Three times the green

(Edmonton) For the third time in a row, the University of Alberta is gold when it comes to going green.

The U of A has once again been named one of Canada's Top 50 Green Employers by judges of the Canada's Greenest Employers competition. The designation recognizes employers that lead the nation in creating a culture of environmental awareness, who have developed exceptional Earth-friendly initiatives, and are attracting people to their organizations because of their environmental leadership.

“Being named one of Canada's Top 50 Greenest Employers for the third year in a row shows the university’s ongoing commitment to lessening its environmental impact,” said Trina Innes, director of the U of A's Office of Sustainability. “It is also great recognition of the university's sustainability success stories, and is indicative of the time and energy that our institution invests in Earth-friendly initiatives like green cleaning, energy management and composting.”

Some of the projects highlighted in the decision include the establishment of the Office of Sustainability to oversee and create awareness about the university's many environmental initiatives. Judges of the greenest employers also pointed out that the university's recycling program, established in 1975, now includes an in-house recycling transfer centre to compact recyclables, and even a "green demolition" program to encourage salvage and re-use of building materials as part of on-campus renovations and demolitions.

Some of other highlights of the recognition include the university:

- adopting sustainable cleaning practices, including the use of environmentally friendly cleaning chemicals that meet "Green Seal" and "Environmental Choice" standards;

- composting organic kitchen waste in university dining facilities, as well as leaves and garden waste, for later use in landscaping projects across the campus;

- launching a naturalization project on campus that is focused on reclaiming unused and non-native vegetation areas, and re-introducing native plant species that require less maintenance and water, as well as contribute to increased biodiversity on the campus;

- continuing, through a multi-year $25-million energy management program with completed projects saving over $3.3 million in utility costs annually and reducing associated carbon-dioxide emissions by 20,000 tonnes per year;

- ensuring that all new provincially funded campus buildings are built to at least a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver certification standard, recently achieving the prestigious LEED Gold certification for its Triffo Hall building renovation, and currently constructing the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, which is being designed to meet LEED Silver certification;

- introducing a new fuel efficient car-sharing program (managed by Connect by Hertz) on the U of A North Campus to provide short-trip transportation options and encourage employees to leave their cars at home.

Ensuring that the U of A is always sustainability leader, the Office of Sustainability is collaborating to roll out new campus sustainability initiatives which include equipping grounds-maintenance electric vehicles with solar panels, overseeing an organic turf management pilot, implementing a greening the workplace program known as ecoREPs, and creating a campus-commitment program called One Simple Act on Campus to encourage students, faculty and staff to commit to one of 20 sustainable acts.

To help measure the U of A’s sustainability progress alongside its post-secondary counterparts and to see what other organizations are doing, Innes says the university is also a charter member of Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, or STARS.

“Sustainability is a journey that is about continuous improvement and our university is dedicated to this journey and documenting our progress through STARS,” said Innes.