Quality and Productivity Database

Descriptive Title of Proposal: Envision - Funding Sustainability: How energy management savings fund sustainable initiatives
Year Submitted 2016
Person(s) Responsible for the Idea
Name Title
Michael Versteegc Energy Management Program Manager
Shannon Leblanc Sustainability Coordinator
Name of Institution University of Alberta
Office Address 4111 Floor, General Services Building
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2H1
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Telephone: 780-492-4024
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Name (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Don Hickey
Title (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Vice-President (Facilities and Operations)
Office Address 2-04 South Academic Building
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2G7
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Telephone: 780-492-9238
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In 1975 fuelled by rising energy prices and oil shortages the University of Alberta developed a highly successful energy management program. Building on its success, in 2009 the university recognized the potential to reimagine and broaden the impact this program and in 2011 the university launched the expanded next generation - Envision: Intelligent Energy Reduction. Envision takes an integrated approach to reduce the university’s energy consumption while seeking partnership opportunities to research, validate and adopt best practices and innovative technologies. This robust program spans the institution’s 1.3 million gross square meters of building space to improve the working and studying environments of the university’s 39,000 students and 15,000 staff and faculty.


To date, the program has invested $80 million in energy efficiency and reduction measures that have saved over $320 million in avoided utility costs and mitigated 2.3 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. While the university’s built environment has increased in area by 75 per cent, the overall energy use intensity of its buildings has decreased by 13 per cent, including a 13 per cent reduction in electricity use intensity and 45 per cent reduction in heating steam use intensity.


The program is funded through loans and paid back by verified project cost savings. The expanded program concept was so well received that since 2010, a portion of the additional savings generated are used to maintain an Energy Reserve that funds more than energy-related projects. The Energy Reserve has funded over a million dollars in projects and initiatives such as the Zero Waste initiative, the Office of Sustainability outreach programs, the Sustainability Enhancement Fund granting program, over 500 kW of renewable and alternative energy projects, the development of a water reduction initiative, and most recently experiential learning or ‘facilities as living  aboratories’ opportunities for student and faculty researchers focused on advancing campus sustainability. To date, six student projects have been funded. This commitment to capture program savings and reinvest them, not only for energy efficiency but to advance sustainability and the university’s core academic mission as a whole is truly innovative.

For more information, please visit the following links:

UAlberta Facilities and Operations

Energy Management and Sustainable Operations


Campus Sustainability Initiative:

Energy Management Program Overview


Envision, Intelligent Energy Reduction


U of A On the Move Stairwell Campaign



Criteria Please submit one paragraph describing how the proposal fulfills each of the evaluation criteria.

The core of today’s Envision program has three major components that are transferable to other institutions: its integrated approach to energy management, detailed energy audits and savings verification, and funding model including the Energy Reserve.


Integrated Approach to Energy Management

The philosophy of the Envision program is to take an integrated approach to energy management by building an annual program that balances projects with stronger and weaker paybacks, more and less aggressive tactics, trusted technologies and innovative approaches. This approach leads to a well-integrated and aggressive portfolio of projects overall. The second tenet of this philosophy is to tackle entire buildings whenever possible, rather than choosing piecemeal projects in multiple buildings.


Detailed Energy Audits and Savings Verification

Each project begins by establishing baseline energy use and potential energy savings measures through third party energy audits and energy models. Program measures are then selected and built into the annual program plan using the integrated approach. Importantly, this process has also cultivated a broad industry knowledge base and relationships that are not only vital to the program but have also increased industry knowledge and influenced industry practices as a whole. For example, two UAlberta projects have successfully incorporated building-integrated solar PV, which required a steep and collaborative learning curve for the Envision program manager,

solar power system designer, and trades staff alike. UAlberta projects also led several local engineering firms to adopt a new waste heat capture method in lab buildings, and a fume hood vendor adopted a new method of using fan arrays for fume hood exhaust after it was piloted at UAlberta.


Funding Model and Energy Reserve

The UAlberta Energy Management Program began with loans granted internally from the institution and has transitioned to borrowing from the Alberta Capital Finance Authority (ACFA). The detailed energy audits and verified utility savings described above serve as the basis for loan repayment, and this model has proven itself highly successful. It also allows third-party verification of GHG credits generated by program measures. Each year, if the utility savings generated are greater than the necessary loan payment, these savings are kept in a Energy Reserve and applied to additional energy savings projects, research initiatives and other university sustainability efforts. To date, the loans have not only been paid back on time, but the program has avoided $320 million in utility savings and the reserve has funded over a million dollars in sustainability initiatives. Through retention of savings the program has grown to selffunding for many major campus initiatives.


