A Climate Positive CAMPUS

a Climate Positive CAMPUS

We commit to reducing more greenhouse gas emissions than we emit, creating a net benefit in our community. This plan describes how we will design and build our utility infrastructure to significantly reduce our operating carbon footprint—a critical first step on our path to becoming a climate positive campus.


In 2018, the University of Toronto joined the University Climate Change Coalition, a group of leading North American research universities committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The University of Toronto set a goal to reduce emissions by 37% below 1990 levels by 2030. In 2019, we launched the Low-Carbon Action Plan (2019–24) and have already implemented significant projects moving us towards meeting our 2030 goal.

The St. George campus makes up over 80% of the University of Toronto’s operational carbon footprint.

Our impact on the institutional footprint and our key role in the urban community calls for going beyond net zero emissions to become climate positive by 2050.

Our first step towards becoming climate positive is to invest in transformational infrastructure renewal as part of our 30-year carbon and energy campus master plan, detailed at

Our leaders

“The University of Toronto is committed to taking action on climate change, one of the most pressing challenges of our time.”

The University of Toronto is committed to taking decisive action against climate change, one of the most pressing challenges of our time.

Our St. George campus—the oldest, largest and most energy-intensive of our three campuses—is pledging to go beyond the goal of carbon neutral to become climate positive by 2050. Climate positive is a regenerative approach to sustainability that is befitting of an institution dedicated to making the world a better place.

The University of Toronto is taking this considerable first step towards climate positive through significant infrastructure transformation. To meet this goal fully, we will need to work together to build an entirely new model of sustainable growth—one that will serve as a learning opportunity across our University.

I am eager to see the benefits of this model—for our campus, for our community, and for the environment. And I look forward to the opportunities it will provide for experiential learning, employment, and sustainable infrastructure for future generations.

Meric S. Gertler President

“The first chapter of our climate positive future is about transforming our infrastructure and energy systems.”

We acknowledge that our carbon footprint is one of the highest among Ontario institutions. As a city within a city—the downtown Toronto St. George campus serves a population of 100,000 on an average day—our carbon footprint reflects the significant amount of energy needed to run a research-intensive campus of our size and age through hot, humid summers and cold winters.

As our campus grows to enable our academic and research mission, our vast and aged utility infrastructure requires significant investment to ensure future performance.

Renewal of this infrastructure—hidden underground and behind walls—presents an opportunity for a major transformation of the entire campus that will embed sustainability into its backbone.

The launch and implementation of our carbon and energy master plan is our first step towards becoming a climate positive campus. To me, this means not only reducing the operating emissions under our control, but also mitigating additional carbon emissions to achieve net negative emissions.

Highlighted are some of Canada’s most ambitious low-carbon projects in our historic core of campus. We want to demonstrate these possibilities here to show what can be done with aged infrastructure and old buildings everywhere, now and for future generations.

Ron Saporta Chief Operating Officer
Property Services & Sustainability
Our focus

We will achieve our 2050 climate positive goal through at least 80% absolute carbon reductions on-campus.

  • Our commitment is to achieve real carbon reductions on our campus in the heart of Canada’s largest city.
  • To become a climate positive campus, we cannot simply continue to operate locally at today’s emission levels while offsetting carbon elsewhere in the world.
  • We are tackling the carbon reduction challenge at its source and achieving real and local benefits through sustainable investment, job creation, experiential research, and learning opportunities.

By transforming our utility and energy infrastructure, we will reduce our absolute scope one and scope two greenhouse gas emissions on campus by at least 80%.

We will use renewables and other strategies to not only offset the remaining balance of our own carbon emissions, but further reduce other carbon emissions in Ontario—creating a net environmental benefit in our community.



Responsibly manage the growth of our campus to mitigate the environmental impacts of more space and activity.

Renew existing and aged utility infrastructure to ensure future performance that supports academic and research excellence.

Build resilient systems to support our carbon reduction targets with reliable infrastructure by changing how our campus produces, distributes, and consumes energy.



