Quality and Productivity Database

Descriptive Title of Proposal: Campus Strategic Sustainability Plan
Year Submitted 2019
Person(s) Responsible for the Idea
Name / Nom Title / Titre
James Gudjonson Director, Sustainability Office
Name of Institution Thompson Rivers University
Office Address 805 TRU Way
Kamloops, British Columbia V2H 0B1
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Telephone: 2505727583
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Name (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Matt Milovick
Title (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Vice-President, Administration & Finance
Office Address 805 TRU Way
Kamloops, British Columbia V2H 0B1
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Telephone: 2508196316
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In 2008, environmental sustainability was identified as one of Thompson Rivers University’s (TRU) seven founding values in 2008. To this end, in 2009, the TRU created the Sustainability Office, to ensure that sustainability would be considered in all university planning initiatives.  While significant sustainability work was accomplished between 2009 and 2013, TRU had not yet clearly identified a sustainability strategy.  In 2014, TRU elevated its commitment to sustainability citing “Increasing Sustainability” as one of 5 core strategic priorities.   In 2014, TRU set out develop a comprehensive Campus Strategic Sustainability Plan (CSSP), providing a framework to measure and track improvements of sustainability initiatives on campus. After a broad-campus consultation in the Fall and Winter of 2013/14, the Sustainability Office structured the CSSP using the Sustainability Tracking and Reporting System (STARS) developed by the Association for the Advancement of Higher Educaiton (AASHE) to align internal Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) with the AASHE globally-recognized benchmarking tool. CSSP created alignment with and built upon the university’s strategic priorities and set a new course toward realizing a healthy, prosperous and sustainable campus community at TRU.


TRU recognized the integrated and interdisciplinary nature of sustainability, developed its CSSP as a university-wide plan that was intended to provide strategic direction across the operational, administrative, learning and research functions of the university.  The structure of the plan has proven to be very effective, providing a detailed road map to accelerate sustainability across four key areas (Operations, Engagement, Learning and Governance). In 2015, one year into the plan, TRU advanced to a AASHE Gold STARS rating, receiving 71 percent of available points, and ranking top 5 in Canada. In 2018, TRU submitted its third STARS report, becoming the first institution in Canada, and one of only five in the world to achieve a Platinum rating joining the ranks of Stanford University, Colorado State University, University of New Hampshire and the University of California - Irvine. A Platinum rating is achieved upon obtaining at least 85 percent of available points; TRU obtained 88.32 percent of available points and currently has the highest AASHE-STARS score in the world.

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

Every institution talks about sustainability.  Almost always in the context of environmental sustainability but often broadening the concept of sustainability to sustainability inclusions in the curriculum, financial sustainability, work force sustainability, etc.  At TRU, prior to 2014, our sustainability efforts were ad hoc primarily focused on the built environment as a means to find cost savings in our operations.  With the adoption of a new set of strategic priorities for the University in 2014, "Increasing Sustainability" was elevated from a core value, to a strategic priority, one that required definite action to ensure measurable improvement.  It was no longer good enough for TRU to play at the edges of its sustainability mandate - we needed a road map to ensure that there were significant accountabilities for sustainability gains in Operations and Planning; Advocacy and Engagement; Learning; and Administration.

As such, in 2010, TRU adopted the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) ratings system, the Sustainability Tracking Assessment Reportings System (STARS).  In 2014, this become the foundation for TRU's formalized Campus Strategic Sustainability Plan.  All of TRU's sustainability initiatives, were inventoried and mapped out and aligned with STARS and a series of planned investments were made over the life of the plan.  It was TRU's ambilition to achieve a STARS Platinum Rating by the end of 2019. 

In 2010, as a charter STARS participant, TRU was among the first wave of institutions to commit to completing the assessment.  With its first report in 2011, TRU achieved a silver ranking which meant that TRU had achieved 50% of the possible available points, ranking around the 50th percentile of all participating schools.  The silver was achieved without a very well definied sustainability strategy.  This rating essentially reflected where we were at that point in time based on a disparate set of sustainability activities without any definitive connection to a strategic outcome.  Our sense of it is that many institutions would themselves at this level but simply inventorying what they have and comparing it to the STARS matrix.

