TRU receives highest rating for sustainability efforts

Awarded for sustainability

Thompson Rivers University has been recognized for its sustainability achievements, becoming one of six universities worldwide to have twice received a platinum rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

James Gordon, manager of sustainability programs, said TRU first earned platinum in 2018 — the first Canadian institution to receive the award — and is now the first in Canada with a double platinum rating.

“There’s only 12 institutions that have ever got platinum,” Gordon said.

TRU is one of six institutions in the world to have now earned platinum twice. The program attracts over 900 participants in over 37 countries.

“It really speaks to people across the university that takes sustainability very seriously, and want to basically do a better job every day. From the board of governors right to new students who come here for the very first time,” Gordon said.

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) runs a special program which measuring and encouraging sustainability within the institutions.

The program is called the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS), and requires participating institutions to report sustainability achievements in five overall areas: academics, engagement, operations, planning and administration, innovation and leadership.

Gordon said institutions must fill out a total of 64 sections in the STARS report, then each section is graded. The cumulation of grades determine which rating an institution receives.

“They're always adjusting and making it more rigorous,” Gordon said.

He said 85 per cent is the cutoff score for platinum, and TRU received a score of 86.17 this year.

Gordon gave credit to his predecessors, who put together a sustainability plan for the university that mirrors the structure of the STARS report.

We have priorities, there are countless short term, ongoing, medium term, long term goals within the plan. And so this really keeps us on track,” Gordon said.

Brett Fairbairn, TRU president, said in a news release that sustainability is one of TRU’s core values, and the institution tries to incorporate it throughout operations.

“Receiving the STARS platinum rating recognizes our efforts and confirms that TRU is a world leader in this important area,” Fairbairn said.

To further sustainability efforts, Gordon said the university is looking at implementing its five year zero waste plan, incentivizing the use of electric bicycles, and working on a project to transform the way campus buildings are heated.

Speaking to reporters in the trades department boiler room, Gordon said by about 2030, there will be “very little need for a space like this, to burn fossil fuels to heat buildings.”

“We started on a project called the Low Carbon District Energy System two years ago, with a company called Creative Energy out of Vancouver,” Gordon said.

“It's essentially using a combination of air source heat pumps, water source heat pumps — which have really risen in technological advancements recently — combined with BC Hydro’s 97 per cent clean electricity,” Gordon said.

He said the project will reduce fossil fuel use to heat all campus buildings by over 90 per cent compared to 2020 levels.

Construction on the central heating hub which will move heat to all buildings on campus will start in 2024.

However, Gordon said as far as sustainability is concerned, small decisions can also make a big difference.

“I kind of joke that we should maybe change the name of the office to the ‘make better office,’ because that's really the nature of sustainability,” Gordon said.

“We know we need to do better. And so it's just those incremental, turning the dial every day, trying to better sustainability performance.”

The STARS rating is valid for three years, so TRU's platinum rating is effective until 2025.

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