University of Calgary

Spotlight on Sustainability: Leland Jackson

UToday HomeJanuary 24, 2013

Leland Jackson, a biological sciences professor in the Faculty of Science, tries to impress upon his students that everybody’s waste water is someone else’s drinking water. Photo by Riley BrandtLeland Jackson, a biological sciences professor in the Faculty of Science, tries to impress upon his students that everybody’s waste water is someone else’s drinking water. Photo by Riley BrandtAt the beginning of each semester, Leland Jackson starts collecting all the coffee cups that students throw out during his Biology 307 class. Three weeks in, the biological sciences professor in the Faculty of Science hauls in the big garbage bags full of coffee cups and watches as students start to see the big picture of sustainability.

“I tell them that if you use a reusable coffee cup, all this garbage disappears and you save all the energy it takes to process the garbage and the energy to produce the cups,” says Jackson. He also points out the money students can save, since most coffee vendors give a discount for bringing a reusable cup.

“People don’t think about the little things, when you start doing the math it really adds up — not only do you help save the planet in terms of the cups, but you put some money in your pocket.”

When he’s not teaching, Jackson is studying seaweed in shallow lakes — plants that are much more than “stuff that gets in the way when you go for a swim.” The plants play an important role in the shallow lake ecosystem, helping keep the water clear from the blue green algae that produce harmful toxins.

He’s also the director of the Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets partnership with the Pine Water Waste Treatment facility that’s developing technologies to remove pharmaceuticals and other contaminants from wastewater.

Jackson brings wastewater into the classroom by taking his students through the math of using low flush toilets, reducing water use from 140 litres a day to 24. “You multiply that by the four people in my house, or the million people in Calgary, and the number is mind boggling,” says Jackson.

From your toilet to the seaweed in shallow lakes and beyond, Jackson teaches his students that we’re all part of the same ecosystem — one with a growing population and finite resources; resources that are not distributed, or consumed, equally around the globe.

“Even though we turn the tap on in Calgary and clean water comes out, we never give a second thought about whether it’s safe to drink,” says Jackson. “One in five people on the planet cannot do that.”

Jackson would like us to keep that and something else in mind: “Everybody’s waste water is someone else’s drinking water.”

Spotlight on Sustainability is an ongoing series profiling the work of students, faculty and staff. To submit story ideas please contact the Office of Sustainability.