What Does It Mean to be a Green Pioneer?

The University Service Centre is built to LEED Silver standards, incorporating sustainable design principles and occupancy practices.

For Grant MacEwan University, it means shaping the way students and faculty think about conservation

Decades before the rest of the world evolved to understand the importance of creating sustainable enterprises, Dr. Grant MacEwan was promoting awareness of issues such as air pollution, forest protection, and petroleum and mineral extraction.

Today, the university that bears his name, Grant MacEwan University (MacEwan), is a world leader in developing and sharing sustainable practices. MacEwan is changing the way students, faculty, and administrators think about design and conservation. Initiatives range from large-scale projects—developing a single sustainable-campus model, optimizing land use, and implementing efficiencies in lighting and heating, which save millions of dollars—to small initiatives—using biodegradable cutlery in the cafeterias and collecting bottle caps for recycling.

With such initiatives in place, the university hopes that students become proponents of sustainability.

“We have a role in developing the men and women who will help run the world in the years ahead,” says Stuart MacLean, director of facilities. “Ideally, by the time they graduate, they will have become global ambassadors for these concepts.”

MacEwan was founded as a college in 1971 and certified as a degree-granting university in 2009. Educating more than 10,000 students and offering programs in science, the arts, commerce, and music at four downtown campuses in Edmonton, the university has long made environmental awareness and sustainable practices a central tenet of its operations.

Guiding principles were made high-profile public commitments when MacEwan launched its Office of Sustainability in 2009 and signed two separate agreements: the Talloires Declaration and the Pan-Canadian Protocol on Sustainability. Construction of the LEED Silver-certified University Services Centre began in 2009, and 200 staff members moved into the facility in April 2011.

THE WORD ON GREEN

As MacEwan University’s first sustainability officer, Dana Schmidt views MacEwan’s commitment as much more than just a program to save money. She shares her take on the value of such a move within the sphere of higher education:

“[Our sustainability initiative] is an organizational value that cascades into a comprehensive set of employment principles. This requires both long-term planning and day-to-day actions, and it encompasses every aspect of the policies and culture we are creating here.”

Some of the sustainable benchmarks are startling. The new building has only four photocopiers, rather than the 20 it used previously. “We are committed to using less paper,” MacLean says. “This is one way to help do that.”

Sustainability officer Dana Schmidt describes the journey undertaken by MacEwan as comprehensive and holistic. “The Sustainability Advisory Committee—which includes staff, faculty, and students—held its first meeting to review all operations and to develop new policies in 2008,” she says. “The committee brainstormed ways in which we could be proactive in incorporating improved practices in all areas, including operations, culture, and curriculum.”

Schmidt’s advice to organizations considering a similar commitment: “Start with planning,” she says. “You have to start somewhere. With support and with a plan, there is nothing you can’t accomplish.”

Promotion and awareness take many forms. Whether it’s with Common Ground, an annual three-day student-engagement event; the drafting of a Campus Sustainability Plan to guide future initiatives; or the presentations given to other universities internationally, MacEwan’s commitment to building a better campus—and, by result, a better world—is clear.

“Dr. MacEwan was a true steward of the environment,” Schmidt says with pride. “We are building on his legacy to develop global citizens who believe that sustainability is the new ‘business as usual.’”