Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sustainable Literacy at uOttawa

planet art from Vancouver, uottawa, office of campus sutainability, literacy

The results are in for the 2014 uOttawa Sustainable Literacy Survey and the results are... well I don't know. They aren't good but they definitely aren't bad either.

Last year, students from a first year Environmental Studies program participated in the distribution of a sustainable literacy test on campus. Students approached campus community members, including professors, students, and external community members, and asked them to fill in a simple 11 question test. The questions were multiple choice and all the tests were conducted in person. The results.... on average a score of 54% was achieved.

So just in case you don't know, a sustainability literacy test is essentially a tool that helps measure understanding of sustainability concepts. The hope is that with a tool like this you can help increase knowledge about sustainability, and by extension promote more sustainable practices. Furthermore, organizations can use this tool to measure the impacts of messaging campaigns.

The test, although quite brief, asked questions related to the three pillars of sustainability, social, economic, and environmental. The questions were designed to be a bit tricky but they did not require any special knowledge about sustainability. Essentially, you could ace this test with some good ol' common sense.

The idea behind this kind of literacy testing isn't new. Groups like The Natural Step and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education have been working on sustainability literacy for quite some time. Many groups are starting to partner up to discuss a common test that could be administered across large populations. The hope is that the results of a large scale study would tell us if we are doing a good enough job as a society when it comes to teaching people about the complex idea of sustainability.

The study conducted by our office yielded some pretty interested results. Of note, external community members had an average score between 19% and 26% lower than professors, undergraduate students, and support staff. This implies that there is some degree of sustainability knowledge that resides in the uOttawa community. Surprisingly, there was no real differences between age groups. Older and younger respondents seemed to fair just as well.

I guess you are pretty interested now in knowing what questions really stumped people and which ones didn't. I won't spoil it for you by giving the answers, but here is the list of questions in order of most correctly answered to least correctly answered.

  • Ozone forms a protective layer in the earth's upper atmosphere. What do you think ozone protect us from? (70% - Potential strong word in the correct response option may be a hint.)
  • What is the most commonly recognized definition of sustainable development? (63%)
  • Which of the following is an example of sustainable forest management? (62%)
  • What is the most significant driver in the loss of species and ecosystems around the world? (58%)
  • What is the name of the primary federal agency that oversees environmental regulation? (56%)
  • Which of the following do you believe is the primary reason why gasoline prices have risen over the last several decades in Canada? (54%)
  • Why do many economists argue that electricity prices in North America are too low? (46%)
  • Which of the following is considered a leading cause of the depletion of fish stocks in the Atlantic Ocean? (44%)
  • What would you think is the most common cause of pollution of streams and rivers? (33%)
  • Which of the following has been identified as a potential effect of global climate change? (32%) 
  • Which country do you believe produces the most waste per capita? (8%)

So, how do you think you would have done? If you are interested in taking the sustainability literacy test in the future, send me a message and I will send it off your way. In the future, we are hoping to create a much bigger test (maybe 20 to 25 questions). We are also hoping that some of these results will give us a good idea of where we need to work on our messaging.

A huge thank you to the many many students who distributed the tests. And of course a hug thank you to Wesley Chu who conducted all the statistical analysis of our results!!

~ jON - campus sustainability manager

Monday, March 16, 2015

Help us create an inspiring agricultural demonstration project this summer!

Ottawa recycled garden

You can smell it in the air. The snow is melting, birds are signing, and before you know it, the very first buds will burst forth from the trees! SPRING IS HERE!
Okay, maybe we aren't quite there yet but it certainly is time to start thinking about your garden.

Devoted fans of our office already know that we offer community garden plots through a partnership with the SFUO and OPIRG. The plots are first come, first serve and I would be remiss if I didn't tell you to book a space right now if you want one.

But this isn't a post about our community gardens, well not exactly. This summer, the Office of Campus Sustainability, will be conducting an agricultural demonstration project. We are hoping to prove that we can grow food on campus that could be sold on campus. At the same time we are also hoping to create a new green space.

