The University of Calgary has come a long way since it formulated sustainability practices three years ago. Throughout 2008, the university developed strategies for carbon capture and storage solutions, built nutritional food venues and ranked second in Canada for administration, food and recycling, green building and student involvement in the 2009 College Sustainability Report Card.
This year, the office of sustainability is making efforts to reduce the university's amount of solid waste, such as organics, bottles, paper and cardboard, sent to landfills by 50 per cent. The U of C plans to meet the city of Calgary diversion rate of 80 per cent by 2020.
"It makes for a cleaner campus," said operations and maintenance manager Doug Wilson, who works on the Sustainability Stewardship Group solid waste portfolio. "From the initiatives that we start here on campus, it can make a difference to when people go home."
This past summer, the U of C worked on a waste diversion tracking program which monitored the amount of waste generated and materials diverted from the landfill. According to Wilson, these measurements help the U of C collaborate more effectively with other institutions across Canada. Sharing ideas helps the office of sustainability reach appropriate solutions.
"We use those measurements to create relationships with other post-secondary universities," said Wilson. "We've got a representative from the University of Victoria coming to campus on Monday so we'll be touring our campus with them. We kind of take to their good ideas, borrow them and put them into effect. If we hear that their tries were not as successful, we learn from their mistakes and go forward from there."
He added he plans to go to the University of Alberta later this month to learn about how they replaced regular cleaning chemicals with green ones.
Wilson thinks organic waste causes the most significant damage, yet receives the least attention.
"When food waste gets into the landfill, it decomposes and creates methane gas, which is 10 times more damaging to our environment than CO2 emissions," said Wilson. "It's the banana peels and the unfinished sandwiches that go into the landfill that's warming our environment."
Wilson added everyone needs to be proactive if they are to create global change and increase awareness about sustainability.
Like Wilson, Recycling Council of Alberta executive director Christina Seidel thinks people need to understand how waste management practices contribute to sustainability. She noted part of the problem with increasing sustainability awareness is that university students, ages 18 to 24, continue to be the most wasteful.
"Education becomes a bit of a challenge because it's not just as simple as awareness," said Seidel. "I think you'd have a hard time finding a university student, for example, that wasn't quite aware of the three Rs. The challenge is in terms of changing the behaviour."
This is why campus infrastructure caretaking supervisor Don Neary thinks it's admirable to educate students about sustainability.
"It's good to see that more and more faculties and more and more of the course work have a sustainability aspect," said Neary. "I think it touches on just about everything whether it's economic or social or environmental. That whole educational awareness is going to be helpful."