KPU is working towards building a sustainable campus by 2050

The university’s 2050 Sustainability Plan lays out goals to switch to green energy, reduce waste, and improve the commute to campus

Art by Mikayla Croucher

Art by Mikayla Croucher

In 2019, a “global letter” addressing climate change was sent to Canadian universities for signatures, promising commitment to doing their part. 

A climate emergency petition from the University of Alberta initiated the call to sign the global letter. Over 200 post-secondary institutions around the world have signed the petition, and Kwantlen Polytechnic University was one of 15 in Canada to sign as of August 2020. 

By signing the petition, KPU must work towards carbon neutrality by the year 2050. In addition, under the provincial Carbon Neutral Government program requirements, public sector organizations must follow a five-step process to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. 

The Carbon Neutral Government program has set out specific carbon emissions reduction targets. In 2030, emissions are expected to be 40 per cent less than 2007 levels. 

Emissions in the year 2040 are expected to be 60 per cent lower and 80 per cent less for the year 2050. 

KPU’s 2050 Sustainability Plan highlights various ways the university will be “formalizing a holistically sustainable KPU.” The plan includes various approaches that KPU is working on to become more sustainable, including switching to green power in buildings, improving campus accessibility and commuting between campuses. 

Other approaches include waste reduction and collaborating with the Institute for Sustainable Horticulture (ISH) and Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS) to “expand food production for on-campus use on land owned and managed by KPU.” 

Included in the plan are results of a Student Satisfaction Survey done in the 2020 fall semester where students were asked about their sustainability priorities, as a way of public consultation for the plan. The survey had a response rate of 41 per cent, a total of 5,634 students, according to the report. 

Of the 10 options given in the survey, the majority of students prioritized reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions. 

The university currently has an Environmental Sustainability Committee (ESC), which works to listen to new ideas to “facilitate, advise, advocate and enable the implementation of integrated environmental sustainability activities at KPU,” according to the committee’s page. 

Brent Elliot, the director of planning, development, and sustainability, is a member of the ESC and says they do not create or deliver sustainability projects. Instead, the committee guides members of KPU in the right direction when they propose sustainability projects and ideas. 

David Stewart, co-chair of the ESC and executive director of facilities services, executes the sustainability projects that have been approved. 

For facilities, there are three focuses: creating the proper steps to reach carbon neutrality and other targets for 2050, reducing energy consumption, and electrification of the campus and building capacity for an “electrified future.” 

“These are the higher-level priorities that we would be focusing on in facilities,” he says. 

The committee received mid-year funding, allowing them to create a pilot food recycler project for the Richmond campus cafeteria, according to the ESC’s September 2021 minutes

Before creating this product, Stewart says a consultation was held with the university as well as the farm school, and the results are still yet to be seen since it’s still in the early stages. 

The purpose of the recycler is to compost organic matters that would eventually be used to grow more food on farms. The Richmond campus was expected to be the test site before making a decision to expand to other campuses. 

“What that piece of equipment does is it takes food scraps from our cafeteria and dehydrates them and turns them into compostable waste,” he says. 

The food recycler project aims to reduce the waste created by KPU. Stewart says the “farm to plate, back to farm cycle” is an important lesson that can be taught through the food recycler project by providing real-life experience for students and helping them see a way of implementing sustainability. 

Equipment from HSBC was used to make the food recycler, and it’s ready to be used. However, Stewart says the final approvals from the restaurant equipment provider are still needed to ensure its safety and functionality. 

“Ultimately, we want to be able to take our food waste and put it back into the ground, versus down the drain. We want to be able … grow more crops to be used in our own cafeterias supplemented by the waste streams that we’re getting from our plates,” Stewart says. 

In the Environmental Protection diploma program at KPU, students are taught about various environmental issues and the ways they can contribute to creating a more sustainable environment. 

Andrew Frank, an instructor in the program, currently teaches the environmental issues course where students learn about sustainable living. Students learn to calculate their carbon footprints and be aware of how they can reduce it, such as ways to reduce their meat consumption. 

