives and I think that here we have a great potential to continue to do that,” said Delaney. “The U of C is going to be one of the leading universities in that area. I’m proud of what they’re doing and I think it is up to us as students to keep that momentum.”