Sustainability: Re-imagining our campus (Part 2)

Posted on Sunday, September 13, 2015

By Brandon Gillet

Over the past few years, the Office of Campus Sustainability (OCS) has implemented major initiatives to make the University of Ottawa one of the most environmentally sustainable campuses in the country.

The OCS has supervised the building of facilities to LEED standards, and retro-fitted older facilities to such standards, created new green spaces, and encouraged sharp drops in waste production and energy usage as it plans the future of sustainability on campus, which will be a key factor in uOttawa’s new master plan.

You may have noticed that greater emphasis is being placed on building new, energy efficient buildings, such as FSS and Desmarais, and you may have wondered about what’s being done to older facilities. The answer is deep energy retrofits.

“We make sure that the buildings, as old as they might be, have new technologies that drive them and just new ways of thinking about how things can work,” said Jonathan Rausseo, uOttawa’s Sustainable Development Manager. “Morisset is the best example; we did a deep energy retrofit there and reduced electricity consumption by 33% and heating by 70%.”

Waste Diversion Coordinator Brigitte Morin sorting waste with a student during Recyclemania

According to Rausseo, technology is constantly changing: what worked in the past doesn’t necessarily reflect current standards and technological capabilities. The OCS is constantly monitoring energy flow and designing new ways to move energy through a building.

“By changing this technology, we can accomplish amazing things, even with newer buildings,” Rausseo said. “We did a retrofit in the SITE and Desmarais buildings, which are fairly new, because the technology moves quickly.”

So what does all of this mean for students? It should result in a better overall experience and a positive impact on their well-being. According to Rausseo, the University reinvests the $5 million a year saved through sustainability initiatives to improve the student experience. Green spaces and community gardens become restorative and meditative sites that enhance the general well-being of students by increasing comfort and reducing stress. For example, the FSS building cleans the air that students breathe.

“People don’t really think about this in terms of focus,” said Rausseo. “Poor air quality can give some people migraines or asthma; good air quality helps you to centre yourself and study harder.”

The OCS also monitors carbon dioxide levels in classrooms since higher concentrations can cause drowsiness.

For members of the OCS team, the coming year will be filled with policy work and testing of previous initiatives. For example, when Rausseo and his team tested energy usage in Desmarais, which is a new, energy-efficient building, they discovered that power was running at 75% during the night.

“Think of where you live: for your house to be running at 75%, three quarters of all the lights would be on and three quarters of your appliances would be running,” said Rausseo.

Consequently, OCS has begun installing meters to monitor virtually every aspect of the building’s operations, including the air exchange system and the computer labs. Using the data collected, the OCS will design ways to reduce energy consumption, such as limiting cleaning staff to one elevator or setting up a system to automatically shut down the computers in labs.

The OCS is also preparing to take on the high-tech systems that will be installed at the Learning Centre, a new facility slated to begin operating in two years, just months before the completion of the LRT system.

“It’s going to change the campus a lot,” said Rausseo.

Students cutting up shoes to be recycled as part of TerraCycle program

Sustainability Achievements as of 2014-15

  • Waste diversion rate of 60%
  • Reigning Canadian Recyclemania champions for seven consecutive years
  • Achieved $5 million in annual energy savings in 2014-15
  • Zero-waste 24/7 Dining Hall opening in September 2015
  • The Free Store saved students $1.2 million in 2014-15
  • Fifth year as a bottled-water-free campus with plans to add re-usable bottles to vending machines next year
  • In 2013, uOttawa became Canada’s seventh Fair-Trade campus
  • Sustainability policy currently in the works
  • Creation of the uOttawa master plan features eco-friendly buildings and green spaces all over campus
  • Urban garden on upper level of Morisset terrace behind UCU to be used by Food Services to grow herbs, hopefully in the coming year
  • All university buildings to be LEED certified
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