In 2014, TRU's Board of Governor's formally adoped the CSSP.  One year later, TRU advanced to a Gold STARS rating, receiving 71% of the available points, ranking within the top 5 in Canada.  In 2018, TRU submitted its third STARS report become the first institution in Canada to achieve the Platinum ranking, one of only 5 institutions in the world to achieve Platinum STARS status with the highest STARS score globally of participating institutions.  TRU's Platinum status was achieved one year ahead of schedule.

The transferability of this initiative is simple.  Institutions need a mechanism by which to inventory and assess their sustainability initiatives and outcomes.  While every institution is different, adoption of the AASHE STARS program allows institutions to benchmark where they are, and provides a roadmap for achieving measurable sustainability gains.  The initiatives that institutions take to achieve their outcomes will all be different but the ultimate goal for any institution should be to be as sustainable across the organization in as many areas as they can be as their means allow.  Achieving a Platinum rating is an honour but may not be feasible for all institutions.  However, building a sustainability program around STARS, planning investments accordingly and being committed to those investments over the long term, will allow campuses to move the bar on their sustainability programs.  Much of what TRU did, it did for little or not cost.  Some of it was changing practices or changing behaviours, others, of course, especially in the built environment, required substantial investment and commitment.  How each institution proceeds will be dependent upon each institution's commitment to sustainability and means.  The transferability lies in the strength of developing a plan - moving from a series of ad hoc investments and initiatives to a comprehensive pan-institutional approach that can be measured, tracked, assessed and compared over time.




Quality Impact

The TRU CSSP differs from other Q&P Awards primarily because its not just one initiative, its a plan that has encompassed a significant number of cost saving, sustainability, liveability initiatives that have benefited the entire campus.  This initiative has engaged an entire community and has positively impacted not only the TRU campus but Kamloops as a whole

One of the more tangible qualitative outcomes of the CSSP was the achievement of the AASHE-STARS Platinum Rating.  TRU's CSSP was built to achieve this outcome specifically because all of the investments and initiatives contemplated within the plan ultimately served this agenda.  Acheiving this outcome is more than just the plaque we can hang on our wall or bragging rights.  This outcome has galvanized our entire community - both internal to the University and external to it.  Our faculty, staff and students are proud of TRU's commitment to sustainability and it has been the participation of the community, the changed behaviours, a commitment to doing things differently, the sacrifices, allowing for greater accountability and transparency across all aspects of the operation that has brought our community together for a common purpose.

In addition, to name but a few, the CSSP has provided the opportunity for the following:

- The plan has allowed us to rationalize our parking inventory and costs associated with parking in ways that individuals understand and accept in the context of sustainability. 

- We have greater transparency on our investment strategies and holdings for our assets under management. 

- We have seen a commitment by faculty to increase sustainability related content in the curriculum

- We have increased the sustainability standards for our built environment and for the market parcels being developed by the TRU Community Trust

- We are cognizant of bio-diversity on campus and have restricted development in areas of our campus as a result

- Development of a sustainability grant fund that allows the community to access funds for sustainability related initiatives that are complementary to TRU's overall sustainability plan



Productivity Impact

The following summarize some productivity impacts that have been realized under the CSSP:

