uOttawa, University of Ottawa, new office space

Sometimes when people ask me what I do for a living I tell them my job is to Save the Planet. Yeah, it's a bit cheeky as far as a response goes, but whatever... and besides, shouldn't everybody's job be to save the planet. I mean after all, don't we all kind of need the planet to survive? I suppose my job is to find different ways to do things that ultimately help save the planet.

Consequently, part of my everyday job is to try to walk the talk of sustainability. You would be surprised how little things mean a lot to many people. How the smallest thing can cascade into something huge, or how the simplest message can help inspire others to dream big.

Earlier this month, my boss asked me to switch offices. The downside is I had to move, but the upshot was that I would have my very own office. My boss challenged me to try to make my new space as "paperless" as possible. He wanted me to try to model what a greener work space might look like.

This was of course great timing actually because a little while ago my office started to make a real concerted effort to reduce our printing. Of course there are numerous reasons why this makes sense in the office environment...
  • Less paper, less trees cut down (kind of speaks for itself)
  • Less printing, less cost (again, kind of speaks for itself)
  • Less printing, less labour - Every time a piece of paper gets printed and discarded it means someone on campus has to collect that paper, bring it to a bin, move that bin to the University's recycling centre, send it from the recycling centre to the City's recycling centre, and finally go about the business of recycling that paper. That's a lot of work.
  • Less printing, more security - This might not seem intuitive if you don't work in an office but the more things you print, the more unsecured information there is floating around out there. Think of all those confidential papers with private information just siting on desks or in unlocked filing cabinets.
  • Less paper, more organization - I can't tell you how many times I have had to leaf back and forth through mountains of paper looking for information. It is one of the reasons I love PDFs so much... they have a search function!!!
  • And of course my favourite... Less printing, more space - Paper takes up a lot of space in an office. I looked up the University office space standards and found that one third (yeah that's right 33%) of office space is dedicated to the holding, displaying, or storage of paper. The picture below demonstrates how everything serves paper in the typical uOttawa office.
Much of our office space is dedicated to paper

Now this isn't a story about paper, it is a story about space and so it's on this last point that I am going to focus because the possibilities of more space are very attractive for a campus that lacks it.

Back to my new office space. I took a look at the design of what was in place before and decided if I got rid of most of the paper I deal with, I could dramatically increase the functionality of the space.

The biggest change to make was to get rid of the oversized desk. I don't like big desks personally. They make me feel like I am trying to overcompensate for something. I know a desk can sometimes act as a status symbol (i.e. the bigger the desk, the more important the person), but when you get down to it, all that extra surface area is just more opportunity to hoard paper. 

I decided to keep the shelves to store gardening equipment, magazines (yes I know they are made of paper), materials for the Free Store and Muggy Mondays, etc... but I did say no to filing cabinets. If most of our activities are transitioning to paperless, why would I need them.

Of course this made the office a little too big, so I added some work stations so that people could come in and work on projects. *Small stations since no paper is really required.

I also added a meeting table and I am currently on the hunt for a black board from the Furniture Reuse Program.

And to top it all off, lots and lots of plants. I figured they could purify the air and I like the irony of replacing paper with plants. 

The real success of the whole thing is the increase in functionality. Where once there was one person, now there is the possibility for five. Since the whole thing is more like a hotelling space, people can come in and out, work on projects, store some things, and share some ideas.

As an aside, a lot of people have been asking me where I got the little green lamps on my desk.... yep you guessed it, the Free Store!

small meeting table

new office space, office of campus sustainability
student work space

new office space, office of campus sustainability
plants instead of paper

new office space, office of campus sustainability
more plants and more army men defending them

new office space, office of campus sustainability
desk extension for coffee, tea, and hat

new office space, office of campus sustainability
my desk, with an image inside an image

new office space, office of campus sustainability
more student workspace

new office space, office of campus sustainability
more plants and pictures

I am the first to admit that the configuration I have is a bit too dense for most people's liking, but if we could change the work place to be able to fit just 10% more people comfortably, the impacts would be huge. At the University of Ottawa, that would mean about 30,000 m2 of space (equivalent to about 50 family houses, or 330 tennis courts).

And that's only the space. Think about how much energy we would be saving if we didn't have to build extra space for more people. Or think about how much happier we could make our students and employees by replacing large desks with sofas, shelves with foosball tables, or filing cabinets with sleep pods.

The possibilities are endless, and the whole thing starts with doing something as small as getting rid of some paper.

