Capilano University in need of doers and thinkers
//Tiare Jung

Education is more than a conveyor belt for credits. Students do not just go into one end of a post-secondary machine, pass through a series of classes, and pop out the other end with a degree, learned and wise. Universities are communities, environments, and incubators for ideas and innovation.

Establishments with so much influence face the question of environmental responsibility and sustainability. Who's answering? This is a question both asked by and posed to faculty, administration, and especially students. Across the province universities are furrowing their eyebrows and greasing their elbows to stay on top of the green movement. So what are we doing here at Capilano?


Since 2009, students have been forming teams for Project Change, a challenge with only three demands: first, that the outcome must affect a community of a minimum of 20 people; second, that the impacts must be specific and measurable; and third, that the results must be reported in an effective manner.

How is sustainable achievement measured? There are many ways to track progress: number of participants, names on a pledge, measurable behavior changes, waste diverted, energy saved, dollars raised, meals provided, and services used, to name a few.

“Bike to Cap Week” in 2010 spurred 40 people on two wheels instead of four for a week, diverting 1,053 km of automobile commuting and reducing 242 kg of CO2 emissions.

In 2010, students hosted an “Eat Local-palooza” that served 180 bowls of locally sourced food from the cafeteria. The what, where, and how’s of eating locally were addressed to let students know the impacts that eating locally has on the environment, the economy, and society.

In 2009, Green Connection, a four-day event, brought together over 150 people on campus including students, faculty, and local presenters to learn about fresh water use, corporate investment in the community, and waste management. Also in 2009, Capilano first participated in “Meatless Mondays,” an easy first step for people looking to shift towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle. With 36 campus participants committed to 139 meatless meals, 1,370 lbs of CO2 and 542,100 gallons of water conserved. Inspiration from previous Capilano entries to Project Change and information for entering the challenge this year can be found at projectchange. ca, with a submission deadline of Dec. 9, 2011.


In partnership with the goBEYOND Campus Climate Network, a series of the teach-ins began in 2009 at Capilano to connect academics to sustainability, from geography, to business, to film studies. Teach-ins are in-class lessons and discussions aimed to create an understanding of the trans-disciplinary nature of sustainability and how it can be integrated into course curriculum.

“Those of us in environmental circles are continually having these conversations,” comments Matt Bakker, Environmental Committee Coordinator of the CSU in 2009, “but someone not in those green networks might not talk about farmed salmon or climate change. We wanted to start those discussions, and build awareness as a foundation for action.”

Teach-ins provide forums for students to share opinions and views that will be condensed and amalgamated into a document by the goBEYOND network. These documentations are made widely accessible to decision makers at all levels of government, and to advocacy groups. Essentially, the campaign is a megaphone for student voices to enter the provincewide discussion about sustainability. The campaign is happening again this year, with sign up in the fall semester to allow participating instructors enough time to make a lesson plan for the spring.


The gears and cogs of Capilano are under constant renovation with the demand of sustainability to grease the clockworks. The university is required to annually report its plans and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Greenhouse Gas Reductions Targets Act.

“On the energy conservation side, we’ve had over $1 million in external funding brought to the institution for the development of a strategic energy management plan, heating & cooling, and lighting initiatives,” reports Susan Doig, Facilities Manager at Capilano University.

The Sustainable Education Across the Province was a three-day conference hosted in May 2011 by Capilano that addressed three things: day one was dedicated to personal course development, institution-wide curriculum changes were discussed on day 2, and day 3 focused on Capilano’s individual action plan for sustainability. A collection of over 40 staff, administration, students, and multi-stakeholders brainstormed for an “idea jam” and came up with the some key areas to work on: “We identified and prioritized specific actions & goals for Capilano over the coming years,” Doig observes. “One of the outcomes of that conference was the waste audit and integrating course curriculum with sustainability projects.”


Capilano has a recycling program with 14 different streams to divert waste from the landfill. These include recycling for books, batteries, cardboard, carpets, cell phones & batteries, classroom tables, computers, fluorescent tubes, ink & toner cartridges, paper, refundable beverage containers, and hard & soft plastics.

