Environmentalism at the University of Alberta: A Tour
The University of Alberta campus is perfect in the summer, with everything so green and gold and blue. I love to walk its paths on a hot day, sticking to the shade, watching students throwing frisbees and reading in the grass. I want to take you on this walk with me, and point out the places on this campus that have been home to this school’s environmentalism, fostering projects and students who have gone on to win or become finalists for The Emerald Foundation’s Emerald Awards, which recognize environmental excellence in Alberta.
We start at the Students’ Union Building which sits in the middle of campus. This is really my home at this university, open 24 hours a day during the academic year and full of couches to sleep on. The U of A Students’ Union created the Environmental Coordination Office of Students in 2002 to research environmental policies. While this group has transitioned into SustainSU, ECOS were the ones to start the U of A’s award-winning campus community garden. They won an Emerald Award in 2011.
Walking out the doors of SUB we find ourselves in the U of A’s main quad, staring at the shiny Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science across from us. Quad is really the hub of this university, with paths criss-crossing it like arteries and students from every faculty flowing through. It makes me think of The Green Medium, this very blog, which won the Emerald Foundation’s youth award last year for their unique and effective approach at getting young people writing and thinking about the environment. Although the blog was created before the editors started university, they’re now all students at the U of A, as are many of their contributors (including me!).
We cut across quad and duck under CAB, emerging onto a shaded path, flanked on each side by brick buildings. The one on our right is the old power plant building, the home of the U of A’s Office of Sustainability, which was recently restructured and folded into other U of A administrative groups. The Office of Sustainability won an Emerald Award in 2014 for their waste in residence program, where Lister Hall and East Campus residents used various bins, including compost and recycling. The U of A also coordinates an Eco Move-Out at the end of the semester where students can donate their unwanted goods instead of throwing them out.
Now for a bit of a walk. After the Office of Sustainability we head north, cutting through arts quad and coming out on Saskatchewan Drive, right by the river. From there we follow the sidewalk, shielding our eyes from the sun and looking up at the huge brick building before us. This is the Biological Sciences Building where Hayley Todesco studied honours genetics. Hayley won the Emerald Foundation’s youth award in 2016 for her work as a young scientist. In 2014, Hayley won the Google Science Fair for her invention of a biofilm that cleans oil sands tailing ponds in just 19 years (compared to the 264 years it usually takes for them to detoxify). She was also awarded the Stockholm Junior Water Award and was named one of Canada’s top 20 under 20. She just graduated from the U of A.
From BioSci, we start heading back to SUB, past the U of A’s old ring houses and through the engineering section of campus. At the U of A, engineering is characterized by tall glass towers full of stressed out students. The tallest, newest of these buildings is the Donadeo Innovation Centre for Engineering, which boasts an amazing view of Edmonton from its tenth floor. This year, Kabir, a U of A engineering physics student was a finalist for the youth award for his work in creating the Alberta Community Solar Guide. This resource, which Kabir co-authored as an intern with the Pembina Institute, spells out how to develop more accessible solar energy and how it could help the province’s electricity market. Kabir also champions sustainability on campus through his work as a leader of the ZeroPlane student group, which hopes to create a fully electric airplane, as well as many other projects he is involved in.
From engineering it’s just a quick walk back to SUB, where I often sit at my desk in The Gateway office and wonder where the next big environmental success story will come from on this campus. The reality is that there are students, staff, and faculty in practically every building who are making important contributions to the cause and inspiring hope.