~ jON - campus sustainability manager

Wow, it really really feels like you don't like disposable coffee cups!
In the past couple of weeks I have been getting an avalanche of questions about the infamous Nescafé booth which was on campus during the month of September.

I guess the whole story goes something like this.
  • Nescafé is invited by Community Life on campus for an event last year... Things go so well they are invited back for Welcome Week this year.
  • Nescafé hands out heaping cups of coffee to anyone who stops by their booth.
  • Things are going well again until... an infographic comes out announcing how many cups of coffee were handed out over the month.
  • There is a flood of comments on a Facebook post about the coffee being handed out.
  • The post is taken down and Coffegedgon begins...
I say the whole thing goes "something like this" because our office was not involved with the event. We just got a couple of sneers and complaints sent our way but we didn't pay much attention to everything happening until some articles about the whole thing got sent my way.

Since the articles came out, Community Life has apologized and said that they are deeply regretful about the incident and that the event was meant as a means of welcoming the community back for the Fall Semester.

I am personally not angry at Community Life or Nescafé for the whole thing... why would I be? This is just the logical extension of what society has been doing for decades... increasing convinience to the detriment of the environment. One could argue that Nescafé, who weren't even the only big company handing out free coffee this semester,  is no more at fault than every person that did not bring their own reusable mug.

Getting into the nitty gritty details about consumer versus producer versus vendor responsibility for disposable cups is not really the goal of this post. What I want to talk about are the concrete options for what can be done on campus to make sure that everyone can use or does use a reusable mug.
So here is the lowdown... a semi complete listing of all our options when it comes to the disposable cups we find on campus.

Offer better incentives
Did you know that anywhere you go on campus, you already get a discount on your coffee if you bring your own mug. Yeah, everywhere! And not just a bit of a discount... it actually adds up to a lot if you do it all the time - somewhere between $30 and $50 a year if you drink one coffee a day.

Muggy Mondays is one of those incentive based programs... bring a mug and good things happen. I like incentives as a model for change. Not just because negativity turns a lot of people off, but because I think that we could all use things that encourage us rather than discourage us.

But maybe these incentives are good enough... I mean there are still hundreds of people using disposable coffee cups every day on campus. Would more of a savings make a difference? Maybe just maybe more promotion would do the trick?

Create a cup tax
Study after study talks about how people hate taxes more than they hate almost anything else. So instead of more incentives, what about doing something that motivates people more vicerally?

Now I don't like using negative sentiment to drive action but I am not above getting results either. So imagine this, instead of giving you a discount for bringing a reusable mug, how about you just pay less for coffee all the time, but the catch is that disposable cups cost 20 or 25 cents?

The whole idea is that you get so angered by the idea of a tax that you change your behaviour. The tricky part is to not create apathy about your ability to make personal change without having to have a tax or some kind of intervention to make all the decisions for you.

Ban disposable cups
And then there is the idea of just banning disposable cups all together. This is the option I like the least because it takes away almost any idea of self determination. I mean, if you never get to make the choice to reuse a mug on your own, then what's to say that you will actually make that decision when you are in a place that does have disposable coffee cups.

On the other hand, maybe having a campus that doesn't have any disposable coffee cups could be a way of showing everyone that another way is possible. Maybe just the idea of knowing that alternatives do exist and they aren't overly cumbersome is what people need to see.

So what do you think? Is a disposable coffee cup free campus a real possibility? Send me your ideas and let's see what we can make happen.

In the mean time, don't forget to lug your mug!

~jON - campus sustainability manager
Empty binders are expected at the University of Ottawa if we go paperless

Very recently, my director has been talking to me about stretch goals. If you haven't heard of a stretch goal, it is essentially a goal that cannot be reached by incremental change. He tells me this story:

"The emperor of Japan wanted the trains to go faster to move people around quicker. At the time, the trains were able to average about 60 mph and were limited to that speed because of the numerous mountains in the region... when a train goes around a corner at high speeds it tends to flip over.

So the emperor asks for the trains to go quicker and his engineers and people in the Ministry of Transportation work on the problem and come up with a solution. Essentially they figured they could slant the tracks and help prevent the trains from flying off the track at higher speeds. They go back and tell the emperor that they can now get the trains to average 75 mph, which isn't too bad.

But the emperor isn't exactly pleased. He says to his people that they don't understand, he doesn't want to go an average 75 mph, he wants them to go 150 mph. The engineers tell the emperor that this isn't possible and the emperor tells them 'that's because you are trying to go around the mountain, I want you to go through the mountains.'

