Sustaining success

- May 17, 2018

Celebrating at the Office of Sustainability's annual event. (Allie Jehle photo)
Celebrating at the Office of Sustainability's annual event. (Allie Jehle photo)

Dalhousie consistently strives to ensure sustainable action is taken in its campus operations year after year. As it starts its third century, Dal has much to be proud of in terms of reducing its environmental footprint.

That was the key theme at the Office of Sustainability’s annual Earth Day celebration event last month (Friday, April 20). Founding in 2008, the office’s mission is to incorporate sustainability concepts and criteria into policy and planning, building and retrofit projects, and campus operations in general. More than 100 students worked on projects with the office through independent work, research, class work, as volunteers and as staff this year.

At the event Rochelle Owen, executive director of the Office of Sustainability, shared some of the successes and progress the office has made in the past year. Here are some of the highlights:

Climate change

“Our climate change plan has mitigation, which is reduction, but also adaptation,” says Owen.

Dal is on its way to meeting its projected greenhouse gas emissions in the next two years. The university committed to reducing emissions by 20 per cent in 2016 and 50 per cent in 2020, with an eye to reaching zero emissions in 2050.

The university also monitors storm water and uses low-impact developments and participates in cap and trade consultations.

Waste management  

Dalhousie has been aiming to divert 65 per cent of solid, liquid, and hazardous waste away from the landfill. The university achieved this target, also while reducing the annual per person kilograms of garbage from 35 in 2009-10 to 30 in 2017-18.

The Office of Sustainability works with campus food services and is a supporter of student efforts like the DSU Market.

The Big Switch  

The Big Switch project was one of the most collaborative projects completed this year. A multi-year effort, the Office of Sustainability and Facilities Management worked together to change the way the university manages its waste. With the participation of everyone on campus, the university has diverted waste from the landfill by 100 tonnes a year. This is a significant success showing the benefits of campus-wide participation.

A number of changes were made including removing many dumpsters and controlling and weighing waste at the warehouse, removing single use garbage bins, adding standardize signage, creating bin standards for spaces, and moving from black to clear bags.

“We’re now starting to work together on organics waste diversion guidelines and opportunities to reduce food waste,” said Owen.

Halifax Dump and Run – Halifax’s largest community garage sale – happened on April 29 at the Sexton Gym. Thousands of people attended this joint event run by Saint Mary’s and hosted by Dalhousie. It works toward diverting waste from landfills and promoting the city’s social environment.

Water reduction

Water consumption was cut in half this year from the baseline year of 2009-2010. Some major projects such as lab building retrofits and water fixture upgrades have made the difference.

“We just finished a $350,000 water fixture upgrade across all campuses,” says Owen. New low-flow toilets have been installed on Halifax campuses.


“We have maintained the biomass replacement policy, which says if we take down a tree, we have to replace the same amount of biomass,” said Owens.

Dal planted 400 more trees in the last number of years while watching the population of invasive species like the Norway Maple decrease by 2 per cent.

“A lot of sustainability plans fail to consider the natural and outdoor environment, so I’m pleased this is a feature in our plan.”

Energy projects

The Office of Sustainability worked with Facilities Management on a $400,000 project to upgrade equipment and install high efficiency steam pipes to save energy.

Partnering with the Environmental Law Student Society, the office has worked to install a solar PV system on the Weldon Law Bld..

“It was a project that from a total financial business case is probably not our biggest winner in terms of dollar value for energy production,” says Owen. “But it’s definitely a winner in terms of the goals and objectives of what it was trying to achieve. It is a real example of Dalhousie student leadership and action in this area which has many spin offs in-terms of community engagement”

At the Agricultural Campus a a $1.8-million-dollar campus lighting efficiency project was completed. Dalhousie hit the target to decrease CO2 emissions and reduce energy costs with a ten-year payback.


The university has completed year seven of the Employee Bus Pass program through HRM, with around 300 members choosing more sustainable options to get to and from work every day.

The 2018 Commuter Challenge and 2018 Bike Week will take place on June 3. Those interested in cycling but are hesitant to bike on streets can participate in a bike safety workshop and ride.

Learn more about the Office of Sustainability and its work at its website.


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