But rather than telling you what we are trying to do, how about I just show you what we have in mind.

Now, there is no way that we are going to be able to replicate something on this scale but there is no reason that we can't try. Our base of operations will be the UCU Terrace.

So here is the game plan;
  1. We are collecting as many 15L and 20L buckets as we can. The cafeteria has generously agreed to give us all the buckets they have. We are hoping to get about 200 in total.
  2. We have started growing seedlings to put into some of our buckets. (Check out our innovative seed starters created from recycled containers in the title image).
  3. We are going to try to get a bunch of compost from our super duper worm composter to boost the soil quality.
And now, this is what we need.... VOLUNTEERS!
We don't have any money and the only resources we will be able to muster will come from donations. But we still believe that we can create a beautiful space and we believe that this pilot project will be the pivotal step that allows to grow cafeteria food on campus.

Volunteers will be asked to give a couple of hours a weeks to help us water the plants, prune them, collect fruits and vegetables, and of course help us donate the food to the food bank/

If you are interested in being a part of this one of a kind experiment, please contact Jonathan Rausseo for more details.

~ jON - campus sustainability manager

Monday, March 9, 2015

uOttawa's New Campus Masterplan

what are some of the new features involved in the uOttawa master plan

There aren't very many times in anyone's academic life that they will have the opportunity to make sweeping changes to the make-up of their campus. How often have you had the opportunity to say where there should be more gardens, if a street should be lined with trees or not, or even where cars should and shouldn't be allowed to go?

On March 10 and 11th, the campus community at the University of Ottawa will have that chance!
Facilities Service at the University is on the verge of completing the latest iteration of the campus master plan. For those of you that aren't familiar with what that means, a master plan is a planning document that indicates what development the University would like to undertake in the near future.

Urban Strategies Inc, a design firm operating in Toronto, has helped create a new development strategy for uOttawa. This plan was created in consultation with many groups and individuals from around the campus community. They are currently in the final stages of the planning process, the community consultation phase, and so this might be your last chance to speak your part.

The master plan has a bunch of goodies and very cool concepts for what the university could look like in the coming years. But what has peaked my interest are the new sustainability features. Of course I can't divulge any of this information ahead of the public consultation, but I can tell you there is some really great stuff in it.

Bike bridges, pedestrians tunnels, a car free zone?!?!?! So many things to see.

The new park in front to the FSS building. Only one of the many green space improvements.

More options for what life could look like along Lees Ave.

Do I think it has everything? No, of course not. And that's why it is so important that the community participate in these kinds of events, to make sure that a diversity of views are being represented. The plan lays out a solid vision for the future but there are still a bunch of gaps that need to be thought out before the whole thing takes shape.

Come out and take a look at the plan. Discuss your thoughts about gardens, trees, energy production, food growing capacity, storm water management, sustainable transportation..... anything you want!
The community consultations takes place on:

  • March 10th from 10am to 8pm in the University Centre Agora
  • March 11th from 10am to 2pm in the second floor of Roger Guindon Hall
~ jON - campus sustainability manager

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Kill the K-Cup II: The Recycling

A TerraCycle coffee recycling zero waste box at the University of Ottawa's Office of Campus Susainability

A bunch of friends have shared the K-Cup horror movie with me recently. I getting the feeling that K-Cups are making people feel a little helpless. I mean great coffee that's prepared perfectly every time.... vs huge waste generation that is, in its own little way, killing the planet.

I recently embarked on the Waste Bucket Challenge. I was challenged by our 2014 Free Store coordinators and I have been trying to reduce my waste consumption for the past couple of weeks. I think that one of the only things keeping me going is the fact that I recycle my K-Cups. That's right, they can actually be recycled.

I think that the first thing you need to know is that my office is equipped with a Keurig coffee maker. When the machine appeared in our space three years ago, I wasn't crazy about the amount of waste it produced; nevertheless, the machine grew in popularity in my office until eventually everyone was getting their coffee from the machine (sadly, even me).

