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Universities walk the talk in sustainability leadership

'Periods of change mean huge opportunities for society and for universities'
February 17, 2017
Post-secondary institutions have an important role to play in the move to a lower-carbon economy, says the chair of Alberta’s Energy Efficiency Advisory Panel.

Post-secondary institutions have an important role to play in the move to a lower-carbon economy, says the chair of Alberta’s Energy Efficiency Advisory Panel.

David Wheeler, chair of Alberta’s Energy Efficiency Advisory Panel, says the panel's recently released report encourages Albertans to save energy and money.

David Wheeler, chair of Alberta’s Energy Efficiency Advisory Panel, says the panel's recently released report encourages Albertans to save energy and money.

The University of Calgary is clearly "walking the talk" when it comes to sustainability, says David Wheeler, chair of Alberta’s Energy Efficiency Advisory Panel, which has released a report providing a road map to a greener economy in Alberta.

The report — Getting it Right: A More Energy Efficient Alberta — outlines a number of recommendations and programs aimed at encouraging people to save energy and money, which will also help diversify the economy and create jobs. The panel, which is at arm's-length from the provincial government, held a series of open houses around Alberta to get ideas and input from the public before it wrote the 66-page report.

UCalgary shows leadership in energy efficiency

The first energy-efficient programs that will be rolled out this spring include free installations of lighting, water fixtures and programmable thermostats in some houses across the province, some retail rebates for insulation and appliances, as well as incentives for organizations to switch to more energy efficient products.

“Energy efficiency is the cheapest form of energy. It eliminates waste and creates social and economic benefits,” says Wheeler. “With this report, Alberta is set to establish international leadership in transforming its economy around principles of energy efficiency and innovation.”

The university is playing an important role in that transformation with its Institutional Sustainability Strategy and hundreds of courses and initiatives and research across campus. “UCalgary has a great track record in terms of reducing the campus ecological footprint. You are walking the talk on a lot of these questions, including carbon emissions reductions.” Wheeler points to leadership from the top, world-leading research, and the university creating the next generation of leaders. 

Students see connection between environment and economy

“When university academics and administration work together they can create magic,” says Wheeler, who has a long record of working in sustainability at universities, most recently in his role as president and vice-chancellor of Cape Breton University, and as pro vice-chancellor (sustainability) and executive dean of business at the University of Plymouth, UK.

Students have “fire in their bellies” and are going to change the world, he says. “Students are up for change and quite passionate about it. They are also beyond the false dichotomy of environment versus the economy. It’s not a contradiction for them.”

As the transformation to a lower carbon economy continues, universities need to stay deeply connected with their communities and society at large, says Wheeler. “Watch the signals.”

As a global producer of energy, Alberta can be an international leader in de-carbonization, harnessing innovation and turning it into competitive advantage for the province. Post-secondary institutions need to work at becoming become more entrepreneurial; ready to act with a multi-disciplinary approach. “All kinds of new developments emerge because of the dramatic changes underway,” Wheeler says. “Periods of change mean huge opportunities for society and for universities.”

Read more about Alberta’s Energy Efficiency report. Find out how UCalgary is walking the sustainability talk in the 2016 Sustainability Report.