However, this system does not guarantee that students actually use it. The 2010 Beverage Container Return Study pegs single men living in urban areas between 18 and 34 – usually working outside of the home or students – as the most likely to discard a minimum of two recyclable beverage containers per week. This number could be brought down to zero if individuals were mindful of where they are placing their disposables.

Capilano is casting a more scrutinous eye and a firmer hand on its waste management and recycling program. On Sept. 20, 2011, a waste audit was conducted on campus behind the Sportsplex, to see what trash cans contained. Approximately 100 students from Outdoor Tourism & Recreation and Environmental Geography, clad in white suits, gloves, masks, and goggles, wrinkled their noses and sorted over 467.09 kg of Capilano's North Vancouver campus’ throwaways. This amount sorted during the audit was only 17.76 per cent of the garbage disposal collected over ten days, of which 466 beverage containers were picked out of the garbage.

Rickilee Walls, a participating student, said, “I have always tried to be aware of how I throw away things, but didn't realize the amount of people who still do not recycle or compost. It was quite shocking to me! I think yesterday was very transformational for me in the sense of wanting to educate others, [and] not only focusing on my own habits.”

It took no great deductive powers to guess where some of the garbage had been collected from when plastic tampon dispensers were scattered across the sorting tables. As an alternative, the Diva Cup sells for $30 at the Capilano Student’s Union. These reusable silicone cups are easy to wash and produce no paper or plastic waste aside from the packaging they come in. Other options include washable cotton pads or natural sea sponge tampons.

“Students should make sure what they use is disposed of correctly,” says Doig, “but more importantly, do they need it in the first place? Do they need this coffee in a disposable cup or can they buy a refillable mug? Three or four years ago when I would go into a class for a presentation, only one person would have their own mug; now, most people carry one.”

In partnership with Encorp Pacific (Canada), the results of the waste audit will be used to develop an improved disposal system at Capilano. Students in Business Leadership are in charge of working on the business proposal for the modified waste management plan. Some of the objectives are garbage cans that don’t use 22”x20” black plastic garbage bags, clearer signage, and smaller disposal containers.

The second waste audit will be conducted on Nov. 15 to assess the effectiveness of a new system. Throughout this process, students of the Environmental Geography class are working on projects to document the audit, research waste management, and share their findings.

“We have to start thinking about the life cycle of what we buy,” says Cheryl Schreader, Environmental Geography instructor. “It’s time to adopt a cradle-to-cradle way of using, not a cradle-tograve way of consumption.”

With the support of administration who set up the waste audit, faculty who have integrated the project into course curriculum, and student participation and interest, this project could be an example to campuses across BC – how to salvage as many products as possible for reuse, and stop things from ending up in the landfill or incinerator

A lot of time and effort is being put into our garbage, so how about our organics? From the 467.09 kg of waste sorted during the waste audit at Capilano, 55.98 per cent was organics. Currently, there are compost bins located in the Birch Building in the cafeteria, but they would be difficult to spot elsewhere, so it’s no surprise that a lot of organic matter can be found in the trashcans from other buildings. When organic waste decomposes in the open air of landfills, it doesn’t just disappear: it produces more carbon dioxide and methane.

The compost that is collected in the Birch cafeteria is transported to a Smithrite Disposal facility where it is processed off campus. Funneling this nutrient-rich “waste” into on-site composting would go hand in hand with the idea of a community garden. “Our organics program needs work,” acknowledges Doig, “but it has a ton of opportunity to become [an] effective program.”


Growing food on at Capilano has been an idea tumbling around campus for years. In 2009, Bakker picked up the idea and gave it some sustenance: joining forces with some Business, Tourism, and Outdoor Recreation students, they looked into a business plan, contacts, relevant research on bylaws and policies, and site selection.

While the proposal didn’t make it into fruition, the thread has been started: Joanne Cook, Capilano University's passionate Head Gardener, is enthusiastic to share her expertise with interested students when it comes to compost, plants, food, and soil. The resources exist, but the pieces haven’t been put together yet.