At first, the company we contracted to take care of our machine was sending the discarded pods off to a "waste to energy" project in New Jersey. Again, I wasn't crazy about this idea either, but it was at least better than sending it to landfill. Well, last year the company stopped the collection of the pods and we had a mounting waste problem on our hands.

Eventually, Brigitte, our waste diversion coordinator, found TerraCycle, a company that helps you recycle hard to recycle things. As luck wold have it, TerraCycle has a coffee capsule recycling program that you can buy into. We jumped on the opportunity and now we collect and ship our coffee capsules off to TerraCycle, who transform them into durable goods like park benches. The program is becoming so popular that you can now buy a zero waste box at Staples.

K-cups being recycled at uOttawa

Now I don't want to you thinking that recycling these K-Cups is the ultimate solution. There are still problems associated with recycling these materials. First, it is expensive. We pay $160 (taxes included) to send a giant box for recycling. You can get smaller sizes starting at $50. This is way more expensive than what it costs for typical recycling, like plastic bottles or newspaper.

Second, there is a hefty carbon penalty for transporting all that waste back and forth. The K-Cups are shipped to TerraCycle and a full box can weigh over 50 pounds. I usually empty the contents of a K-Cup into the compost but the remainder still weighs something.

A terracycle zero waste coffee capsule recycling box at uOttawa

And finally there is the problem of complacency that could make people think that recycling these K-Cups solves the problem. Ultimately the K-Cup is an inefficient creation that is wildly convenient. But each capsle represents a bunch of plastic that doesn't need to be there. If I had my way we would invest in on of those refillable pods; but alas, the company we are dealing with doesn't have that option... yet.

~jON - campus sustainability manager

Monday, February 2, 2015

I didn't get where I am today by throwing it out

christmas decorations that can be reused
photo credit:

Over the Christmas holidays, I spent a little over two weeks in England with my Grannie, the first time I had been without my family. This time around, I found myself experiencing a lot of her to day to day life and I was very impressed (and a little shocked) with all the things she did to cut down on waste. We often think of our grandparents generation as sustainability illiterate. Car-loving, climate skeptics who don’t know what recycling is, right?  I am pleased and a little alarmed to report that, rather, we should be taking our environmental tips from Grandma and Grandpa.

One of my fondest memories of my Grandad is, on Christmas Day, waiting in anticipation, with a gift of mine at the ready, as Grandad painstakingly removed every piece of tape on his gift and carefully removed the paper, ready to use next Christmas. At the time, it was a strange and uncalled for delay to our Christmas proceedings, but now I can see what it was worth. Throughout my stay with my Grannie, I was able to take note of many other ways that she lived in the spirit of sustainability out of habit rather than conscious effort.

As I hovered over the garbage can with a plastic bag from a magazine she received in the mail, I was surprised to discover that she keeps those for “bits of food that weren’t quite finished”.  Great! I always wondered what to do with those! Putting a bucket in the sink to use less water and turning the heat off at night were all things she has done her whole life as well.

If you ask her, much of what she learned about living without waste and excess was learned growing up during the war. Food was rationed. People dug up their yards to grow food. Everyone donated any metal in the house to the war effort. This taught her to value the things she has no matter how small so much so that I have seen her collecting bits of string from parcels in the mail to be reused when she gives away parcels herself. Living in that time, made it so that when things went back to normal many people, like my Grannie, just carried on what they’d always known.

This may be true, but it may also be related to simpler times when balloons remained unpopped after parties and were kept as treasures and grocery shopping didn’t involve buying exotic fruit such as bananas. Either way, I encourage anyone reading this to spend some time with your grandparents and, if yours are anything like mine, learn a thing or two about keeping stuff out of the landfill.

I’ll finish with my Grannie’s favourite quote. “I didn’t get where I am today, (fill with any wise words of advice on not being wasteful).” I think we should all lend more of an ear to our elders and find out how they got where they are today and see what we can do to bring back some of these habits into our future.

~geoff - free store coordinator (retired)