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Thinking sustainably

Concordia’s next-generation approach to creating a green environment
September 19, 2017
By Maeve Haldane

A next-generation university must be ready to face modern problems — and Concordia is up to the challenge. Every day, Concordia researchers across many departments work to solve environmental, social and economic problems around the world. 

Change, however, begins at home, and Concordia students and staff members do their part to make the university as sustainable as possible. The enthusiastic and creative sustainability team in the Environmental Health and Safety Office ( sustainability) coordinates much of this work as key drivers behind strategic initiatives like the recently released Sustainability Policy and other initiatives on campus or as supporters of student-led projects. 

Sustainability coordinator Chantal Forgues, MBA 09, MEnv 13, reports that the university follows the reporting system set by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. 

Chantal Forgues, MBA 09, MEnv 13 “We’re one of the most energy-efficient universities in Quebec,” says Chantal Forgues, Concordia's Sustainability Coordinator.

The university already does well in many realms. Forgues proudly says that 85 per cent of faculty and staff take some form of sustainable transportation, as do 91 per cent of students. Most of the new buildings are LEED certified and many older buildings have been updated. For instance, the Molson Building, which opened on Guy St. in 2009, features a “solar wall” that generates both heat and electricity from the sun. “We’re one of the most energy-efficient universities in Quebec,” Forgues says. 

The office is also involved with the Sustainability Action Fund, started in 2007, which is supported by student fees. This fund, in partnership with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, embarked on a Sustainable Curriculum Project.

Faisal Shennib, MEng 10, the university’s environmental coordinator, explains that students can now look online for an inventory of sustainability-related courses. There are plans for new academic programs in sustainability, too. 

The Environmental Health and Safety team also audits garbage cans. “We’ll have volunteers suit up in lab coats, and train them as to what should go in what bin,” Shennib says. A 2013 study showed that only 17 per cent of the contents really was garbage, while the rest should have been recycled or composted; a similar distribution is found in municipal and commercial trash. 

Faisal Shennib, MEng 10 Environmental coordinator Faisal Shennib helped introduce desktop trashbins in Concordia offices, which reduce the need for plastic garbage bags.

“Coffee cups make up the largest single item that ends up in the garbage,” Forgues says, “That’s why a lot of our activities focus on coffee cups.” Five years ago cups were trash. Then student-run cafés such as Café X and The Hive started using compostable ones. A year later, Concordia’s recycling service provider looked into recycling the cups, seeing as they’re wax-lined like milk cartons. 

Although the City of Montreal’s recycling program wouldn’t find it worthwhile to recycle coffee cups, Concordia has such a concentrated amount of cafés, the independent service is able and willing to give it a go. 

Mini bins

Shennib regularly brainstorms with Concordia’s Facilities Management. Recently they reconsidered office trash bins, which often have the bag changed even when there is only a single item inside. A custodial supervisor suggested simply removing them. They came up with cute desktop bins that could then be emptied into larger containers in central locations. Students run several sustainability programs. Waste Not Want Not lets people know where the compost bins are. Then there’s the Reusable Dish Project, which rents out dishware for events. Users bring them back and use the program's industrial dishwasher or pay a small fee for the student volunteers to do the dirty work.

The Environmental Health and Safety office helps run a Sustainability Ambassador Program, recruiting students and, as of summer 2017, staff to spread the good word. They also sell through Concordia Stores notebooks made of paper that’s already been printed on one side, giving a second life to paper before recycling.

Kitchen work

Isabelle Mailhot-Leduc Sustainable food system coordinator Isabelle Mailhot-Leduc

The university’s kitchens have also veered towards better sustainability. Sustainable food system coordinator Isabelle Mailhot-Leduc was hired in 2015 to coordinate Concordia’s food procurement, which feeds the 900 student residents, and team up with the other food venues and groups on campus. She works with the food services company Aramark and their distributors to track the amount of locally sourced food and ensure it conforms with agreed upon targets.

The targets shift with the seasons. For instance, in the summer 75 per cent of fruits and vegetables must be local while in deep winter only 25 per cent is. “It’s not necessarily more expensive to go local,”

Mailhot-Leduc says. “The key is to plan menus and select food products on a seasonal basis.” Mailhot-Leduc also successfully coordinated the efforts that led to Concordia being designated as a Fair Trade Campus.

Green zone

The Concordia Greenhouse is not only an excellent hangout for students looking for a little green and warmth in winter — it also holds various workshops and sells plants.

Created in collaboration with the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, the greenhouse runs along a salvaged space in the Henry F. Hall Building. It boasts myriad hydroponically grown plants — all you need for a ratatouille.

The Greenhouse grows microgreens and sprouts to sell at the Concordia Farmer’s Market and The Frigo Vert, and to supply The Hive and Café X. “We’re looking into making the greenhouse as sustainable as possible,” says Marian Thomas, operations manager of HydroFlora Concordia. He finds the space helps students understand the food chain better. 

Anna Timm-Bottos Anna Timm-Bottos helped establish the Concordia university centre for creative reuse, where people go to discard and then recuperate items.

Providing succour 

Walk into a basement space of the Henry F. Hall Building that looks like a subterranean garage sale, and you’re walking into two tons of diverted waste.

This Ali Baba cave is CUCCR — Concordia University Centre for Creative Reuse ( Pronounced “sucker,” or more amiably, “succour,” CUCCR stems from Anna Timm-Bottos’s Concordia MA in art education in 2017. During her research she looked at similar projects in Toronto and Winnipeg and thought, “Hey, why not here?”

The concept is simple. Instead of throwing something out, internal departments and groups can arrange to donate unwanted materials. Those in the CUCCR community can drop by and take it for free. Open since March 2017, CUCCR already has some 300 members. “We set it up so you really have to touch and see the stuff,” Timm-Bottos says. “You find something that calls to you.”

The varied members range from artists looking for inspirational materials to engineers who need to build a project. One homeowner made a funky wall-to-wall floor covering with carpet scraps.

CUCCR requires members to sign out the goods so they can keep track of the weight being diverted from the waste-stream and asks users how much they believe the items might have cost. “That kind of action gets people to think about the object,” Timm-Bottos says. “Now even at home when you see something familiar that you’d just get rid of, you’ll think about what else you can do with it.”

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