Sustainability Awareness Week puts green in Green and Gold

(Edmonton) Labs hold the heart of any research-intensive university, so it is little wonder they rival only the University of Alberta’s armada of computers as the biggest energy consumers.

There are, however, ways to lessen the contribution labs make to the U of A’s annual $18-million electricity bill—all of which are part of a new Office of Sustainability initiative that will be front and centre during this year’s Sustainability Awareness Week.

Green Labs is the newest component of the overarching Green Spaces Certification Program, a popular three-level (gold, silver, bronze), voluntary certification process that encourages people in work, school and living spaces on campus to adopt sustainable practices and green their operations.

A lab that is certified as green is one that demonstrates best practices for environmental health and safety. More specifically, everyone working in the lab is committed to reducing the overall impact of daily operations, and has taken steps to reduce waste, and conserve energy and water.

Office of Sustainability director Trina Innes says an upcoming info session, entitled Learn About Green Labs at UAlberta, will explore best practices in lab sustainability, including how waste is handled in the lab, how glassware is cleaned, how paper is managed and how hazardous waste is handled, as well as what is being done in labs to address energy efficiency, which could include anything from adjusting settings on fridge freezers to turning off equipment to managing fume hoods.

“Sustainability Awareness Week celebrates everything social, economic and environmental, so there isn’t really a theme,” said Innes of the celebration of all things sustainable that sees involvement from some 8,000 members of the campus community, trailing only the U of A’s International Week in size. “But embedded in a lot of our activities is energy savings—if there are things we can do to reduce the energy costs to the institution, those are some of the things that we would like to do.”

Innes says this year’s energy-focused events include everything from learning about the sustainable vehicles on campus or the District Energy System to a green-building crawl that features energy solutions.

One of the 50-plus events planned for SAW 2013 is a webinar put on by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability and Higher Education to coincide with the North America-wide Campus Sustainability Day Oct. 23.

“The whole point of the week is to help people understand the many facets of sustainability and many ways to plug in, both on and off campus.”

Green Grants reward measurable results

At part of the SAW festivities, the Office of Sustainability wants people to remember that they can turn their energy-saving ideas into green, as in cash.

Green Grants is a year-round program funded in large part by beverage-container returns on the U of A's North Campus. It supports projects that produce measurable benefits and results at the university.

Launched four years ago, the program has been handing out about 12 Green Grants a year.

“We would be happy to grow that,” said Innes. “It’s only a small pot of money, but $500 to a student club can make a world of difference.

“What we’re really interested in this year is energy conservation ideas.”

Projects that have received funding include a clothing recycling program out of CAPS: Your U of A Career Centre that sells gently used business attire to students heading out for interviews, Fair Trade Fridays in engineering, the Green and Gold Community Garden, and Trick or TrEAT, an annual food drive to enhance social sustainability on campus.

Learn more about Sustainability Awareness Week