UAlberta sustains greenest employer status

(Edmonton) The University of Alberta is becoming a sustainability dynasty when it comes to recognition for going green.

For the fourth time in as many years, the U of A has been named one of Canada’s Greenest Employers by judges of the annual competition. The designation recognizes employers that lead the nation in creating a culture of environmental awareness, who have developed exceptional Earth-friendly initiatives, and who are attracting people to their organizations because of their environmental leadership.

“Winning the Greenest Employer is another key indicator of how seriously we are taking sustainability initiatives at the University of Alberta,” said Trina Innes, director of the U of A’s Office of Sustainability. “We want to be a model of success for higher education in academics, operations and outreach.”

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.

Ensuring that the U of A remains a sustainability leader, the Office of Sustainability is collaborating to roll out a number of new campus initiatives, which include adhering strictly to green procurement principles and implementing a greening-the-workplace program known as ecoREPs. This program invites campus citizens to take a leadership role in implementing green projects across their work unit.

In an effort to reinforce campus engagement, the university is the first post-secondary institution to partner with the new One Simple Act on Campus initiative that encourages employees, faculty and students to commit to doing one of 20 possible actions related to waste reduction, energy efficiency, sustainable living or water management.

The U of A also recently earned a silver rating for its sustainability efforts from the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, or STARS, a new system that rates post-secondary institutions in Canada and the United States.

STARS is a self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. Participating institutions assess their sustainable practices in the areas of education and research; operations; planning, administration and engagement; and innovation. The U of A’s score places it second among the 14 Canadian institutions that have received recognition from STARS, just behind the University of British Columbia. More than 150 post-secondary institutions across North America have taken part in the STARS program, which ranks participants with a Reporter, Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum rating.

“This is more evidence that others appreciate our efforts,” said Innes. “We hope this recognition will attract new employees and students who are interested in growing the culture of sustainability on campus."

Highlights of the U of A’s greenest employers recognition

  • The Office of Sustainability also manages a "Green Grant" program in support of projects that lead towards greater sustainability on the campus. Supported projects include bicycle clinics, paper reduction campaigns and social media contests.
  • An ongoing naturalization project on campus focuses on reclaiming unused and non-native vegetation areas, and reintroducing native plant species that require less maintenance and water, and contribute to increased biodiversity on the campus one plant at a time.
  • UAlberta has adopted sustainable cleaning practices, including the use of environmentally friendly cleaning chemicals that meet "Green Seal" and "Environmental Choice" standards.
  • From an energy management plan first established in the 1970s, the university has recently developed its "Next Generation Energy Management Program" that includes numerous initiatives to be implemented over the next seven years, with anticipated carbon dioxide emissions reduced by an estimated 30,000 tonnes upon completion (and savings of approximately $3.8 million every year).
  • A multi-year, $25-million energy management program includes upgraded energy-efficient lighting, with completed projects saving over $1.7 million in utility costs and reducing associated carbon dioxide emissions by 20,000 tonnes per year.
  • UAlberta recently implemented a policy to ensure that all major renovations and all new provincially funded campus buildings must be built to at least a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification standard. The university recently achieved the prestigious LEED Gold certification for its Triffo Hall building renovation. Five other campus facilities are pursuing LEED Silver certifications.
  • The university maintains a car-sharing program (managed by Connect by Hertz) on its north campus to provide short-trip transportation options and encourage employees to leave their cars at home. All cars are fuel-efficient or hybrid models.