UTM’s Sustainability Strategic Plan: A response to the state of climate emergency
The plan fosters a sustainable lifestyle on campus, one that is in line with U of T’s climate positive initiative.

Every year, more than 50 billion tons of greenhouse gasses are emitted into the atmosphere—and Canada is responsible for 750 million tons of it. Fossil fuels, a form of non-renewable energy that might be exhausted by 2050, are used to generate less than 10 per cent of Canada’s energy. Yet, we are the second-largest burner of fossil fuels, right behind Saudi Arabia. As a result, the City of Mississauga “declared a climate emergency” in 2019. 

The University of Toronto recognizes the urgency and importance of promoting climate positivity and sustainability. As part of U of T’s initiatives, the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) has developed its own Sustainability Strategic Plan (SSP), a comprehensive ten-year project that sets goals toward making the campus sustainable.

Ahmed Azhari is the Director of Utilities and Sustainability at UTM. He says the plan rests on five pillars: the development of academic programs and curriculum, research, campus engagement, civic engagement, and human resources and infrastructure. According to Azhari, the SSP goals are aligned with U of T’s climate-positive plan and the United Nation’s sustainable development goals, such as using affordable and clean energy. 

“It holistically considers and responds to the campus utilities, infrastructure conditions, future capital space planning, sustainability requirements, and provides a pathway to a carbon-neutral campus while complementing the vision of the U of T climate positive plan,” he adds.

Among its initiatives toward a sustainable lifestyle on campus, UTM has hosted several sustainability-oriented events around campus over the last few years. The campus also launched a Master of Science in Sustainability Management program and built green buildings such as the Instructional Building, Deerfield Hall, and the Innovation Complex—to mention a few. Azhuri shares that in 2021, UTM received a silver star rating from the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS), one of most well-recognized frameworks for sustainability performance in higher education.

Regarding academics, UTM’s plan aims to provide all students with learning pathways about sustainability. The university hopes to raise awareness around it by hiring new faculty whose interests align with climate positivity. To do so, they plan on “incorporating at least one sustainability course as part of distribution requirements,” as well as creating a mentorship program between like-minded students and faculty. 

Research is also a key component of the plan, says Azhuri, as it helps find original and efficient alternatives that keep a sustainable campus. The plan focuses on increasing sustainability-focused grants by creating an undergraduate research grant competition and sustainability funding competition. During the Adams Sustainability Celebration held on March 2, 2022, Professor and Director of the Climate Positive Initiative David Sinton explains that the St. George campus also heavily relies on research-oriented initiatives.

“The great minds engaged in research (faculty, post-doctoral fellows, students) contribute a great deal to the development of projects,” explains Professor Sinton. “This is why the climate positive initiative is about using that research strength towards climate positivity.”

The strategic plan also seeks to increase engagement in sustainable lifestyles across campus by promoting community-led initiatives. Acknowledging that sustainability is of paramount importance given the worldwide impacts of climate change, UTM also hopes to build civic engagement. As a first step before venturing into multinational and international organizations, the campus plans to increase its engagement with local elementary schools and high schools. Azhuri notes that they believe that investing in children’s education will make a key difference.

“[In doing so], we are able to embed that culture of sustainability in children when they are young, to make sure that sustainable practices become part of their day-to-day living from a young age,” says Azhuri. 

UTM is also committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By 2030, they plan on cutting emissions by 37 per cent, and by 2050, on reaching carbon neutrality. Incorporating sustainable infrastructural management will be essential in doing so. Through these sustainability changes, UTM aims to reach the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Star standard by 2030, notes Azhari. 

The green buildings at UTM adhere to LEED’s standards. The Instructional Building is one of four buildings that have a silver rating, while the Health Sciences Complex and the Davis Building third floor have gold ratings. Azhuri notes that green buildings and sustainability are not new to UTM, as these buildings were built more than ten years ago. He adds that the Instructional Building, built in 2011, incorporates an innovative geothermal heating and cooling system, which consists of 184 boreholes that are around 550 feet deep. The Instructional Building also uses a photovoltaic system, or solar energy, to offset its energy alone. “UTM is a pioneer in using low-carbon technologies and continues to play a role in sustainability to offset climate change,” explains Azhuri.

The St. George campus is also currently building a large-scale geothermal energy storage system. In fact, it will be the largest geothermal system in urban Canada. During the Adams Sustainability event, Marc Couture, the Director of Sustainability and Engagement, explains that they will be drilling over 374 boreholes, 850 feet deep, in the historical quad in King’s College Circle. Doing so will offset roughly 15,000 metric tons of carbon by capturing and using waste heat seasonally.

Azhuri highlights UTM’s campus-wide energy audit initiative. According to him, all buildings will be evaluated to form a comprehensive campus-wide energy audit. In doing so, buildings will be audited to industry standards to identify energy and carpet carbon reduction opportunities. “We will incorporate this into our utilities strategic plan to complete the picture on how we can achieve carbon neutrality, or potentially, carbon positivity,” adds Azhuri.

For him, sustainability is not just a career, but a passion that drives him to incorporate sustainable choices into day-to-day living even outside of work. Azhuri explains that we have a responsibility to protect and preserve the integrity of our environment for future generations. “It’s about ensuring [that] future generations, [such as] children and grandchildren, have access to the same or better resources than we do,” he states.

However, he also acknowledges the barriers associated to sustainable living. For instance, there is a steep price tag associated with sustainability. He also acknowledges that change is often seen as a burden, one that is too difficult to accomplish. Something as simple as recycling requires more effort than simply throwing it away. “[We must] look at sustainability as an investment,” says Azhuri. “Eventually, it will pay back for itself and generate a net positive impact whether financial or environmental.”

Today, Canada’s efforts to reduce emissions are prominent. However, a lot remains to be done, and U of T is committed to taking steps towards climate positivity and sustainability. Azhuri states that the campus will continue to update its strategic plan when the first 10-year plan has been completed. He admits that there is no true end goal for sustainability. “It’s an ongoing journey. A practice that we strive to incorporate into our lifestyle,” concludes Azhuri.

Features Editor (Volume 49) | features@themedium.ca —Maneka is a third year student completing a specialization in Philosophy with a minor in political science. Previously, she served as one of The Medium’s Staff Writer and Associate Features Editor. As this year’s Features Editor, Maneka hopes to raise awareness, shed light over current issues, and highlight student voices and organizations. When Maneka is not studying, writing, or working, you’ll probably find her binging on, or rather re-watching her favorite shows, listening to music, thinking about her dog, or likely taking a nap.

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