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Green grade 

You're a university student with an ecological conscience, but you're curious about what your school is doing to save the planet. We go digging for answers on campus.

Dalhousie University

As the largest university on this list, it's not surprising that Dal boasts a three-pronged approach to sustainable policy---there's the university's sustainability office, another one based in student government and a faculty group focused on weaving sustainability concepts into Dal's curriculums. To this end, Dal will soon be boasting a College of Sustainability that will merge established undergrad and postgrad degrees with sustainability courses. It's something the school's brand-new director of sustainability, Rochelle Owen, is mighty pleased about.

"We're certainly excited about the degree," she says. "It's unique and it's the first kind of program in the country where the concept of sustainability is paired with a major discipline." She says a website describing the degree will be up shortly.

The university will boast highlights during frosh week---with a pancake breakfast highlighting the importance of local food choices and student eco-societies presenting at a number of frosh events. There are also activity plans for residence assistants on how to encourage smart energy consumption in dorm rooms. The Sustainability Office has recently joined the Association for Advanced Sustainability and Higher Education and ensured that anyone with a Dal email address can log onto the organization's website to get information about sustainability. Owens says the office encourages any student looking for ideas for essays or theses with sustainability themes to come and browse in her office for resources and info.

Meanwhile, Dalhousie's own sustainability office will be launching its website during the first week of September at sustainability.dal.ca, to effectively distill news from the university's various groups on eco-friendly initiatives and activities.

"This is a big place," Owen says. "There's a lot going on here and a lot to do. What I find encouraging is that people are interested in having conversations about what we're doing. Now it's just a matter of getting these ideas working and setting targets."

For more info on frosh week, student-run projects or other sustainability info, you can ring up the student sustainability office at 494-2780.

Nova Scotia College of Art and Design

Over the past year, professors and students at NSCAD have combined their efforts in a unique DIY manner to ensure that their projects have sustainable merits and benefit the larger community.

"I think that for professionals these days, it's not enough to amass money to do projects for industry," says the college's director of the Masters of Design program, Hanno Ehses. "They need to do some work for the larger society. That's part of the responsibility of the designer."

To that end, Ehses and his masters students teamed up this past year to create a project called Solid Green---an initiative intended to bring together Nova Scotian businesses, NGOs and municipal representatives to speed up the adoption of green practices in local businesses. The group created everything from the bottom up, contacting organizations, making proposals and, of course, designing the project with logos, brochures and other ads. Students then gave presentations to members of local government to pitch the program.

Ehses says many were "positively received," the word spread and the province was enticed to implement some of the ideas. Ehses says the project isn't going ahead yet but they've made a number of presentations. He adds that, regardless of the outcome, the project was an important experience for his department and for the school.

"Students have the tools and skills to think, write and design," Ehses says. "They can be part of local groups and make things happen. They can be proactive and involved---wherever they go. I want them to look where they live and see that every community has problems that can be improved."

Nova Scotia Community College

NSCC's sparkling-new waterfront campus is currently its most visible commitment to creating a greener learning environment. Manager of building services Jim Farrell says the second building set for the waterfront---set to open in 2009---will continue along the same lines, seeking out the same type of eco-friendly LEED certification as the first building. LEED stands for Leadership Energy Environmental Design, a market-based certification system that ranks the eco-friendliness of building design. Buildings are rated on the following five points: sustainability, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality. Most of Halifax's universities and colleges are getting on board with the certification as campuses expand. (You can learn more about the Canadian branch of the system at cagbc.org/leed/systems/index.htm.)

Farrell and NSCC's building management department are focusing not only on creating the greenest new buildings, but improving infrastructure of old ones.

"We're just trying to green the entire campus as best we can," Farrell says. One big move involved replacing all the old lighting fixtures at the college's various campuses with new, energy-efficient bulbs. These initiatives aren't cheap, of course---Farrell says the college has received a little help from Conserve NS, which donated $400,000 towards the funding of eco-initiatives. In addition to building design, the college is also focusing on reducing the amount of waste it produces, through boosting recycling programs and separating organics from the rest of the school's garbage. Farrell says the school is looking for community partners who can use items that might otherwise be sent to landfill. He says the goal is to reduce these amounts by 50 percent. But Farrell says the school's biggest challenge is updating its "aging infrastructure."

