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Sustainability in Canadian Universities

Sustainability by Province

Sustainability in Universities in Canada

With the environment becoming a more important aspect in people’s lives, schools have to keep up with public demand for environmentally friendly and sustainable campuses. In order to be seen as modern and desirable places for study, most schools are at least adopting a “green” approach to wastage. Other schools are more pro-active and are beginning to actively incorporate green technologies to their campus designs and administrative procedures.

Sustainability groups

Schools that incorporate green practices to their campuses will usually have a group of people who are responsible for these actions. In some cases, this will happen through the Facilities Management department, as most sustainable practices take place through building or grounds modifications. Other times an Office of Sustainability will be created, and be responsible for all outreach and public relations programs and documents regarding campus sustainability.

Some campuses will have a research center devoted to environmental research and sustainability. Certain academic departments such as Environmental Sciences, and administrative departments such as an Office of Sustainability will often be housed here, to facilitate communication between researchers and policy-makers. These research centers will often use the campus as a testing ground for new innovations.

Among the many student groups, there will usually be at least one (if not more) group devoted to recycling, the environment, or sustainability practices. These groups will organize garbage clean-up days, recycling programs, information sessions, and other initiatives. They will often work closely with that school’s Sustainability Office or Research Center.

Recycling and composting

Pretty much all schools encourage recycling of some sort. This can be as simple as providing blue bins in the food court area of campus for the recycling of cans and bottles. Paper recycling is also encouraged in the office areas, computer labs, and libraries.

Composting facilities are also becoming common, especially around the food court areas of campus. Food discards can be collected, as well as paper plates and napkins, etc., and composted to be used for local gardens or landscaping.

Green buildings

Most new buildings being constructed on campuses are now incorporating sustainable technology. For interiors, this can include things like using local waste wood that would have otherwise been discarded, environmentally friendly paints, carpets, and lighting, and water-reduction systems. For exteriors, this can include green roofs, which are designed to cool down buildings and reduce water runoff during rains. Solar cells on the roof can create energy, and window awnings will lessen sunlight from entering buildings and reduce the need for air-conditioning in the warmer months.

Science labs are also being encouraged to reduce the amounts of harmful reagents they use for experiments and classes. They are also fitted with sediment traps to contain certain materials from draining out of the building, such as those found in biology, chemistry, dentistry, and visual arts labs.

Campus modifications

Besides the actual buildings being made more sustainable, the spaces in between can also be made green. Parking lots can be made with porous materials that will allow water to seep through to the soil beneath, so that runoff doesn’t erode the soil in other places. Swales can also be placed around parking lots to reduce oils and fluid leaks from vehicles from running into nearby waterways such as rivers.

Edible landscaping such as fruit trees, vegetable gardens, etc, can be constructed for use in local food places on campus. And native plants which don’t require as much maintenance as exotic plants can be used for shade, reducing the need for pesticides or other chemicals. Also, drought-resistant varieties of plants can be used to reduce the need for continuous watering by staff. Drainage ponds can be created to catch runoff from plant beds and other places of water use, for re-use of the water.

Pedestrian and bike paths are becoming increasingly common on campuses, especially the larger ones, to encourage people to use their vehicles less often and take public transit or bikes. These paths can sometimes be quite elaborate and include bike racks and also the option to rent or borrow bikes at pre-determined spots on campus.

Another technique to reduce commuting by students is to encourage them to live on-campus, to reduce vehicle emissions and the need for more parking spaces. To this end many schools are exploring strategies to build affordable housing on campus, by using local materials and labor.

Some schools are planning to incorporate wind turbines at certain spots on campus to generate electricity, while at the same time serving as educational projects by engineering students.


Some schools have outreach programs designed for elementary and secondary schools so students are “trained” in sustainable practices as they grow up. This can sometimes be incorporated into certain programs and count as credit towards certain degrees or diplomas. Also, many schools will encourage the public to attend seminars and conferences on sustainability issues when they come to campus.

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