Energy Conservation & Green Landscaping at McGill University
AASHE is working on building a catalog of high quality, campus sustainability-related photos that it can provide to reporters and AASHE members for use in publications, websites and other promotional materials. Ultimately, we want to open the catalog so that AASHE members can get exposure for their efforts by uploading their own photos. In the meantime, we'll be toting cameras when we make visits to member campuses and snapping away! While I was up in Montreal this summer, I got a great tour of some of McGill University's sustainability projects from Kathleen Ng, McGill's Environmental Officer. Here are some highlights:
|(click for larger pictures)|
|Thorough submetering allows McGill's plant managers to optimize utility performance in real time. Submetering also makes it much easier to prove savings produced by conservation and efficiency projects.|
|McGill's commitment to energy efficiency lead it to upgrade its insulation standards significantly. Two staff work full time improving all of the utility insulation.|
|A high efficiency electric chiller is squeezed into the filled-to-capacity utility plant.|
|An award-winning landscaping project at McGill that is entirely comprised of native perennials. A still photo doesn't do it justice because they grasses sway beautifully in the breeze.|
|The view from above the landscaping project shows that it adds a lot of character to what used to nothing but street and sidewalk.|
|The landscaping project ends with a courtyard that provides a beautiful view and gathering space for the occupants of the adjacent buildings.|
|Landscaping of native and perennial plants turned a patch of balding grass into a beautiful streetscape that attracts wildlife. The path stones were reclaimed from a terrace renovation.|
|This rooftop courtyard connecting several buildings went from being a deserted spot on campus to a regularly utilized gathering spot after a rooftop landscape was installed.|
|McGill permits Santropol Roulant (similar to "Meals on Wheels") to grow food on some of its rooftops using student and community volunteers.|
|A utility access road is "paved" with grass by planting grass within a reinforced paving system. Rows of shrubs indicate the edges of the road.|
McGill has some impressive accomplishments in this area. Despite low hydro-electric prices and the disincentive of publicly-funded budgets that don't return energy savings back to the school, McGill has cut it's gas consumption 15% and its electricity consumption by 5% since 1995. That's even more impressive when you factor in that six large buildings (including several research facilities) have been added to the campus in that same time period! McGill's plant administrators attribute the energy reductions to a few things:
- upgrading to the most efficient equipment available during routine maintenance and scheduled replacements
- a commitment to submetering electricity, steam, condensate and chilled water at every building
- moving to a centralized chilled water loop
Many public schools face the same problem that McGill faces. If they invest in energy conservation and thereby reduce their costs, the state reduces their budget in the next year. That makes it impossible to "pay off the investment" that was made in more efficient infrastructure. Up to now, McGill has had to invest in energy conservation despite this obstacle because there is no room on their urban campus to add new steam and chilled water generating capacity.
McGill has been experimenting with ecologically sound landscaping practices over the last 10 years. Currently, they use no pesticides and only all-natural fertilizers. They try their best to landscape with perennials but have found that if they don't include a few colorful annuals as highlights they get complaints about the landscaping "not being colorful enough."
One of the most impressive examples of their ecologically sound landscaping is a major project that turned a dreary street and sidewalk between five buildings into a green space that attracts wildlife. It uses only perenials and ornamental grasses that havenever been watered! Not even when they were first planted! (clarification: the trees in the courtyard were watered when first planted)
While I'm sure this is common practice in horticulture, I thought it was rather ingenious that McGill's grounds crew has been regularly splitting the perennials in this landscape in order to introduce them in other locations on campus. Thus, this one ecological landscaping project will slowly incubate similar ecological landscapes throughout the campus.
Many campuses struggle with growing grass under large trees and in narrow patches between buildings and streets. In another clever project, the McGill grounds crew replaced balding grass underneath trees with some native and perennial ground cover plantings that attract wildlife. They even used stone recovered from the renovation of a terrace as paving stones for a walkway.
For those wondering if rooftop landscaping is worth it, here's a story to consider. Several buildings at McGill are connected by a rooftop courtyard made of paving stones. For a long time, it was a "dead space" on campus, little utilized for anything other than passing across. A few years ago, McGill installed an extensive landscape in the middle of the courtyard with accompanying plantings along the edges. The result has been remarkable. Campus members regularly use the courtyard for meeting, lunching and lounging. Some even swear the plantings have reduced the temperature of the courtyard, whose concrete radiated heat like an oven on sunny days.
Another innovative greenspace is the rooftop gardens that McGill allows a local community group to operate in several areas on campus. Santropol Roulant, an organization similar to "Meals on Wheels" but with a greener vision, uses the gardens to produce food for senior citizens with the help of student volunteers.
With a compact urban campus, it can be hard for greenspace to compete with functional needs like fire lanes and access roads for utilities. McGill is one of many schools that has opted to use reinforced grass instead of asphalt for access roads. The grass surfaces use reinforced planting systems that can support the weight of heavy machinery, such as fire engines and utility trucks. Aside from being more attractive, they are porous, which cuts down on stormwater run-off.
A big problem in Montreal is the liability that comes from having ice on paths around campus in the cold Canadian winters. McGill has worked hard to find environmentally friendly de-icing products that will perform satisfactorily. Over the years, they have sand, molasses-covered salt, and calcium magnesium acetate. While those products did provide traction for pedestrians, they also created a huge mess in the lobbies of campus buildings. It became clear that they could not use those products without frequently replacing the carpets in their buildings. Today, they use calcium chloride, which is not entirely environmentally benign, but is not one of the worst of the de-icing products.
Have other campuses found success with anything else?
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