Steps for Transferability

The university has given presentations to the City of Edmonton, the Government of Alberta, and industry associations (WCUPPA, BOMA, CUSP, ASHRAE, AASHE, CAUBO), as well as through on site tours of specific program elements (e.g., Aircuity@ program and renewable energy projects). Additionally, Alberta Advanced Education has recommended that other Alberta post-secondary institutions adopt similar programs, using the UAlberta model. The Envision model can be applied on a smaller or larger scale depending on the size of the institution and the budget available. The UAlberta program started with internal funding and has secured grant funding on several occasions as well3, which are options if a system similar to ACFA is not available. The University of Alberta is willing to share the business case for this program with other institutions.


  1. ACFA was established in 1956 and acts as an agent of the Alberta crown to provide local entities with low interest financing for capital projects.
  2. http://www.acfa.gov.ab.ca/.
  3. Aircuity®: Safe, Smart, & Efficient Airside Solutions. http://www.aircuity.com/technology/.
  4. In addition to borrowing, over time the program has also accessed grants from the federal ECOenergy Program and Commercial Building Incentive Program (CBIP) to help fund a portion of the program’s projects.
Quality Impact

By reinvesting the utility savings into innovative initiatives, the Envision program has a positive qualitative impact on the institution. Since 2011, the Energy Reserve has reinvested over a million dollars in projects and initiatives such as the Zero Waste initiative, the Shut the Sash campaign in labs4, the Sustainability Enhancement Fund (SEF)5 granting program, over 500 kW of renewable and alternative energy projects, development of a water reduction initiative, and most recently has begun to fund experiential learning or ‘facilities as living laboratories’ opportunities for student and faculty researchers focused on advancing campus sustainability. To date, six student projects have been funded by the reserve.6 Each year these opportunities are becoming more numerous and accessible, and as of 2014 a few key people in the Facilities and Operations department have incorporated and prioritized the facilitation and coordination of these student and faculty research and learning opportunities into their core work.


In addition, the broad benefits of more sustainable buildings on people’s health and productivity are becoming very well documented. For example, one literature review examined the existing research and found that worker productivity increases up to 23% with improved lighting design, 11% with improved ventilation, and 18% with increased daylighting and operable windows7,8. The Envision program enhances the work and study environments at the university and contributes to healthier buildings by improving lighting system design, temperature control, air conditioning control, and air quality.

Figure 2. (from left to right) Healthy living (stairwell) campaign; student waste audits, Shut the Sash campaign; Flip the Switch stickers.



Envision Support

Benefit to UAlberta

Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre


Enhanced and optimized facilities through renewables (BIPV) and high performance systems, including LED lighting reduce utility costs making more programming possible. Showcases new technologies in a building with broad partnerships and high profile.

Office of Sustainability


Outreach and engagement to advance a culture of sustainability across UAlberta by educating, awareness raising, profiling, and reporting on UAlberta sustainability initiatives.

Lister Power/Water Metering


Direct feedback to residents to lower water and power use in the university’s largest residence complex. Annual competitions raise awareness about simple actions residents can take to reduce their impact.

Hydration Stations


Increasing access to water bottle refill stations reduces waste from single use water bottles and increases awareness around both waste and water issues.

High Solids Anaerobic Digestion Facility and Zero Waste Initiative


Partnership with City of Edmonton to build anaerobic digestion facility puts focus on organic waste. Waste Diversion Working Group frames Zero Waste Initiative to reduce waste and increase diversion from landfill.

Energy Analytics pilot


Deeper energy and maintenance cost reductions through campus wide analytics

Shut the Sash Campaign


Direct monitoring and feedback to lab users of fume hood sash height reduces energy and improves safety practices in labs.

Take the Stairs campaign


Part of the U of A on the Move initiative, this campaign promotes stair use as an easy way to increase physical activity in the daily life of university staff and students. Pilot project saw a significant increase in stair use after encouraging messaging was installed.

CMEB Lab Energy Dashboards


Education and engagement to lower research/lab utility use. Provides direct feedback and awareness to researchers and students about lab & equipment usage and utility consumption. Promotes more efficient lab spaces on campus.


