January 25, 2008
By Colleen MacPherson
An inventory of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across campus has confirmed that the University’s attention to sustainability in many of its activities over the past 30 years was definitely the right approach to take.
The survey used a calculation tool designed specifically for universities (it has been used at more than 150 across North America) and involved the collection of data over a two-year period, explained Margret Asmuss, sustainability co-ordinator with the Facilities Management Division (FMD). The goal was to establish a baseline for GHG emissions, she said, but the results were better than anyone expected.
“We had more than an intuition that our practices – building, planning, design, operation and maintenance – over the last three decades have been quite responsible,” said Colin Tennent, associate vice-president of facilities and University architect. “With this survey, we have indeed proved this to be true.”
The survey estimated the University’s total CO2 emissions in 2006 at about 198,000 tonnes, up only 4.5 per cent from the 1990 level. That compares very favourably to the provincial increase of about 56 per cent over the same period. Asmuss said some of the results, like those relating to utility costs, are very accurate. Others, like the GHG emissions related to staff travel, were obtained by sampling and extrapolating because there is no central data collection system in place.
Not surprisingly, purchased electricity is the largest GHG source at the U of S “and building use represents about 80 per cent of the whole picture,” said Asmuss but the U of S has done an excellent job of keeping electricity-associated emissions in check.
There has been a remarkable increase in the gross square metres of building area on campus over the past 30 years, said Tennent, “but we’ve been extremely efficient in our design and operations, significantly better than other universities of similar size and with similar climates.”
But, as Asmuss pointed out, sustainability involves the entire campus community. “FMD can build very efficient buildings but if they’re filled with inefficient equipment and used in inefficient ways, it makes quite a difference.”
The GHG inventory follows on what Tennent described as a groundswell of interest and activity relating to sustainability, “and this survey is an important step in self-awareness. This will help us refine our steps going forward,” particularly as the University prepares its second integrated plan.
“We’re pleased with the results, but we know more can be achieved. The creation of the School of Environment and Sustainability will provide opportunities to explore dimensions of sustainable investigation and action that are not possible to undertake alone in FMD. We anticipate collaborations in which academic and operational initiatives will achieve outcomes we have only speculated upon until now.”
Asmuss said she hopes that by using the survey to make GHG emissions “more concrete,” it will form the basis of some firm reduction targets. “But we can’t proceed with discussions on what to do next until people understand where we are at today. This is a starting point for how we’re going to proceed.”
With the benchmark survey in place, both Asmuss and Tennent agree the University should revisit the data on a regular basis to ensure progress is maintained, or improved. “We’re not going to rest on our laurels,” Tennent said.