Sustainable U of T

Notes and Links from the University of Toronto Sustainability Office

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Wetmore Hall Eco-Tour

The next Sustainability Office tour of fall 2012 was of Wetmore Hall at New College. This tour was particularly interesting to me because it allowed me to compare some of the sustainability features at New College to my residence at Trinity College.

Our two tour guides for the afternoon were the property manager, Ted Kent, and the Director of Business Services at New College, Ron Vander Kraats. The most common theme throughout our visit was “occupancy sensors.” These devices allow the lights to remain off until movement is detected. This saves a lot of electricity, especially at night. An interesting note was that certain lights in the building didn’t even have an off switch - when the building was built in the 1960’s, electricity was so cheap that there was no focus on conservation!


Water fountains are also placed throughout the entire facility like many residences across campus in an effort to reduce disposable bottled water consumption.

The cafeteria also posted several signs indicating different sustainability initiatives being implemented to make students aware of what the facility was doing. 

The building has also invested in the replacement of its older lighting fixtures in the dining hall with LED lights, which use significantly less electricity than conventional lights.

The windows in the dining hall appear to be normal windows; however, they are fitted with a solar film as well as solar sensors. Solar film helps prevent excess solar heat gain in the summer months, which results in less air conditioning required. Solar sensors modify the interior lighting based on the brightness outdoors; thus, on a bright, sunny day, the lighting inside is substantially reduced. These two features help regulate lighting in the cafeteria and reduce energy consumption.


New College is certainly taking big steps towards making the residence more environmentally friendly. Both the building managers and the students hope to continue to bring forward new ideas to improve sustainability at New College.

 Members of the Sustainable Engineers Association, staff of the Sustainability Office, Ted Kent, property manager, and Ron Vander Kraats, New College.




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Proposed Great Lakes Protection Act

The government may cut the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) last month, but they can’t keep environmentalists from protecting the Great Lakes. An alliance of environmental groups demanded immediate action to improve the state of the Great Lakes. While sewage treatment and PCB levels have improved, a lot still needs to be done. As a response to the environmentalists, the government has proposed a Great Lakes Protection Act which will focus on water quality, beaches, wetlands, biodiversity, and sustaining economic activity. This is a great success and is absolutely necessary with climate change, invasive species, population growth, and other stresses looming. Now if only we could persuade the government to rejoin Kyoto and ELA…

For more information, visit


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Finding balance

I’m a weekday vegetarian.  And when I tell people that, no big surprise – I often get blank stares.  So here’s my explanation, once and for all.

Over the past few years, I’ve found myself learning more and more about the environmental benefits of being a vegetarian.  (I won’t go into details here, just google it!  Suffice to say, my reasons include but are not limited to water use, energy use, GHG’s, world hunger, etc.)  But no matter how much I learned and worried about it, I could never find it in me to change my behaviour.  It felt like there were so many challenges with being a vegetarian:

  1. Very few of my friends and family are vegetarian – social pressure is tough.
  2. How do I get enough protein? Iron?  I don’t have time to or interest in overhauling my diet.
  3. Eating out as a vegetarian is often frustrating – where are the veggie options?
  4. What if I get invited to a friend’s house, and they serve meatloaf?
  5. Meat tastes good.

I had many excuses: these were just the start.  Then it occurred to me:  why was it an all or nothing proposition?  Surely there was a compromise to be had… a balance to be found?

So I’m a weekday vegetarian.  I’m reducing my impact on the environment by cutting my meat consumption way down, but now I don’t have to worry about all those negative things that (in my mind) came with being vegetarian.  

  • I still eat meat two days a week, so I still get a broad range of nutrients in my diet.
  • I haven’t had to overhaul my diet and cooking… just a few tweaks here and there.
  • If I’m going over to my friends house on a Thursday night, and they serve meatloaf?  No worries, I just swap out Thursday dinner with Saturday dinner and I’m good to go.  (This helps with the restaurant dilemma as well.)

Best of all, people seem to respect my choice and the balance I’ve been able to find for myself.  For me, being full time vegetarian wasn’t a sustainable proposition.  But weekday veg?  I can do that.


