The University of Toronto has been named one of Canada’s Greenest Employers for the eighth time.
The designation, issued by editors of the Canada’s Top 100 Employers project at Mediacorp Canada Inc., recognizes employers who are leaders in developing exceptional sustainability initiatives that reduce an organization’s environmental footprint and create a culture of environmental awareness that empowers employees to contribute unique skills and is attractive to prospective clients.
For the 2021 competition, Mediacorp highlighted U of T’s leadership in the study and application of new sustainable building design, from the new Green Roof Innovation Testing Laboratory that is researching the performance of green roofs, walls, and solar photovoltaic technologies to the ongoing construction of one of Canada’s largest urban geo-exchange systems in King’s College Circle on the St. George campus.
U of T was also recognized for being a founding member of the SmartCommute program and for the sustainable practices of its food service operations. U of T has numerous programs to encourage alternative transportation – from tri-campus shuttle bus services, carpooling and car sharing programs, preferred parking for low-emission vehicles, partnerships to encourage bicycle commuting and a greening-the-fleet initiative. Meanwhile, U of T food services operations have taken the lead in raising awareness about food sourcing and waste generation through programs such as the Field to Fork and Go Local Wednesdays to the Lug-A-Mug, Eco-Tray and Eco-Takeout Container initiatives addressing unnecessary waste.
“I am excited about our current and future initiatives to make sustainable change, and our people are passionate about identifying, planning and executing them,” says Ron Saporta, U of T’s chief operating officer for property services and sustainability.
The university’s research strength plays a critical role in its vision for a sustainable future on and beyond campus. Over 200 projects have been completed as part of the Campus as a Living Lab and Community Engaged Learning programs to engage students, faculty, librarians, and staff in sustainability activities. Recent examples include facilitating community engagement for the Landmark geo-exchange project, and an analysis on the feasibility of adopting the WELL v2 building standard.
Exciting opportunities are also emerging for students to engage in sustainability projects and learning. Curriculum pathways have been created to enable U of T students from any discipline to incorporate sustainability into their studies. There are currently two certificates and two minors approved in three faculties, and two more in development at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) and University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC).
At UTSC this year, construction began on a 750-bed student residence as part of the campus’ landscape master plan. The building is one of North America’s largest passive house projects. It features a low-energy design with high-efficiency criteria for building and window insulation as well as heating and ventilation. In collaboration with Centennial College, planning is ongoing for a vertical farm which will serve as a living interactive lab for students and could help address food issues in the local community. The project will strengthen UTSC’s position as a sustainable urban farming leader, adding to its rooftop research garden and 10-acre Campus Research Farm.
At UTM, the first-ever Sustainability Strategic Plan includes targets for embedding sustainability into academics, research, operations and the community. UTM also received a silver level certification in the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) STARS Sustainability Performance rating system, a self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance.
More broadly, U of T is implementing its Low-Carbon Action Plan to put the university on a path to reduce its tri-campus greenhouse gas emissions by 37 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. An important element of this plan is to update university buildings built more than a century ago. To this end, the university created its tri-campus Building (Energy & Carbon) Performance Standard that will apply to all major renovations and new construction projects. The Standard will evolve in step with new technologies and industry-leading practices.
U of T’s formal commitment to operational sustainability and environmental stewardship has been recently strengthened through pledges, partnerships, and hiring. In February 2020, the University of Toronto Asset Management Corp. (UTAM), which manages over $10 billion in assets on behalf of the university, announced plans to reduce the carbon footprint of the endowment and pension investment portfolios by at least 40 per cent by 2030. Through joining the Green Will Initiative, the university is partnering with the City of Toronto to increase the energy efficiency of buildings. Internationally, the university is participating in the University Climate Change Coalition and U7+ Alliance (two separate international partnerships that bring together leading universities to tackle the most pressing global challenges).
Locally, the university’s tri-campus Sustainability Office teams continue to grow in tandem with their respective programs and initiatives. Additions to the teams include full-time hires in management and entry-level positions and plans for future unique roles, such as a Campus Farm Coordinator at the University of Toronto Scarborough.
Making the most of the knowledge and skills of U of T’s students, faculty, librarians, and staff is a crucial component of being a green employer. To that end, the Sustainability Office teams have collaborated to further develop programs to engage employees through professional development, participatory learning, Work Study, Campus as a Living Lab, and student researcher practicum opportunities.
In winter 2020, the St. George campus Sustainability Office worked with Master of Education candidate Carrie Proctor, specializing in Adult Education and Community Development from OISE, as part of her degree practicum. Together they developed an employee education, training, and certification strategy, which will complement the larger Sustainability Office employee engagement strategy to attract and mobilize a diverse range of staff to participate in activities and achieve collective impact.
“This opportunity gives staff a chance to be empowered,” says Proctor. “To reflect, share knowledge, ask questions, and collaboratively build solutions to further advance sustainability at U of T, and beyond.”