Ontario Recognizes uOttawa for Outstanding Achievement in Environmental Protection

Monday, May 16, 2016

The University of Ottawa is the recipient of the Minister's Award for Environmental Excellence 2015

uOttawa is one of 10 groups in Ontario being recognized by the Province for Environmental Excellence. In particular, uOttawa is being acknowledged for the Clean Air Community Initiative which works towards:
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • Improve air quality and climate change resilience
  • Showcase leadership and best management practices in climate change work

Yeah I know, you're asking yourself "So what is a Clean Air Community?"
Well let me tell you... a clean air community is a place that values the quality of the air in its space, especially as it related to the health and environmental impacts it can have for those breathing that air.

So I am not just talking about greenhouse gas emissions, I am also talking about all the other stuff that gets pumped into the air that can make it less healthy.  This is important for a whole bunch of reasons, not the least of include that idea that dirty air can trigger allergic reactions, can induce asthmatic attacks, and sucks in general.

Now picture if you will the uOttawa campus, an island in the middle of a sort of big city. Sure there are nice parks and a beautiful canal bordering the campus, but before you can get to those things you have to get past two of the busiest roads in Ottawa (King Edward and Laurier Ave), two highway exits (Mann and Nicholas Ave), and the transit way.

You can imagine why we had some concerns about air quality!

So we took a two-pronged approach to create the Clean Air Community Initiative.
One, reduce the amount of emissions being generated by the power plant.
Two, reduce the emissions coming from vehicles on campus.

Emissions from the Power Plant

The number one source of emissions on campus come from our energy consumption. The campus burns natural gas to make heat and the bi-products are CO2, SOx, NOx and other nasty stuff.

Over the past 40 years, the campus CO2 emissions have been dropping steadily. In 1974 the emissions were north of 27,000 tonnes and last year we were done to just over 18,000 (despite the fact that the campus tripled in size and population). This year, we are expecting to be under 17,000 tonnes. In fact, we could technically cut the campus chimney in half now because we aren't producing anywhere near as much nasty emissions as we did before (the average amounts of sulfur and nitrogen oxides are way down... by like 90%).

We have employed a diverse array of tactics to reduce our energy consumption which drives our greenhouse gas emissions. The centerpiece of our plan is a program we call EcoPresperity, a series of deep energy retrofits which have slashed energy consumption in the buildings on campus. We have also retrofitted old equipment, added more efficient processes, thrown up some solar panels, and we no longer burn any oil to heat the campus. Since 2008 alone, we have prevented over 33,000 tonnes of GHG emissions from making into the air.

Emissions from Vehicles

Emissions from tailpipes are probably the worse things out there for air quality. Sure a giant smoke stack isn't great but vehicles spew out emissions right where you breathe. Ground-level ozone and fine particulates are considered some of the more egregious offenders

So it only stands to reason that we would put into place programs that reduce the amount of cars that come to campus and to prevent people from getting too close to their exhaust. For this we again took a two-pronged approach.
One, remove the barriers related to active and sustainable transportation.
Two, move towards removing cars from the core of the campus.

Increasing sustainable transportation options took years to implement and we needed the participation and buy-in of basically the entire campus. Things got rolling with the creation of a Sustainable Transportation Manager's position, then the adoption of the U-Pass program, then the Bike Coop, A lot of the credit for these program has to go to the Student Federation who embraced the programs and played a leadership role.

Once these bigger programs were implemented, it was easy to get smaller complimentary programs going. The bike repair stations, the car sharing program, and Protections hybrid vehicle fleet are just a few examples.

And then, very recently, the University underwent a series of public consultations to develop its new Master Plan. One of the big themes that surfaced was the idea of making the core of the campus more pedestrian friendly.We are now moving to limit access to vehicles on campus (expect for emergencies and for individuals with mobility issues), thus reducing air pollution, reducing the chance of vehicle collisions, and making the overall campus safer.

Changes to the uOttawa masterplan show how traffic will be reduced on campusIf you're like me, reading is hard and so I have included this nice little infographic that sums up the whole project. I am very proud that the University was able to receive this award and I am grateful to all the people that played their part in making a Clean Air Community.
But our journey isn't over, not by a long shot. So please send your comments and ideas our way so that we can become even better.

uOttawa Clean Air Community Infographic

~jon rausseo - campus sustainability manager

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