Higher Education Leadership Helps British Columbia Achieve Public Sector Carbon Neutrality

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In March of 2008, six British Columbian University presidents created and signed the University and College Presidents’ Climate Change Statement of Action. On June 30, 2011, the Canadian Ministry of the Environment announced carbon neutrality for British Columbia’s entire public sector.

Originally inspired by the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment(ACUPCC), British Columbia’s higher education sector (made up of 11 public Universities and 4 private Universities) has given a whole new meaning to “climate action”. The first signatures of the action plan came hand in hand with an incredibly comprehensive provincial programlaunched by the Canadian government to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions throughout B.C’s entire public sector (which comprises of schools, post-secondary institutions, government offices, government-owned [Crown] corporations, and hospitals), a feat the United States has yet to achieve. The combination of these two initiatives has sparked action across the entire country, from urban carbon neutrality projects in Toronto, to schools signing on in Alberta, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.

The 23 nationwide “Statement of Action” signatories, which includes 22 public Universities and one private University have been working with one another, public and private sector partners, and the Canadian government to accelerate this achievement. This has by far proven the efficiency of collaboration when presented with an issue that requires participation from all fronts. Below are a few accomplishments from the six original creators and signatories.

  • University of British Columbia, Vancouver
    In 2011, the most sustainable living building in North America will be completed on UBC’s campus. The Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) will be serving as a living laboratory through solar, wind, geothermal, and rainwater systems. The campus is also converting its entire steam-heating system to a hot water-based system, cutting its energy use by 24% and its greenhouse gas emissions by 22%. In addition, a new clean energy project will allow the first biomass-fueled, heat-and-power generation system of its kind to eliminate up to 4,500 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.
  • Simon Fraser University
    Comprised of three different campuses, SFU has initiated a “U-Pass”, free student transportation program for the greater region, a green labs program, an energy management revamp program at its Burnaby Campus and a green buildings project for its Vancouver campus in the heart of the city.
  • Royal Roads University
    Closely tracking its GHG emissions through SMARTTool, the University has set up a Sustainability Action for the Environment Fund which is used directly to support campus programs that offset, reduce or eliminate GHGs. It has also partnered with ride-share to offer students a cheap and energy efficient solution for transportation in the area.
  • University of Victoria
    The University offers an across-the-board bicycle program that includes renting out recycled bicycles, it has installed more than 175 solar panels on campus buildings, parking ticket dispensers and transit stops. UVic also designed an innovative water-to-water heat pump system to supplement four of the campus’ building’s energy requirements.
  • Thompson Rivers University
    TRU hosts four LEED certified buildings on its campus. Its energy efficiency initiatives also include a Smart Bar – Surge Protector system installed across the campus, which detects when a computer is asleep or off, automatically turning off any other surrounding appliances or systems (monitor, scanner, printer, desk lamp, chargers, etc).
  • University of Northern British Columbia
    Winner of AASHE’s top campus project sustainability award in North America, UNBC is deemed “Canada’s Green University”. Its bioenergy project has saved 140 tonnes of CO2e per year and offset 85% of previous fuel consumption. A U-Pass system has also been set up, providing students with discounted rates to move about in the region and to different campuses, of which the Quesnel campus is entirely LEED Gold certified.

“If you want to go fast, walk alone, but if you want go far, walk with others.” Similar to a marathon, the road towards global carbon neutrality requires shared leadership. Although marathon runners do compete, we often forget the importance and amount of teamwork and collaboration they actually partake in during their race. Alternating and sharing leadership in long distance journeys is not a fortuitous phenomenon; it is vital for motivation, for ideas, for hope, and for success. It is exciting to see the success of the ACUPCC being modeled and expanded with similar initiatives in Peru, Scotland and Canada — and nascent efforts underway across the globe. Our common commitment is inspiring and necessary for achieving climate neutrality and sustainability as quickly as possible.