COU launches report: Growing Greener Campuses at Ontario Universities

Classroom meets outside

Several universities have developed ‘living laboratory programs’ in which research and learning takes place using the buildings, people and natural environment of the campus as the object of exploration.

Here at the COU, today we’re launching the university sector’s annual report on sustainability.

Five years ago in May, all the executive heads in Ontario sat down together to sign a pledge committing them to bold action on greening their campuses. There have been many exciting developments on university campuses since then, and our 2013 report highlights progress since the pledge was signed.

In 2009, student environmental groups were already well established and many had been looking to their universities to take a leadership role on sustainability. Students wanted new sustainability-focused programs of study as well as changes across the curriculum to promote the “mainstreaming” of environmental issues. They hoped to see their campuses offer more sustainable food options in the dining halls and to have the opportunity to recycle and compost their waste. They liked the subsidized transit passes and biking infrastructure that many universities provided, and wanted to see campus buildings become more energy efficient. They also aimed to promote the sustainability research that their professors were conducting on food sustainability, electric cars, ecosystem fragility and renewable energy. Most of all, students wanted to have a say in the institutional policies that would guide these transformations.

Ontario universities responded by doubling their efforts to promote sustainability. Now virtually every campus has an impressive array of operational programs in place to reduce their environmental footprints, and an equally impressive set of programs to engage and educate students and promote research on sustainability.

The ever-growing green movement was the driving force behind the Presidents’ Pledge and it sparked the development of the annual sustainability survey and report. With direction from the executive heads, and with the advice of university sustainability coordinators, now working together as the Ontario College and University Sustainability Professionals, COU develops an annual snapshot of the sector’s green achievements. The report provides a sketch of trends over time and allows universities to learn from each other. The survey’s findings each year have demonstrated the collective performance of universities in adopting sustainable policies and practices and their commitment to maintaining progress.

In this year’s report, you’ll see references to new trends in the sector:

  • Green revolving funds, through which institutions invest in sustainability projects that can produce cost savings through conservation. Savings are then re-invested in the fund to support new projects in future years.
  • Experiential learning opportunities for students including green entrepreneurship and environmental app/software development.
  • “Living laboratory” programs that treat the campus as a giant workshop for collaborative learning and sustainable innovation.
  • Smart building technologies that are responsive to weather changes and human use patterns.
  • The rapid rise of bike-share and car-share programs on campus, as well as electric car recharging stations.
Read the report and share it with your friends and colleagues. Every step we can make to green up our environment is an important one.