By Craig Hawthorne, Paula Nieman, Kathleen Ryan, Lesli Rynyk
It was a beautiful sunny day in June 2015 when Bob entered the University of Waterloo campus. Bob had not visited the campus since his graduation from UW twenty years ago. Walking along Ring Road he encountered many changes on campus. An electric bus silently whizzed by him as he passed by the Psychology building. He noticed that the luscious green lawns throughout the campus had partially reverted back to their natural landscape. Mixed vegetation and shrubbery thrived where monoculture previously existed.
As Bob approached the Environmental Studies building, he decided to stop by the ES Coffee Shop, one of his favourite campus hangouts. Inside the coffee shop he ran into his former professor James Kay. Bob asked James about the changes he had observed on campus. James explained that the impetus for the changes began with an eager ERS 285 class and their projects on sustainability. Bob remembered taking the course as an undergraduate, and recalled the long debates he had had with his group in defining sustainability. At that time, they had decided that sustainability meant that the needs of people are satisfied while maintaining the quantity and quality of resources for future generations.
James explained that the 285 class had created their vision of a sustainable UW campus and had worked hard to make their vision a reality. "Let me show you what I mean," said James.
Bob followed James outside past a composting centre where students deposited their organic wastes from their lunches. "Instead of emphasizing recycling, reducing and reusing are promoted across campus," said James. "Take for instance, the Campus Re-Use Centre. Here, staff, students and faculty are able to exchange items that they no longer need."
The glare from the solar panels on the Dana Porter library caught Bob's attention. "What the heck are those?" exclaimed Bob.
"The University is finally off the grid," announced James proudly. "We rely solely on renewable energy sources. All our power is generated from solar panels, windmills and nuclear fusion. In order to minimize our consumption of energy, we have retrofitted all the buildings, making them as energy-efficient as possible. Timers on lights and fume hoods, appropriate insulation and the use of natural light are a few examples."
The two men walked casually to the Campus Centre to eat lunch together and continue their conversation. Bob immediately noticed the abundance of recycling bins throughout the food court. "Since when did garbage cans become extinct?" Bob asked jokingly.
James snickered, "This is part of our plan to reduce waste. We have eliminated disposable dishes and single-serving packages. We provide food in bulk and buy locally as much as possible. Did you notice the gardens near South Campus Hall?"
"Oh, where the parking lot was?" Bob inquired.
"Our organic vegetable gardens are maintained by students as part of their mandatory community service credit. The food is used by Food Services in order to ensure high nutritional content in cafeteria meals," explained James. "This initiative has saved the University a great deal of money and improved the health of the university population."
Bob commented,"I noticed a strange weed growing behind the rhubarb. What is it?"
"A group of biologists engineered a tetrahydracannabinol-free strain of hemp. We use the hemp as a paper source, textile, and food."
"No wonder everyone on campus seems so relaxed," chuckled Bob.
"Actually," replied James, "stress-free people are indicative of the new attitude at the University. The administration has become less bureaucratic and has made a conscious effort to meet the needs of students more effectively. As a result, everyone is a lot happier."
After they finished their lunches, James and Bob walked towards the new Environmental Science and Engineering building, which had been completed the year before. "I want to show you the campus' pride and joy," smiled James as he escorted Bob into the water treatment facility. "Instead of relying on the City of Waterloo to clean our water, we decided to take responsibility for our actions. We have eliminated pesticide use on campus and the unsafe disposal of chemicals down drains. Since we have 'closed the loop,' we have noticed a change in attitudes on campus. People have realized that what we do to our water we do to ourselves."
"The University seems like a perfectly sustainable system," marvelled Bob.
"Although we have made a lot of progress in a short period of time, we have not yet attained complete sustainability," acknowledged James.
"How will you know when the campus is sustainable?" asked Bob.
"To start, we will no longer produce garbage-after composting, reducing, reusing and recycling, nothing will be wasted. Our energy consumption will equal our energy generation. Transportation employed around campus will not affect air quality, reflecting the increase in bicyclists, pedestrians, and public transit users. The effort expended in cleaning our waste water will reduce each year because less pollutants will enter the water system." James emphasized,"sustainability is a dynamic process. There is always room for change and improvement."
Bob, impressed by his tour and by what James had said, thanked James and headed home. On his way home, he reflected on the radical changes that he had seen. Although there were many physical changes, he was particularly impressed by the new attitude, self-sufficiency, and ingenuity of the University. He realized that if the University of Waterloo could become sustainable, then so could other communities.