The St. George campus will nearly double in size in the next 30 years—adding a million square metres of world-class research, teaching, and community space. Our buildings contribute considerably to our carbon emissions. To achieve our carbon reduction targets, we need to manage our growth differently.

Project spotlight

Low-carbon student residence

The new Spadina-Sussex residence will be one of the first buildings on the St. George campus designed to meet the University’s new rigorous carbon intensity target. Using a new geoexchange system beneath Robert Street field, the building will become the lowest-carbon residence on the St. George campus.


High-performance standard

High-performance standard

We have implemented an aggressive energy modelling and utility performance standard to minimize energy use, carbon emissions, and water consumption while maximizing value for our stakeholders.

Carbon budgets

Carbon budgets

We set a strict carbon budget for all new construction, including targets for energy, carbon emissions, and water reduction.

Expanded district energy

Expanded district energy

We will expand our district energy system to efficiently meet new campus demand and reduce carbon emissions.



We are approaching our 200-year anniversary as an institution. We have buildings on our St. George campus that are more than 120 years old and underground infrastructure that is just as old.

A crucial component of our plan is to renew this infrastructure to ensure future performance, longevity, and compatibility with sustainable technology. Renewal will help reduce the carbon footprint and energy use intensity of our existing buildings.

Project spotlight

One of Canada’s oldest central power plants and district energy systems

Jerry Newton, a shift engineer, is pictured in the district energy distribution tunnels that run under the campus. Plans are underway to electrify our central power plant. In Ontario, using electricity is cleaner than natural gas. The effort is part of a larger suite of upcoming low-carbon initiatives known as Project50 that will reduce up to 50% of our current carbon footprint.


Eliminate steam generation for heating

Eliminate steam generation for heating

We will eliminate the use of steam as a primary source for heating our buildings by retrofitting them to use efficient low-temperature systems.

Deep energy retrofits

Deep energy retrofits

We will maximize the efficiency of our existing buildings through extensive energy conservation measures and deep energy retrofits.

Generation and distribution upgrades

Generation and distribution upgrades

We will upgrade our energy generation and distribution systems to be compatible with renewables and low-carbon technologies, including modernizing our central power plant and district energy system.

Renewable energy

Renewable energy

We will increase on-campus and off-campus renewable energy generation, such as solar.


03WE WILL build resilient systems

Our plan serves as a model for large urban communities to reduce greenhouse gases and grow sustainably. It is flexible, anticipating that technology will continue to change over the next 30 years. To support cleaner energy production and distribution, our utility and energy infrastructure will need to be resilient.

Project spotlight

Canada’s largest urban geoexchange

Geoexchange technology leverages the natural thermal storage properties of the ground to regulate building temperature. Combined with building retrofits, this system will reduce the carbon footprints of numerous buildings in our downtown historic campus core.




We will transform our aging infrastructure to state-of-the-art, replacing fossil fuels with electricity as the primary source for thermal energy.

Nodal networks

Nodal networks

We will remove single points of failure and increase redundancy by creating a network of interconnected thermal and electric energy redistribution nodes.

Interconnected electrical switching stations

Interconnected electrical switching stations

We will diversify our incoming electricity by installing new high-voltage switching stations in areas of dense energy demand to reduce outages and increase flexibility and reliability using automated load sharing and shedding.

Peak demand management

Peak demand management

We will actively manage our peak electricity demand by leveraging the flexibility of our enhanced energy generation, distribution, and storage systems, also benefiting the Ontario electricity grid.

Low-carbon technology

Low-carbon technology

We will implement existing low-carbon technologies such as ground source heat pumps while exploring emerging technologies such as carbon capture.


Over 370 boreholes have been drilled 250 metres deep under front campus, nearly half the height of the CN Tower.


U-shaped pipes are inserted into each borehole. Water is circulated through this system, taking excess heat from buildings in the summer and storing it underground for use in the winter.


Heat pumps circulate the water, transferring heat to or from the University’s building ventilation systems. This installation will feature an underground display and serve as an applied learning classroom to showcase how the system works for visitors and students.



The first chapter of our climate positive future is about transforming our infrastructure and energy systems.