Capilano’s capacity to support life goes beyond food production for humans. The North Vancouver campus is the home of two wetland areas. These ecosystems are potential wellsprings of biodiversity.

“To increase biological health on campus, I suggest … assessing the wetlands for restoration, replenishing native plants, attracting pollinators, and planting for wildlife. You know we’re on the edge of the forest and wildlife – butterflies, bees, and birds – can use parts of the campus. We used to have healthy tree frog population,” observes Marja de Jon Westman, Coordinator of the Biology department. “We used to start hearing them in January. Who can hear the tree frogs now?”


“We’ve had some really amazing students drive change through their individual and group work,” explains Doig. “I see the role of students as providing enthusiasm and engagement in sustainable activities. The reason we have compostable utensils and dishes in food services is because of the personal commitment of a student whose passion was to remove styrofoam from the garbage. She got involved, made the demands, and stayed on task. The university found a way to make it happen even though it cost more money. She was able to convince the institution it was the right way and to make the change, now it’s just what we do.”

There have been strong leaders in sustainability on campus, but finding records or a consistent community requires persistence and a Sherlock Holmes hat.

As a commuter campus and a new university where students are usually only around for a few years, the community at Capilano University is fairly transient. Both the Environmental Committee and goBEYOND Capilano have a brief turn-over period, with student leaders that are in office for usually only one or two years, and members come with varying commitment levels. During Bakker’s time in student government, he found that “student participation was very marginal, but at the same time there were a lot of individuals working in isolation. So the sparks are there, there are pockets of motivation, they working side by side with minimal communication.”

Key groups who have carried the sustainability banner on campus in the past include the Environmental Committee of the CSU, goBEYOND Capilano, some faculty facilities, energy management, the Global Stewardship program, the Geography department, and the Outdoor Tourism and Recreation program.

Unlike most post-secondary institutions, Capilano does not have a department or position dedicated solely to sustainability. The facilities manager is allocated 20 per cent of time and financial resources to sustainability. The energy management and energy specialist roles are funded by the university’s natural gas suppliers, BC Hydro and FortisBC, and focus primarily on energy savings.

“I think specifically at SFU that it works because they have a large student base, but they have an independent student sustainability group. Sustainable SFU is funded by the $2 levy per student per semester,” Bakker reflects, comparing how his experience now at SFU differs from that of Capilano. “They have an executive director who is not a student, but paid to be there, and that provides continuity. The executive director is always there, can offer historic insight and direction, also able to stay with initiatives over time.”


Here at Capilano, there are at least two student groups who primarily focus on working towards environment and sustainability goals: goBEYOND Capilano and the Environmental Committee.

The Environmental Committee is organized through the CSU. The committee provides an opportunity for students to get together, share and voice concerns, and provide leadership for Capilano’s sustainability projects. Of course, its efficiency depends on student turnout, what level of involvement students are willing to take, and their commitment to producing outcomes.

GoBEYOND is a student movement against climate change province-wide, with connections to a greater sustainability network from campuses across BC. At Capilano, meetings are every Wednesday in the students’ lounge of the CSU, in the Maple building at noon. Some projects being undertaken by goBEYOND participants are the organic community garden, composting on site, and sustainable food workshops. GoBEYOND aspires to be more than just a workgroup, but also a hub for the various people working on sustainability matters on campus.

Capilano University also has sustainability pledge in place, which breaches the first frontier of sustainability: living a conscious lifestyle. This one-page checklist serves as a personal reminder of the everyday things a person can do to save energy. It can be found on the Capilano Sustainability webpage.

School projects go beyond textbooks and papers. Revamping the recycling program, on site composting, organic gardening, and revitalizing natural ecosystems are only a few examples of community based learning opportunities. With a diverse pool of students and staff, the list of more sustainable options is a constantly evolving.

“Students must realize their power,” says Doig, from an administration standpoint. “Make demands! It is a responsibility to themselves and the community to let the institution know what they want, but also to take responsibility and accountability for how these things can happen. We need doers and thinkers!”

// Tiare Jung, Writer
// Photo & Illustrations by Tiare Jung

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com