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Lassonde Mining Building Eco-Tour (September 2012)

One of the Sustainability Office’s first eco-tours of the year was at the newly renovated Lassonde Mining Building Attic. We were lucky enough to get a personal tour of some of the environmental features from Steve Miszuk, Director of Planning and Infrastructure in Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering. As the communications intern, this was my first assignment and, in fact, one of my first tours as a student of the University of Toronto. I was surprised by how advanced some of the renovations were from solar panels on the roof to energy efficient windows.

When we got off the elevator we were confronted with a television monitor with bar graphs and statistics. Steve explained that this device monitors the electricity being produced by the solar panels, as well as the electricity used by occupants on the floor.

Our next stop was the computer labs which were equipped with energy efficient lighting. A unique part of the building was the architecture’s ability to incorporate older elements with the new. For instance, the roof contains steel beams from the original design with added support.

The idea of incorporating old and new also holds true from an artistic perspective. Hanging around the lobby area is steel from the roof which has been autographed by a series of past occupants of the building.

The sleek wooden floors throughout the top floor came from an unexpected source: locally grown bamboo.

Our final stop was a state of the art conference room equipped with a range of AV equipment and a pristine view of the city.

You never know what you will find at the University of Toronto! Keep posted to the Sustainability Office’s blog for other tours we will be discussing throughout the year.

By: Matt Stergiou

Communications Intern

Sustainability Office, University of Toronto

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UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) has partnered with cartoonist Jim Toomey to create a series of videos on the importance of oceans for the environment and for our own livelihood. The series webpage is here:   Here’s the first video, Blue Carbon, is on the role of oceans in absorbing carbon from the atmosphere.

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Use the stairs! (if you’re allowed)

When travelling to the upper floors of a tall building, I don’t blame people for taking the elevator to save time and avoid sweaty clothing. But what about the difference of a few levels? Would it really hurt us to climb a few stairs once in a while?

Stairs offer a thigh burning and energy-saving alternative to elevators. As well, you get to avoid the awkward elevator small talk. Unfortunately, staircases are commonly underutilized…and we can’t blame it entirely on people’s lazy ways.

Case in point: I recently encountered a staircase in a 4 story hospital building that had a sign reading “EMERGENCY EXIT”. What a shame that a large, accessible and well-lit staircase couldn’t be used on a regular basis. I wonder: how many people WOULD have taken the stairs if a sign wasn’t discouraging it?

Signs and instructions have an incredible impact on our behaviour. Here at the Sustainability Office, we support positive environmental actions through the use of signs or ‘prompts’ that remind people of a desired action, such as double-sided printing, turning lights off in an empty room, or taking a shorter shower. But when a sign DISCOURAGES an inherently positive action, we have an issue!

As we aim for healthier, energy conscious and accessible buildings, we need to encourage positive social and environmental norms by making actions easy to understand and spaces easy to navigate. And the next time you’re in a multi-story building, try taking the stairs. 



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Car 2 Go

Ever feel guilty when you drive? I do and yet I can’t help but drive when I really need to. Sometimes I wish I had a smart car but being a student, there’s not much I can afford… or so I thought. Car2go offers a service similar to Bixi bikes except with electric cars. They have specially designated parking lots (just like the Bixi stations). What makes them different from regular rental car services is that you don’t need to drive the car back to the place you got it from – you can simply leave it at another Car2go designated parking lot. Their rates are affordable and there’s no minimum rental. The only downside is that their parking lots are only in Toronto and don’t reach certain areas such as Scarborough and parts of North York. 


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Extended Deadline: Apply now for Green Courses Recognition

Green Courses was launched to recognize courses where steps have been taken to reduce the environmental impacts of their operations (e.g. double-siding course documents). The focus is currently on reducing paper waste. Courses scoring enough points  on the self-assessment get a shiny logo to display on their website, as well as a slide to present to students in class. 

Apply Now for Green Course recognition! We’ve recognized 100+ courses. Deadline for 2012-13 courses extended to Aug 31!

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We’re moving!

You can now find us at 255 McCaul St. (some of you might know this better as the Examination Centre), 4th floor. 

You can continue to contact us at or 416-978-6792.

Here’s a map to our new office:

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