So everyone starts studying how to tunnel through mountains, they create some tunnels, and now their trains can go 300 mph."

The point of the story is that if the engineers kept trying to make small changes, they would never get trains that could average 150 mph, let alone 300 mph. Let's think about it another way...

The Kyoto Protocol was basically doomed to fail, Why? No stretch goals.
Kyoto wanted a 6% reduction in Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. If you think about it, this goal is way too low. If you are only asking for a 6% reduction then people are just going to do something like drive 6% less, or occasionally use ethanol instead of regular gasoline.

Now think about the new Paris Accord... and 80% reduction in GHG emissions. Now I told you to reduce your emissions by 80%, you would probably think to yourself that you wouldn't be able to drive at all, or that you would have to buy an electric car, or something more dramatic. It's only when you stretch yourself to the limits of what is possible that you can achieve things you didn't think were possible at all.

So let's get back to the title of this blog. If something requires dramatic solutions, could a dramatic change to the landscape make that happen?
In a previous post, I spoke about how my office was working to cut our paper consumption by 25%. Personally I think this is a pretty worth-while goal and the hope is that after we get 25%, maybe we can get to 50% and then maybe more. The problem is that this could take a bunch of time and every incremental change will be met with a tonne of resistance.
"You want more? We just cut 25%!!!"

So what about a radical change to the landscape? What if I just took away everyone's printers one evening, would everything collapse? Would every one in my office adjust or would they lose their minds?
Is this the right way to spark change or does this just play into everyone's paradigm about how environmentalists are just extremists that are willing to sacrifice everything for the planet. On the other hand, paper is not really a necessity and it is entirely possible that getting rid of our printers will actually make my office more productive.

Well, all these questions were moot because who would ever give me permission to experiment with something so disruptive? Soooooooo, it turns out that my boss kind of just did. ☺

So here is the plan, between now and the new year, I will be eliminating printers from my office until there are until a couple of central printers left. We will go from 25 printers to 4 and if the transition is smooth enough, we will share our findings with the rest of the campus in the hopes that all of uOttawa could go paperless.

~jON - campus sustainability manager

I happen to believe that language is essential in creating the images we use to understand our environment, our context, our reality really. Think for instance of how marketing carefully selects words that elicit distinct images in our mind.

If I were to tell you that I was going to get a hair cut, you might not give too much thought about where I was going to do that. If I say I am getting a hair cut at a barbershop, immediately your mind will flood with very selective images related to the word "barber".
Maybe an old man standing beside a worn leather chair. In his hand he might be holding a straight razor or a lathering brush. The outside of the shop is adorned with one of those telltale swirling blue and red tubes, reminiscent of a candy cane.

But what if I said I was going to get my hair cut at a salon? I'll bet the images conjured up in your mind are markedly different from the barber shop. Maybe it is cleaner, with more lights and more mirrors. The stylist has a blow-drier in one hand and she is sporting a modern haircut. The shop smells of product and has some very youthful music playing in the background.

Words are important because they shape what we think we know about the world. Our descriptions of things are mired in the context of our lives. So it is with this in mind that I wanted to write about waste in the context of the deconstruction of a building.

This past week, the famed CUBE building was 'demolished' at the University of Ottawa. This 60 year old building was brought down in order to make space for the new STEM building (future post about this to come). Facilities has posted a video about the event.

I don't like the word demolished because it makes you think that the building is going to be brought down in a series or coordinated detonations, or that a giant wrecking ball is going to swing in and bash the building into pieces.

I choose to use the word deconstruct because it shifts your thinking about how the structure is being treated. As you watch the video you will notice how there is is no wrecking ball; instead there is a sophisticated machine with a claw taring slowly at the building. The claw is ripping apart the pieces of metal rebar embedded in the concrete. Although this is all sped-up in the video, the operator is taking a lot of time to selectively attack various parts of the structure.

As the video continues, you'll notice that the materials are being carefully placed into large piles. These piles represent different categories of materials... metal... aggregate,,,, gypsum... etc. And why are all these materials being separated? Simple, we are going to recycle the building.

Deconstructing CUBE uOttawa
Concrete block pile from the CUBE deconstruction.
You see, it is that simple change in wording from 'demolish' to 'deconstruct' that helps shift the paradigm. If I said we were going to recycle building, you would have had a bunch of questions about how that could even be possible. With all those materials sandwiched together, it doesn't seem possible. But there in lies the problem, a demolished building is hard to recycle.... but a deconstructed building isn't. In fact, after watching the video, it is hard to imagine doing it any other way.