The St. George campus is uniquely positioned to demonstrate how institutions with large, complex, and diverse infrastructure can reduce their direct impact on the environment and create a net benefit for their communities.


By 2050, we will reduce 80% of our emissions through absolute carbon reductions on-campus. We will offset the remainder and beyond by generating renewable energy on University-owned properties off-campus and by staying flexible to explore and incorporate emerging technologies and approaches into our plan.

Building utility infrastructure with renewal, responsible growth, and resiliency at the forefront is a major step towards fulfilling the University of Toronto St. George campus’s commitment to becoming climate positive by significantly reducing our operating carbon footprint.” Scott Mabury Vice-President Operations and Real Estate Partnerships


The St. George campus has been a long-standing pioneer in operational sustainability and environmental stewardship. This is the result of the ingenuity and hard work of our incredible staff, faculty, students, and campus partners who are committed to making a positive impact on our climate and community.

We are passionate about creating a climate positive campus.

Left: Smoke stack of the Power House (now the Central Steam Plant) in 1929.

Upper and Lower right: Heating tunnels under construction in 1910-11.

Left: Coal boilers in the old Power House.

Upper right: Generator rotors being installed in the old Power House in 1930.

Lower right: The Central Steam Plant, which started operating in 1952.

Left: Excavation for the installation of a new high-temperature hot water distribution line in 1977 at the Huron and Willcocks Street intersection.

Upper right: Energy manager job posting in The Bulletin in 1977.

Lower right: Pioneering in-house building control system in 1979.

Left: Lighting at the Bora Laskin Law Library, opened in 1991.

Upper right: Lighting retrofits at Robarts Library.

Lower right: Walkway with street lamps in front of Sidney Smith Hall .

Left: A heat recovery system is installed in the Central Steam plant in 2000, harvesting heat from exhaust gases leaving the plant's chimney, increasing overall fuel efficiency.

Upper right: Energy Efficiency Award certificate from Natural Resources Canada in 2003.

Lower right: A second steam absorption chiller was installed in the Medical Sciences Building in 2000, which uses steam from the Central Steam Plant to make chilled water for energy efficient cooling.

Left: Building automation systems were installed in the OISE building, funded by the utility reduction revolving fund.

Upper right: The Lash Miller undergraduate teaching laboratories were part of the pilot project for the utility reduction revolving fund, where ventilation was optimized to save electricity.

Lower right: A plaque commemorating 100 years of the University's district energy system.

Left: Using Greenhouse Gas Campus Retrofits Program (GGRP) innovation grant funding, upgrades were made to the Central Steam Plant to further optimize the existing district energy system.

Upper right: The GGRP project team from the University Planning, Design & Construction department in 2019.

Lower right: The UTM Recreation, Athletics & Wellness Centre received GGRP funding to upgrade its heating and cooling systems, and to install solar panels to heat its pool.

Left: Boreholes are drilled below front campus for a geo exhange, part of Landmark Project.

Upper right: Solar panels of the roof of Exam Center.

Lower right: The UTSC Environmental Science & Chemistry Building, which was awarded the 2018 Institutional Award by the Canada Green Building Council for its innovative sustainable design .

Left: The University of Toronto St. George Campus launches the Climate Positive Master plan to outline our path towards a climate positive campus by 2050.

Upper right: Chief Operating Officer Ron Saporta with a pledge to reduce U of T's carbon footprint.

Lower right: The University of Toronto was named one of Canada's Greenest Employers for the eighth time.

Our next steps


We will be 80% closer to achieving our 2030 greenhouse gas reduction goal.


We will reduce our emissions another 20% to meet our low-carbon action plan commitment.

Climate Positive

We will go the extra mile to become a climate positive campus...

join us

Join us on our path

We have been busy planning to transform. We will grow responsibly, renew our infrastructure and build resilient systems for our future.

We want you to join us.

Climate positive report

Read our full Climate Positive Plan report.

Technical appendix

Read the technical appendix to the climate positive report—our Carbon and Energy Reduction Master Plan.

Stay connected

Reach out to the Sustainability Office to contribute to making your part of the campus more sustainable.