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 uoft.me/sustainability.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
We set a strict carbon budget for all new construction, including targets for energy, carbon emissions, and water reduction.
We will expand our district energy system to efficiently meet new campus demand and reduce carbon emissions.
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.
We will eliminate the use of steam as a primary source for heating our buildings by retrofitting them to use efficient low-temperature systems.
We will maximize the efficiency of our existing buildings through extensive energy conservation measures and deep energy retrofits.
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.
We will increase on-campus and off-campus renewable energy generation, such as solar.
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.
We will remove single points of failure and increase redundancy by creating a network of interconnected thermal and electric energy redistribution nodes.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
We will go the extra mile to become a climate positive campus...
Read our full Climate Positive Plan report.
Read the technical appendix to the climate positive report—our Carbon and Energy Reduction Master Plan.
Reach out to the Sustainability Office to contribute to making your part of the campus more sustainable.