I wanted to talk about the deconstruction of this building to make a point... there is no such thing as waste. It is a social construct that we have invented that doesn't really serve a purpose anymore and I believe the notion does more harm than good.

Let's play another paradigm word association game.
What comes to mind?

And now another.
Now what comes to mind?

All the pieces of the CUBE will be used as resources for some other project. The metal will be melted down and used again. The aggregate (rocks) will be crushed down and used again. And so on and so on. 90% of the building will become something else.

This isn't the first time we have done this. The old Child Studies building, which was replaced by the FSS Building, was also deconstructed and recycled in a similar fashion. This is a requirement for the LEED certification of the new STEM Building. A detailed report will be authored about all the recycled components of the building and this will help the project assert some of its environmental features.
Deconstruction of the Child Studies building
A huge pile of metal wires and rebar from the deconstruction of the Child Studies building in 2009.
But this is the important part, the message you should take home.
The next time you are walking around with some 'waste' in your hands and you are about to throw it in the garbage bin, think twice and put it in the right bin. Because if we can recycle an entire building, whatever you're holding in your hand can probably be recycled too.

~ jON - campus sustainability manager

As much as it pains me to say it, summer is finally coming to an end with the start of school right around the corner.  For many people including myself, this means moving time. For those of you not familiar with moving time, it can be defined as: That last minute scramble trying to figure what you have, what you don’t and how you’re going to fit it into a tiny SUV to transport it to your new home.  It’s a stressful and exciting time all at once but we at the Free Store have a few suggestions to make your experience a little less daunting.

  1. Understand your living arrangements.
    I know it may sound obvious but think carefully about where you’re living and with whom. If you’re living in a traditional residence such as Thompson, Stanton or Marchand you probably won’t need any kitchen supplies as you’ll be spending a lot of your time in the dining hall especially during the first few weeks. Even if you’re an avid baker and want to show off your culinary prowess you probably won’t have much time for it until later in the semester once you’re settled. However, you will have tonnes of time to check out the Free Store (located at 647 King Edward) where you will likely find all the supplies you will need to become the next MasterChef.

    Also think about the people you will be living with.  If you’re living with roommates in Brooks, Hyman Soloway or in off-campus housing, it doesn’t make much sense for you and all three of your roommates to each bring a microwave.  Be sure to discuss through with your roommates what each person plans on bringing to avoid duplicate items taking up extra room in your cupboards that could be better used storing Kraft dinner.  If you do discover there are some items no one already has on hand, before you head out to Walmart take a quick look through the Free Store. You will probably be pleasantly surprised by what all you can find there from kitchen items, to bedding and towels to even home décor items.
  2. Trust me you won’t need as many school supplies as you think.One of the most common problems students face is thinking they need the same amount of stationary items as they used in high school. For many students who have one, your life= your laptop, which you will use for taking notes in class, studying in the library and watching YouTube videos when you know you should be writing that paper.  If you suspect you may be one of these people don’t worry about bringing ten different notebooks for each class, you won’t need them.  If you do end up realizing later on that you study better off paper, we have notebooks, binders, pens and pencils always in abundance at the Free Store.  Also if you don’t think you’ll be doing that much printing, skip buying the stapler and printer and just use those at the library. Printing with a student card costs less than 10 cents a page and there is a communal stapler and hole punch located near the service desk.
  3. Avoid using cardboard boxes when you can.
    If there is one thing I will encourage you to buy it’s durable plastic storage containers like those you can find at most stores like Canadian Tire or Walmart. Trust me, these are going to be life savers! Not only are they larger and more durable than cardboard boxes, but they can last for years! They’re great for storing your summer clothes during Ottawa’s frigid winters, organizing you’re closet and they’ll come in handy the next time you decide to move.
  4. Meet your neighbours.
    One of the great things about going to the University of Ottawa, especially if you’re living in residence or in Sandy Hill is making awesome connections with other students living around you. Not only may these people prove to be lifelong friends but they can sometimes help you out when you’re in a jam; especially when there are items that you need for a specific day or occasion that you may only need to use once. This is where neighbours can help! Don’t have cards but need them for games night? Ask next door! Forgot a muffin tin but are really craving some homemade baked goods? Check with your neighbours! You’d be surprised how friendly and willing people will be to share especially if you offer to give them food in return.

  5. Free Store! Free Store! Free Store!
    Oh yeah did I mention we have a FREE STORE, where you guessed it everything is FREE to students. Be sure to come check us out for all your clothing and household good needs! 

 ~ lauren - free store coordinator