4 Shut the Sash campaign website with pilot results: http://sustainability.ualberta.ca/GetInvolved/GreenLabs/ShutTheSash.aspx.

5 Sustainability Enhancement Fund website: http://sustainability.ualberta.ca/GetInvolved/Funding/SustainabilityEnhancementFund.aspx.

6 Stairwell campaign, people counters project, sustainable turf pilot study, waste audits in undergraduate waste management course, Cameron Library renewal research, international student healthy food perceptions study (funding project within Undergraduate Research Initiative).

7 Loftness, V., Hartkopf, V., Gurtekin, B., Hansen, D. & Hitchcock, R. (2003) Linking Energy to Health and Productivity in the Built Environment.

Evaluating the Cost-Benefits of High Performance Building and Community Design for Sustainability, Health and Productivity. Greenbuild Conference.

8 World Green Building Council. 2013. The Business Case for Green Building: A review of the costs and benefits for developers, investors and occupants. pp.64-79.


Productivity Impact

The productivity impact of the early energy management initiatives and the Envision program are most well measured in terms of total cost savings and greenhouse gas emission reductions, which are summarized in Table 1 and Figure 3 and are directly attributable to energy program implementation measures. In addition, the total energy intensity of the university’s facilities has shown a steady decline since the inception of the program due to both energy savings measures and changes to building code over time (Figure 3).


Table 1. Direct program savings summary

Impact Area


(since 1975 unless otherwise stated)


$80 million

Utility Cost Avoidance

$320 million (and growing)

$16.8 million in 2013/14 alone

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

2.3 million tonnes mitigated


Figure 3. Accumulated utility cost avoidance as a direct result of energy savings measures.


Figure 4. Overall energy use intensity has decreased 13% while building area has increased 75% since 1975.


Envision is particularly innovative because of its commitment to capture program savings and reinvest them to advance energy reduction initiatives, enable internal innovation in facilities renewal and recommissioning, and further the campus sustainability mission as a whole. Most recently Envision has even begun to support the core academic mission of the institution by hosting experiential learning projects for students and faculty researchers, using the university’s facilities as ‘living labs’. The following figure highlights the continuous growth, vision and enabling power of this program to go well beyond simple facility improvements to enhance the academic experience upon which the university is truly built.

Figure 1. Envision - Innovative Approach.

1. Building a Foundation

• Focus on utility cost avoidance and ‘low-hanging fruit’ projects (e.g., lighting retrofits).

• GHG savings from projects were quantified along with direct cost savings.

2. Strengthening the Core

• Generate savings from two large program rounds and establish the Energy Reserve with program savings in 2010.

• Partner on internal deferred maintenance and renewal projects.

3. Investing in People

• A three-pronged approach to sustainability was framed at the institution and the EMP helped fund human resources.

o Sustainable Operations, Outreach & Engagement, and Academics & Research

4. Supporting Internal Innovation

• Collaboration with other units on research and operational advancement projects (e.g. ‘Zero Waste’ initiative).

• Partnerships and capital contributions on faculty projects have resulted in energy efficiency, renewable and alternative energy.

• Reinvestment of carbon offsets, primarily into renewable energy projects.

• Development of a water reduction program.

5. Reaching Higher

• Renewable and alternative energy projects (e.g. solar PV, micro-turbine generator) advance industry, green jobs.

• Target high intensity laboratory energy savings (e.g., demand-based ventilation, Aircuity®, IAQ monitoring, enhanced lab safety).

• Energy dashboards will influence behaviour change at both student and faculty level.

• Enterprise Energy Information Management System.

6. Supporting the Academic Mission

• Going well beyond providing high calibre built environments to leverage university projects for applied research and experiential learning opportunities, thereby supporting the university’s academic mission in a direct, applied and integrated way. For example:

o Healthy living campaign encourages stair use and is part of a Masters research project in the School of Public Health.

o Occupancy counting sensors are being studied by a Masters student in Civil & Environmental Engineering, with results enabling the control of HVAC systems based on actual occupants and the pilot optimization of cleaning staff scheduling.

o Cameron Library renewal (in development) will involve Faculty of Engineering graduate students to study and model various types of building envelopes, daylighting and thermal storage systems with associated energy savings.

o Sustainable turf management pilot project involved a Faculty of Science graduate student in soil chemistry testing after applications of compost tea and biological soil mendments.