SFU and Sustainability

“Going green” is a fad. Climate change is a natural phenomenon and human beings are not the cause. There’s no scientific basis or consensus. Global warming is an “Al Gore plot.”
by Sharon Proctor

Deniers of global warming notwithstanding, it’s a scientific fact that the physical dynamics of the Earth’s atmosphere are changing. The consequences include melting polar ice, increased droughts, more hurricanes and floods, a thinning ozone layer, dying forests, species extinction, and other harmful phenomena. And yet there’s hope. This alarming scenario can be slowed or reversed because much of it is due to human activities. The bad news is that powerful special interests oppose taking actions that could mitigate global warming, claiming it isn’t being caused by humans or it isn’t happening at all.

Groups who are the loudest in denying there’s a problem unfortunately are often those who stand to benefit financially or otherwise from maintaining the status quo. There’s the fear factor, too. The implications of global warming and climate change are massive, complex, abstract, expensive, and terrifying, as are the solutions. In the short-term, it’s far easier and cheaper to ignore the problem and ridicule people like Al Gore than to face uncomfortable facts and change one’s ways.

Regrettably, too many so-called green advocates don’t “walk the talk.” There’s the “pro-environment” B.C. mayor urging citizens to keep their Christmas lights burning until after the 2010 Olympics; anti-pollution laws are passed that exempt the worst polluters; environmentalists drive gas-guzzlers; mining is permitted in “protected” parks; “green” housing developments destroy forests and marshes.

How can we overcome all these obstacles and move forward?

The Key is Education

As it happens, many people don’t really understand what is meant by terms like “global warming” or “sustainability.” For instance, we often hear that “it’s colder than usual where I live, and there’s more rain, so ‘global warming’ is a hoax.” Actually, global warming describes the overall temperature increase in the Earth’s atmospheric layer, much of it caused by human activities. It’s the average of all local air and sea-surface temperatures. “Climate change” is about local weather – changes in weather patterns, rainfall, temperatures, storm intensity, and other phenomena. Climate change can be a by-product of global warming, or it can be a direct consequence of local human pursuits.

To reverse global warming and climate change trends, we’re asked to live environmentally “sustainable” lives. Sustainability here means improving our quality of life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems.

The root of our environmental problem, however, is society’s deep-seated belief in never-ending growth and in human dominance over nature. This cannot continue. We must embrace an environmentally friendly belief system, which means increasing the “environmental literacy” of parents, teenagers, engineers, scientists, politicians, economists, health-care workers, journalists, lawyers, business people, managers, teachers – everyone. And it means producing leaders and decision-makers with the knowledge, skills, and courage to keep us on course. Fortunately schools around the world are starting to respond.

More than 350 universities in 40 countries have signed the Talloires Declaration, a 10-point action plan for incorporating sustainability and environmental literacy into every aspect of higher education: teaching, research, operations, and outreach. They have pledged to create environmentally friendly campuses and campus cultures, and produce graduates who can help societies be sustainable. SFU signed on in 1991.

To pursue goals like those articulated in the Talloires Declaration, SFU has formed a Sustainability Advisory Committee (SAC), which is made up of students, staff, faculty, and administrators. It reports to the vice-president of finance and administration. SAC advises SFU’s administration, develops performance goals, and promotes sustainability programs on SFU campuses. Candace Bonfield is SAC’s coordinator. “I conduct background research, provide proposals for committee consideration, and coordinate SAC activities. Fortunately many SAC members have key campus-management roles and can initiate action.”

SFU is a mosaic of different ages, backgrounds, interests, religions, cultures, and opinions. So how can SAC create a sustainable campus culture? “It’s an interactive process,” explains Bonfield. “We invite feedback. We listen. We engage all campus community members in meaningful dialogue, and we work together to develop solutions and practices that make sense for everyone.”

Toward Sustainability

SAC not only produces its own programs, it supports complementary programs developed by other campus groups. Thanks to this cooperation, environmentalism and sustainability are permeating all aspects of SFU life.

One SAC activity is the Sustainability Ambassadors Program, which prepares department representatives to promote sustainability concepts in their departments. SAC also participates in orientation sessions for new faculty and staff, introducing newcomers to campus sustainability goals and ways to help achieve them. And, starting in October, SAC will sponsor a Green Living Lunch & Learn Series on the Burnaby campus, offering workshops and discussions on why and how to live a greener life.

