University of Calgary

Q&A: Joanne Perdue

Joanne Perdue,
Director of Sustainability

Joanne Perdue, senior associate with Calgary firm Designworks Architecture, has been appointed the director of sustainability beginning May 1. In her new role, Perdue will assist the U of C in becoming a North American model for sustainability in higher education.

What is your mandate?

The University of Calgary is committed to becoming a more sustainable campus and this commitment is demonstrated by the creation of a director of sustainability position. The U of C is only the third university in Canada to do this. The primary purpose of my position is to assist in providing vision and organizational strategies to build full participation across the university in sustainability stewardship, integrating sustainability into all aspects of operations and to enhance the development of sustainability initiatives in the areas of academia and research.

What is sustainability?

Perhaps the most commonly recognized definition was authored by the Brundtland Commission—the United Nation’s World Commission on Environment and Development—which defined sustainability as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainability includes environmental, social and economic considerations, which are often metaphorically referred to as the three equal legs of a balanced stool.

Why is sustainability on campus important?

If not here, then where else? Universities have a pivotal role to play in defining a path to a sustainable future in four very important ways.

First: universities prepare our future teachers, researchers, designers, engineers, corporate CEOs and political leaders. What they are taught, how they are taught and the physical environment in which they learn all shape their ability to provide leadership and answers to the complex challenges of reaching a sustainable future.

Second: universities provide research to better understand our natural environment, social conditions in local and global contexts, political and economic forces at play and the complex interdependencies between these considerations. No other societal institution has the knowledge, the talented people and the resources to tackle the challenges that face us.

Third: universities are role models for the larger community. Their policies, standards and operations influence the direction that business and other educational institutions take. An institution that demonstrates leadership in modeling sustainability is far more likely to produce students who will, in turn, demonstrate leadership in their personal and professional lives.

Fourth: the collective purchasing power of universities is significant and they can shape the nature of the services and products made available to them through their policies and standards.

What are the first things you will tackle when you begin your new role?

There is a very strong base to build on at the U of C. Two important goals for me are building collaborative and interdisciplinary teams that encompass faculty, students and operations—to address the many aspects of campus sustainability—and facilitating opportunities for teaching and research related to sustainability in a range of operations initiatives. Examples of this might be ethical environmental procurement policies, economic evaluation tools—such as life cycle analysis—the development of performance metrics for building operations or indicators for well being.

What experience do you have with designing sustainable buildings and campuses? 

I am an architect with 20 years of experience primarily in college and university projects—15 years have been focused on high performance “green” buildings and incorporating principles of sustainability in the physical planning of the broader campus. The most notable project was the C.K. Choi building at the University of British Columbia. Completed more than 11 years ago, it is still a showpiece for sustainable design at UBC. It boasts a 70 percent demonstrated reduction in energy use, onsite wastewater and stormwater treatment, annually saves approximately three million litres of potable water, it employed more than 60 percent reused and recycled content construction materials and diverted 95 percent of its construction waste from landfill.

What I have learned from working on innovative “green” projects—which remain outside industry norms—is that they are really about changing the culture of an institution or an industry. For me, a critical component of a successful process is broad level engagement and building collaborative interdisciplinary teams.

How are you personally addressing sustainability?

I have been an advocate and mentor for sustainability in volunteer work for many years. This has included a range of initiatives from coordinating programs for elementary school children to learn about “green” buildings, to serving as a board member for the Alberta Chapter of the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC).  Currently, I am chair of a CaGBC committee responsible for steering the development of the next generation of LEED standards in Canada.

At home, my family and I recycle, compost, use energy efficient appliances, we have dual flush toilets, and perhaps most importantly, we try to reduce our carbon footprint by such measures as walking to work. Additionally, we are raising our children to be socially minded and take on an individual responsibility for the environment. We try to instil these values in our family life so our children learn by our examples. I am often touched by the simple but profound observations that my children make about the world around them. The uncertain future that they face is a powerful motivation for me.