OGB Spotlight: Carleton Energy Masterplan

Carleton University could soon be the greenest university in Ontario.  

And they are well on their way! The university has been working to build environmental practices into all aspects of their long-term planning and operations, from their comprehensive sustainability plan, to their strategic integrated plan, which directly incorporated sustainability and wellness for the first time.  

But the challenge is not simply in setting goals, it is also in seeing them through. That is where the recently released Carleton Energy Master Plan comes in, to set out the path of how exactly Carleton will achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.  

OGB was recently in conversation with Philip Mansfield (Manager of Sustainablity Programs) and Scott MacDonald (Director of Energy Services) about the Carleton Energy Master Plan and wider sustainability initiatives.  

Tell me a little bit about the new Carleton Energy Master Plan.   

Philip: The new Sustainability Plan and the Strategic Integrated Plan have led to a broader review of everything happening on campus related to sustainability and carbon reduction. For the first time these concepts are being approached not only in our operational initiatives but holistically, engaging with the faculty and teaching staff as well.  

One of the key elements in the new strategic integrated plan is achieving carbon neutrality, and essentially with the Energy Master Plan, we were tasked with answering the question of how we get to carbon neutrality by 2050. 

Scott: Previous energy plans were more building specific, and involved a sort of piece meal approach to retrofitting and renovating buildings. This time we stepped back to looking at the larger goal, and the plan gives us a road map to help us meet our targets going forward. 

This holistic approach means we’ve got steps in place for targets for new construction, and retrofit projects for lighting, as well as looking at how to move away from steam heating and towards renewable, electric and geothermal alternatives, because about 80% of our emissions come from central heating. The full details of masterplan are on the website, including the options that were considered and why things were chosen in the end.  

Philip: When this plan was first presented to Board of Governors, it was right around the big storm in Texas in February, which caused major power outages, so the resilience of our systems was top of mind. These events in the news brought questions about strains on electrical grid closer to home for everyone. We were really conscious of the need to think about how can we can make our buildings more resilient, and comfortable for everyone whether they are living or researching on campus. 

Scott: We’ve had a 35% emissions reduction since 2005, and that means we are a third of the way there already! Having this plan as a clear roadmap setting out targets for 2030 and then 2050, allows us to go to the board and the University for funding on a longer term because we can clearly show how it will help us meet our targets going forward.  

What are the highlights, what aspects of Carleton’s current sustainability and energy initiatives are the most exciting to you?   

Scott: It’s exciting to be working towards a tangible goal, a roadmap, so now when we want to build a new building, we know we have to target net zero. It gives us the opportunity to collaborate with different departments, and ask what do you want to see for future generations of students, it reminds us that we are doing this for a reason.  

Philip: In the summer, our new business school opened on campus. During the lead up one of the great things was that staff came to us to form a sustainability committee with staff and students, asking how to get involved in sustainable initiatives and programs! It’s fantastic to see members of the university community seeking out opportunities to get involved. We want people to be a part of the process. 

It’s interesting because when it comes to campus infrastructure, students ask different questions than staff and faculty. Students don’t necessarily see the energy side of sustainability, but they do interact with waste, food and dining, so those are concerns they are often quite engaged with. One of the things we’ve been focusing on is also zero waste initiatives. We’ve installed 200 four sorter waste bins, so we can now sort organic waste, paper recycling and mixed recycling. 

What role do you think Carleton plays in terms of setting an example and leading the way in the wider community? 

Philip: We are an institution that incorporates sustainability in all 5 of our faculties and teaches it to students, so it’s reallt important that we not only teach it but also incorporate it into our operations so that we can be a good steward in that sense. We’re located in a residential neighbourhood, so that also give us the opportunity to demonstrate to the wider community what we are doing and hope that they are motivated to take on some of these challenges as well.  

Scott: There are a few institutional pillars in Ottawa like the school boards, universities, and the city itself. People look to these pillars, and so if we are not acting and setting an example, where do people have to look? The social expectation for sustainability has also become a lot stronger, and become far more of a norm over the years. I’m not suggesting that a student wouldn’t come to carleton because of sustainability issues but it has become part of our reputation now. We teach sustainability, we have strong research on it, and it’s also part of our operations. It’s all part of a wider direction and Carleton has set out to integrate all these facets together.  

We want to be a leader in this space, we are in some ways already a leader in this space, and the energy master plan is a key way we are seeking to continue leading on that front. 

What are your hopes for the future of sustainability at Carleton? 

Scott: We’re really hoping we can get good traction on the Energy Masterplan, and we look forward to keep moving and advancing these goals in the next buildings we build and retrofit.  

We also want to ensure the visibility of the work, and making sure we are always being transparent with the university and making sure they are aware of the progress that’s happening. Our ideal outcome in 5 years is that people see and embrace visible change on our campus. We are working to become the greenest university in Ontario, and we hope to continue engaging faculty and students in striving towards the same goals as we are.

Philip: Now more than ever, climate change and sustainability is in the foreground, and we are trying to incorporate it into all our decision-making. We really are thinking about it more than ever before, and it helps us frame our goals daily.  

The definition of sustainability has really shifted over the years and now it means so much more than just saving water and energy. It’s very encouraging to see it brought to the forefront, and to see our university leaders like the Carleton President and other directors championing and backing up this work.