The Burnaby campus has been especially active in creating fresh, environmentally friendly traditions, programs, and initiatives – and SFU’s other campuses are quickly catching up. New habits are being formed, such as unplugging electronic devices when they’re not in use, turning off lights, using compact fluorescent bulbs, closing doors, using recycled paper, holding off-campus meetings via videoconferencing or conference calls, photocopying double-sided, turning computer monitors off, and using whiteboards instead of paper to write down ideas for assignments.

There’s more. SFU is adding sustainability concepts to student courses, equipping new buildings with energy-saving features and retrofitting old ones to decrease energy use, experimenting with a photovoltaic array and LED streetlights, installing more motion-activated lighting, and having more locally produced foods available on campus.

And, of course, campus researchers continue to study important aspects of human health, infectious disease patterns, forest ecology, climate change, insect pests, erosion, biodiversity, cultural traditions, economics, and other topics, revealing valuable insights into the challenges we face.

As Candace Bonfield explains, “The environmental crisis is serious and requires our immediate attention. Every act counts. Even a simple change like drinking tap water instead of bottled water makes a huge difference. Do this and you will be part of the growing movement that’s contributing more toward the solution than the problem.”.

Green Pages Web Portal

To access these sites and others, check out the new SFU Green Pages environmental sustainability web portal at www.sfu.ca/green. It serves as a one-stop cyber hub where everyone can learn about all things green at the university.

The pages include:
• the latest news releases on green topics
• feature stories covering the full range of green initiatives and research topics
• links to green SFU programs and courses
• a growing list of faculty, students, and alumni who are experts in environmentally related fields of research
• ideas on how to be greener at the office and at home
• links to the SFU sustainability web site, a community site maintained by the Sustainability Advisory Committee

The web site of the Sustainability Advisory Committee (SAC) is SFU’s central source of information on campus sustainability activities, event notices, community initiative updates, and suggestions on how to live and work in a sustainable way. Click on “SFU Green Pages,” for instance, and you’ll find tips on how to reduce your eco-footprint on campus – tips that apply to everyone. Another section provides information on academic programs with a sustainability focus, and there’s a sustainability literature page listing the best reading materials. There’s even a section containing the minutes of SAC meetings, and another where you can leave feedback on any sustainability topic.

The Light House Sustainable Building Centre began as a joint initiative of SFU’s Centre for Sustainable Community Development and Ecotrust Canada. Today it’s a non-profit society, with a web site packed with ideas on how to achieve a green home and information on green suppliers and other resources. It’s a difficult site to navigate, but it’s worth the effort. Look for its showcase of green products, including modular furniture with replaceable parts, carpeting made from recycled materials and stools from renewable birch wood, and flooring that has used car tires as 80 percent of its content. The Community page is also worth pursuing. Click on “Blog” for frank discussions of sustainability.

Started by SFU business professor Boyd Cohen, this site has much to offer. (Did you know there are urinals made partly of soybean resin?) The best part is the blogs. If you click on “Green Blogs,” you’ll find reports on green activities taking place in Africa and Asia, activities that never make it into local media and that provide an antidote to the anti-environmentalism messages we hear from certain North American industries and politicians.

Geography professor Mark Roseland is director of SFU’s Centre of Sustainable Community Development (CSCD), which provides research, training, and advisory services to B.C.’s sustainable community development sector. Of special interest is the part of its web site devoted to research projects. The descriptions of its five current projects illustrate the complexities that have to be understood and considered when helping different groups adopt sustainability practices.

Simon Fraser University researchers from many faculties and schools are playing a key role in searching for solutions to climate change.

Faculty of Applied Science/School of Resource and Environmental Management
• The Energy and Materials Research Group is one of the world’s leading research units studying the cost of greenhouse gas reduction.

• The Forest Ecology Lab is addressing issues including adaptive silviculture – how to grow forests to meet a broad range of management objectives, such as biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

• Fisheries researchers in the school of resource and environmental management and biological scientists are looking at how freshwater and marine species are responding to climate change.

