The University of Toronto has been named one of Canada’s Greenest Employers for the ninth time.
Editors of Canada’s Top 100 Employers project at Mediacorp Canada Inc. recognize 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 2022 competition, Mediacorp highlighted U of T’s high performance building standard, which sets targets for energy intensity, carbon intensity, wellbeing, and comfort. The standard will be continuously updated to incorporate evolving best practices and more stringent requirements to meet aspirational goals.
The award also recognizes U of T as a leader in the study and application of new sustainable building design. Examples of this leadership range from the Green Roof Innovation Testing Laboratory, researching the performance of green roofs, green walls, and solar photovoltaic technologies—to the ongoing construction of one of Canada’s largest urban geoexchange systems in King’s College Circle on the downtown campus.
Deepening our commitment to sustainability
Over the last year, the University grew the Sustainability Offices on all three campuses. The offices—composed of permanent staff at various levels, including project coordinators, project managers, energy managers, and utility specialists—work towards their ongoing mission of embedding sustainability into the fabric of university operations and the on-campus experience.
The grassroots environmental community at U of T also continues to flourish, with over 242 sustainability-related student clubs across our campuses, plus research institutes/centres, and other employee-led organizations that connect diverse and like-minded facets of our community.
Examples include the recently launched Sustainable Buildings Network, an association of undergraduate and graduate students interested in sustainable buildings and building energy, and the U of T Trash Team, recipient of a 2022 Sustainable Action Award. The Trash Team works to increase understanding of material consumption and waste while delivering evidence-based solutions to decrease solid waste and promote a circular economy.
Advancing our Low-Carbon Action Plans
U of T’s Low Carbon Action Plan aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions across the three campuses by 37 percent from 1990 levels by 2030.
The St. George campus makes up over 80% of the University of Toronto’s operational carbon footprint. Given this impact, the goal is to go beyond net zero emissions and become climate positive (creating an environmental benefit by removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) by 2050. This entails not only reducing the operating emissions under our control, but also mitigating additional carbon emissions to achieve net negative emissions.
To help achieve this, the University has assembled an internal U of T Energy Services Company (U-ESCO) team, including energy managers, utility staff, building operators and engineers, to develop deep-dive energy conservation projects. This team collaboratively defines and assesses significant energy and greenhouse gas reduction programs for existing buildings.
“This project represents the beginning of our transition to a climate positive future,” says Ron Saporta, U of T’s chief operating officer for property services and sustainability. “It serves as a demonstration project for our city, to show how you can start to decarbonize not only new buildings, but even the most historic ones.”
The University of Toronto’s path to a Low-Carbon future also lies deep below King’s College circle with the King’s College Circle Geoexchange Project, one of two such projects on the St. George campus. The other has been completed under the new athletics playing field as part of the revitalization of the Robert Street Field. The system is projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the new Spadina-Sussex student residence by 90%– making it the lowest carbon residence on the St. George campus and 10 times less carbon intense than the average St. George campus residence.
U of T Mississauga (UTM) and U of T Scarborough (UTSC) Plan for Sustainable Change
Similar geoexchange systems are already in place under the Environmental Science and Chemistry Building at UTSC and the Instructional Centre at UTM. At the same time, a further geoexchange system is also planned for connection to UTM’s new science building, expected to be one of the greenest laboratory buildings in North America.
With oversight and leadership from the Principal’s Sustainability Advisory Committee (PSAC), UTM’s strategic plan “Fostering a Culture of Sustainability” was approved in December 2020. Featuring 102 targets and goals, the plan lays the foundation for increased future sustainability expertise. Going forward, every student, regardless of their degree program, will have access to sustainability education, and by 2030, 30% of students will have graduated across all disciplines with a sustainability certificate or minor.
Meanwhile, an exciting new partnership between U of T Scarborough, Centennial College, Ontario Tech University, Durham College and Trent University is bringing a training and innovation hub for green technology to U of T Scarborough. The Environmental and Related Technologies Hub (EaRTH) will develop the region’s green and sustainable technology sector through research, academic programming and commercialization of advanced technology.
Schematic designs are also complete for a Parking & Retail Commons at UTSC, scheduled for completion in 2024. The project will use timber to construct a unique multi-level parking space with ground floor retail, dedicated bicycle and scooter parking and 217 electric vehicle charging stations.
Each year, Mediacorp recognizes the University’s commitment to reducing waste through organic composting and the recycling of construction, demolition, and laboratory materials. Some departments even partner with Terracycle—a global leader in recycling hard-to-recycle materials—to capture additional waste.
The St. George campus continues to offer and operate recycling programs that go well beyond municipal minimums. The University works with a special recycling facility to recycle coffee cups—recycling an estimated 100,000 per month.
More broadly, the Sustainability Offices on each campus work with students and faculty to prioritize zero-waste practices. These practices include ideas such as creative reuse of materials, avoiding unnecessary consumption or production of course and lab materials, proper waste sorting, and using reusable instruments such as cutlery to make waste awareness more consistent and relevant to everyday activities.
Food Services has also expanded its plant-based dining options and reusable container programs that tackle waste at the source, and is working with the St. George Sustainability Office to develop a Sustainable Events strategy. With input from more than 270 event and 300 communication professionals across the institution, the Sustainable Events strategy aims to reduce the environmental impacts of events on campus.
We are thrilled to be once again recognized as one of Canada’s Greenest Employers. At U of T, we are working to cultivate a culture of environmental awareness by empowering employees and students to develop and apply unique skills and model best practices, while helping us to meet institutional and regional sustainability goals.
Please look at the following resources for opportunities to get involved locally.