Frank has noticed the university’s steps at achieving sustainability, like the degrees students can complete in sustainable agriculture, policy studies. Since KPU is a commuter campus, he’s noticed the efforts at increasing charging stations on campus. He also acknowledges that improvements can be made to the transportation options to get to campus. 

He says increasing these initiatives are good moves to achieving sustainability, and if possible, expanding the campus shuttle service or having it run more frequently can help students with their commutes and their “transportation related carbon footprint.” 

Although KPU is a commuter campus and most students transit to school, own a car, or use the inter-campus shuttle bus, the ESC is working on ways to reduce the use of cars for transportation to campus. 

Last winter, the ESC worked with the Kwantlen Student Association (KSA) to create a sustainability ambassador program, Elliot says. The program allows students to work independently or with groups to undertake sustainability projects. 

“The intent of that is … to identify alternatives to the private commuting vehicles,” Elliot says.

While this project is in the early stages, the outcome Elliot envisions is a university that offers students various options for commuting vehicles. 

KPU is planning to expand its electric vehicle charging stations, have parking and storage for bikes, work with TransLink to improve service to the campuses and create proper bus shelters, while also looking into ways to increase the intercampus shuttle bus service, and switch the shuttle buses to zero-emissions. 

The university is also looking into the Sustainability Tracking Assessment & Rating System (STARS), which allows post-secondary institutions in North America to register their sustainability goals and track their progress. KPU is currently not registered in the system. 

Elliot says while KPU has never participated in the program before, they are starting to track and compare how sustainable they are compared to other post-secondary institutions. 

In addition, the university is working alongside BC Hydro and Fortis BC to “maximize energy conservation” to reduce their greenhouse gas footprint and make the campus more efficient. 

KPU’s 2050 Sustainability Plan aims to have new buildings and facilities operate using net-zero greenhouse emissions. 

There is a timeline to have all campuses using what is called “high efficiency electric units” from 2020 to 2050. These changes will help the university reduce its CO2 from its 2019 number of 2,478 tonnes to 199 tonnes in 2045, representing a 92 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, according to the plan. 

The plan also includes the requirement that new buildings adhere to the rules of the green building rating system. Current buildings will be adjusted to improve air quality, active building circulation, natural light, and allow students to see nature. 

For example, the roofs on the Richmond campus are insulated to conserve energy during the winter and summer months. 

Elliot says it is important to create a sustainable university because post-secondary institutions are the thought leaders of the community. 

“There’s this community expectation that we’ll be at the forefront of this conversation around climate change and how we’re going to work to address it,” Elliot says. 

“The students that graduate from KPU … they have the skills [and] tools to really influence and change the world for the better. A lot of what we try to do is to build what is called sustainability literacy,” Elliot adds. 

He says he wants these projects to raise sustainability awareness and for KPU to be a university that provides students with the opportunity to learn how to help the planet and address climate change. 

Stewart wants people to know that living in a sustainable way is achievable, whether it’s an institution or a private company, and says projects done at KPU are done with sustainability in mind.

With sustainable living, Frank says there are small steps people can take to live more sustainable lifestyles, such as experimenting with different ways to acquire protein and milk alternatives, as those can help lower carbon footprints. He adds that looking for other options to driving, like biking and walking, helps too. 

“I go back to the power that we all have as citizens, which is to vote for the political parties … whose policy you believe in,” Frank says. 

“I think it’s also really important from a social justice perspective and a decolonization perspective to work as allies with Indigenous Nations who are trying to reclaim their territory, trying to reclaim rights and trying to exercise their own sovereignty over their territories.” 

Frank adds that this should not be done from a sustainability perspective but instead with the intentions of a “moral imperative.” 

With sustainability, Frank says small steps make a difference. 

“Start somewhere small, somewhere manageable, and build up from that. If you can do it with others, with your peer group, with your friends … you can inspire and push each other to help achieve whatever it is you’re trying to achieve.”