• Karen Kohfeld, a Canada Research Chair in Climate Resources and Global Change, is studying how climate and land surface conditions influence the production of dust emissions, and how dust affects carbon assimilation through the marine food chain.

Faculty of Science
• Researchers in the Centre for Chemical Ecology, Chemistry and Biological Sciences are using pheromones in their quest to control the mountain pine beetle and other forest pests.

• Biologists are studying the impact of climate change on forestry practices and examining the possible role of carbon sequestration rates of various tree species.

• Biologist Isabelle Côté is studying the impact of climate change on the world’s valued coral reefs.

Faculty of Health Sciences
• SFU’s newest faculty has several researchers focusing on the impact of climate change on human health, which includes investigating climate variability and what affect it has on population and public health and changing patterns of disease.

Faculty of Arts
• Soil scientists in the department of geography are examining links between climate and forest soils and ecology – keys to knowing how to manage our forests and determine sustainable harvesting practices.

• Researchers are measuring sea-level changes over the millennia in the Pacific Northwest and studying climate shifts in B.C.’s coastal mountains.

• Geographer Jeremy Venditti is studying how fall and winter storms have changed and altered the magnitude of annual floods and how they, in turn, have affected the rate of channel erosion and deposition in the Fraser River basin.

• Several centres, groups, and individual researchers are addressing climate impact modelling, including John Clague, a Canada Research Chair in Natural Hazards Research in the Centre for Natural Hazards Research and the department of earth sciences, and earth sciences professor Gwenn Flowers, who holds a Canada Research Chair in glaciology and is studying the rate at which glaciers and icecaps are responding to global warming.
www.sfu.ca/pamr/news_releases/archives/news01200502.htm and www.sfu.ca/~gflowers/research.html.

• The Centre for Sustainable Community Development addresses climate adaptation and governance in a variety of projects that include how to relieve pressure on climate through better construction methods and materials, and devising strategies that value both community sustainability and investment for community infrastructure.

Interdisciplinary Approaches
• A new multidisciplinary project, Secondary Effects of Climate Change on Human and Ecosystem Health, is being proposed to examine the indirect impacts of climate change. The team, from the department of earth sciences and faculty of health sciences (researcher Tim Takaro, www.fhs.sfu.ca/portal_memberdata/timt), along with the school of resource and environmental management, will also investigate secondary prevention measures and their costs.

• The Adaptation to Climate Change (ACT) initiative is working to develop policy recommendations for sustainable adaptation to climate change.

• Public Affairs and Media Relations’ list of experts on the environment features a range of individual researchers and their areas of expertise related to the environment and climate change.

Green, Green, We’re Green They Say

SFU achieves “Go Green” status in recognition of more than 20 years of significant energy conservation measures.

Each year we save:
• enough electricity to supply light and energy for 1,069 homes
• enough natural gas to supply heat for 285 homes

Our greenhouse gas emission avoidance totals 1,709 tonnes per year – the equivalent of removing 342 cars from the road.

Each year we recycle:
• 232 tonnes of cardboard and mixed paper
• 25 tonnes of wood
• 200,000 units of plastic and glass
• 36 wrapped pallets per year of electronics
• metal, batteries, food containers, fluorescent tubes, and chemicals including oil, glycol, and solvents

We will soon expand the recycling program to include soft plastics, Styrofoam, and organic materials.

All new construction meets the Canada Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green-building silver standards.

Despite the addition of five major new buildings on the Burnaby campus, energy consumption will be reduced by 10 percent over the next five years.

The newly opened Blusson Hall, home to the fledgling faculty of health sciences, is the greenest building on campus. Named for Vancouver philanthropists Stewart and Marilyn Blusson, it exceeds the LEED silver standards with planet-friendly features, including a green roof, sustainably harvested wood products, limited use of off-gassing construction materials, storm-water collection for irrigation, radiant-floor heating, and abundant natural light.

UniverCity receives kudos for being green. The American Planning Association gives it the National Planning Excellence Award for innovation in green planning. The Verdant townhouse complex, featuring 60 eco-designed suites, wins two recent awards from the Urban Development Institute for innovations in affordable housing and sustainable development. The Cornerstone in the village centre is honoured with three significant awards recognizing its environmental sustainability and eco-friendly features.