  • Low carbon electrification of new buildings has resulted in a net reduction of GHG emissions across a growing campus. Using electric boilers to couple adjacent buildings (previously using natural gas for heat source) to new buildings has resulted in BC Hydro not only partially funding the project, but further studying the concept with the notion it can be replicated at other institutions.
  • Since 2012, TRU has reduced natural gas use and GHG emissions by 40% per year (1100 tons) and has reduced electrical energy consumption by 30% (from 2010 levels)
  • In the past 6 years, TRU has received $3.0MM in funding from BC Hydro for various energy savings initiatives and a reduction in utility costs of 600k per annum (and growing). In addition, the Office has received over $1.0MM in funding from other organizations including PSECA, Fortis BC, NRCAN, Fraser Basin CNCP for specific initiatives such as BC’s largest solar hot water system supplying domestic water in 3 major buildings.
  • Development of the first campus Revolving Energy Fund (REF) from utility savings related to energy conservation projects. The methodology of the fund, now growing at $600,000 per year, has been adopted by other institutions and organizations. 
  • A bio-mass boiler installation at the Williams Lake Campus has yielded a 20% reduction in operating costs and a 90% reduction in GHG emissions immediately.
  • The development and implementation of a sustainability dashboard is linked to the sustainability plan and serves as both a constant, real time, highly visible way for the community to track all KPI’s linked to the SSP as well highlighted areas of opportunity.
  • The new zero waste strategy has yielded a diversion of more than 60% of campus waste from the landfill and a significant reduction in associated costs (with 25% fewer bins on campus and less tipping fees).  Those savings have gone towards the creation of a composting position, which gives TRU the resources to manage waste organics properly. TRU now has two vessel composters running at near capacity, with the resulting compost material been used to enhance the campus grounds.
  • Implementation of paper reduction strategies that has seen TRU reduce paper use from 22 million sheets per year in 2012 to ~9 million per year.
  • Transparency with respect to the university’s assets under management.  TRU has adopted the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment and disclose its assets under management annually on its webpage. 
  • A few examples of sustainable transportation and parking initiatives that have resulted in 30% fewer single occupancy vehicles and reduced parking and traffic congestion
    • 25% yr/yr increases in usage of the TRU UPass which has outpaced any growth in enrolment and has ultimately contributed to BC Transit of an addition 7,200 hours of transit service to the City of Kamloops
    • Developed the first known electric bike share program for students and faculty for low cost commuting
    • Developed the first known electric bike purchase program, allowing staff/faculty to borrow funds (repaid through payroll) and significant discounts through group purchasing power.
    • Created a health and wellness incentive of 10% for additional savings for e-bike purchase
    • Transitioning fleet to EV/hybrid fleet for campus fleet and for regional and in-province travel. Three years into the transition significant GHG reductions and significant operational savings are being realized. Once complete the operations savings will be in the 100k range per year
    • The Sustainability Grant Fund (SFG), established from an increase in parking fees, provides $100k per year for TRU community to initiate sustainability ideas

Strategic plans, both institutional and departmental, are common place in the context of higher education.  Often these plans are done through broad consultations within the organization and have key deliverables and milestones associated with specific outcomes.  The TRU CSSP has all of those elements so from that perspective, there is nothing particularly innovative about it.  What is innovate about the CSSP is demonstrated in its outcomes (highest canpus sustainability rating in the world according to the AASHE-STARS rating system) and the required collaboration required across campus to achieve those outcomes.  

With "Increasing Sustainability" as one of five strategic priorities for TRU, through the CSSP TRU has prioritized sustainability initiatives that mutually benefit the university and the communities it serves in five areas: 1) Financial sustainability of TRU 2) Economic sustainability of the region and the province 3) Cultural and social sustainability of our communities 4) Creative and community arts sustainability and 5) Environmental sustainability.  

The CSSP aligns with and builds on the university’s strategic priorities and sets a new course toward realizing a healthy, prosperous and sustainable campus community at TRU. TRU recognizes the integrated and interdisciplinary nature of sustainability, and as such established the CSSP as a university wide plan that is intended to provide strategic direction across the operational, administrative, learning and research functions of the university. The CSSP builds on the many campus sustainability initiatives established by the Office of Sustainability, and provides a comprehensive update to the first Campus Sustainability Action Plan, which was completed in 2012.

The CSSP provides a framework to align TRU’s overarching strategic priority of “increasing sustainability” with divisional and departmental resources. The SSP addresses 18 thematic areas in four categories: Operations and Planning; Advocacy and Engagement; Learning; and Administration. The plan projects a desired future in each thematic area and recommends short, medium and long term strategies within the timeframe of the plan. Unlike some strategic documents, the plan takes a comprehensive approach of documenting strategies over the next 5 years. These strategies are not all the responsibility of one department or office, but rather are shared among many. Some key strategic first steps are outlined in the Implementation section of the CSSP. The organizational framework of the CSSP is closely aligned with the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ (STARS) established by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). STARS is a fully transparent reporting tool for universities and colleges to measure their sustainability performance and benchmark it against other comparable institutions. STARS addresses performance in four areas: academics, engagement, operations, and planning & administration. 

Supporting Documents 2014_Campus_Strategic_Sustainability_Plan_Final33659.pdf