"We're always looking for creative ways to finance the replacement of outdated equipment," he says. "We want to participate with all staff, faculty and students to achieve these goals. And in the end, I really think it's about education."

Mount Saint Vincent University

Remember those giant pre-registration packages you received in the mail after being accepted to university---those envelopes brimming with photocopied pages, most of which were tossed out within days? For students starting at Mount Saint Vincent this fall, these packages will soon go the way of the eight-track and become an educational relic. This year, their student orientation packages will be arriving on a memory stick.

"We figure we're saving a minimum of 100 pages per student. With 1,400 new students, that's about 150,000 sheets of paper," says the school's director of public affairs, Robyn McIsaac. The idea flourished after the school presented MSVU's president's report to the community on a memory stick. "It received positive feedback," McIsaac says, "and we felt we could expand it to other publications. The welcoming package produced the most paper, so it made sense to go with that one as a starting point."

Students were notified about the sticks by email and will pick them up once they arrive to pre-register. McIsaac says the school's administration is waiting for feedback from students and parents to see if the memory stick idea can be used for other publications. Meanwhile, the school is in the process of redesigning its website and posting more material. The hope is that more people will automatically go there for information instead of expecting printed handouts. While the reduction of paper use is the university's biggest environmental priority, McIsaac says this year they'll also be looking to students, dons and advisers in residence for suggestions and discussion on how to reduce their energy bills. The administration also wants to work more closely with faculty and students when it comes to improving sustainability in all aspects of campus life. "We're looking for everyone who might be impacted by a policy or decision," she says.Saint Mary's University

This year, SMU plans to bombard incoming students with eco-friendly information from the get-go: Its 2008 frosh week, called SMUperheroes, features sustainability as a highlight. The week will include a scavenger hunt based on everyone's favourite ring-bearing eco-superhero, Captain Planet (from the eponymous eco-friendly cartoon), a group signing of a sustainability pledge and a Most Sustainable Student award presented at the closing ceremonies.

Most frosh coupons and ad packs have also been condensed onto a USB flash drive. Orientation co-ordinator Myra El-Bayoumi says the move "shot our budget" but it will show students that SMU's student government has made a commitment to sustainability. She's hoping students will be prompted to check out SMUSA's pre-existing sustainability policy at smusa.ca/sustainability.asp.

" is just an opportunity to broadcast information now that we have everyone's attention on this issue already and put a fun spin on it," Bayoumi says.

Meanwhile, the university has buckled down to recycling initiatives, creating four-bin systems for recyclables, refundable bottles, organics and waste. These special waste bins are located outside classrooms while classroom garbage bins have been removed. SMU's sustainability co-ordinator Shelley Price-Finn says that's because students were simply throwing all their garbage into the one bin. "If you make someone go where they have a choice, they'll make that choice," she says. "But if they're given garbage/recycling bins on their own, they'll throw everything in there."

The university also has a green roof above the library which is a research tool to test its efficiency as an energy saver. SMU is building its new three-storey atrium to fit LEED standards. It'll be the first building on campus to do so and director of facilities management Gary Schmeisser says it should be completed by next September. As for existing buildings, he says his department is working on a three-million dollar upgrade of energy products, such as lights and switches, for the next year. There are also plans to convert the university's heating plants to natural gas, a move that Schmeisser says will reduce the school's CO2 output by 2,000 tonnes.

Going green
1. You aren’t a baby anymore. You’re out in the world. By the time you’re collecting a pension (Hah! As if there’ll be any money) you’ll be gasping for breath in smog-filled air, drinking bitter, chemical soup and eating Soylent Green unless you do something now.
2. Join your school’s greening efforts and make a difference.

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