UFV recently hired a new energy manager, Blair McFarlane. To get an idea of what his responsibilities here at UFV will be, The Cascade sat down with McFarlane to discuss our energy consumption and his plans for a greener future.
What exactly does your position and work here at UFV entail?
Energy and projects. I touch on a lot of sustainability issues on campus as well; I’m kind of the go-to guy for sustainability, and the reason I was brought onboard was to increase energy efficiency and identify some projects throughout all of our campuses.
Sustainability is a major issue here, what are your initial thoughts on UFV’s energy efficiency?
My first thoughts were that there’s a plan in place, but maybe it’s lacking a little in the cultural support around the campus. I think that it’s tough to hit all of it right away, or tick all the boxes right away. The campuses are expanding so quickly that there’s a little bit of lag time for things regarding energy efficiency and sustainability. So one of the things I’ve been brought on to do here is change the culture a bit, so it not only benefits the student body, staff, faculty, but also so it benefits the business aspect of running a university. I’m identifying projects that are not only good for the environment — which we have our civic responsibility to protect the environment and land we love working and learning in — but also identifying business cases for these projects that are favourable for the running of the university and looking for projects that have a rate of return.
To save money and lower our utilities bills?
Exactly. You invest some capital up front, but through energy efficiency increases you’re lowering your utility costs. So those savings are now being collected by the university, rather than our partners at FortisBC and BC Hydro.
You mentioned the culture towards energy efficiency here at UFV. What do you mean by that?
I have to suss it out a little bit. I’ve only been on board for about 75 days right now so it’s a little hard to get a definitive feel for the culture and lay definitive foundational project planning to make improvements to that. We’re working towards that, identifying how our financial structure is going. We’re identifying past projects and how they’ve performed and where we are right now so we can forecast into the short and long-term future as UFV grows.
Would energy from your projects be green / eco based? For example, vegetable gardens and tree planting?
Maybe not so much of a biological stream, but when we’re talking about recycling, organics, and compost, that’s definitely something I’ll be working on.
We don’t really have many compost bins here on campus.
There’s a few throughout campus — it’s something we need to increase and have a bit more cohesion, a better understanding of what the purpose of composting is and what is compostable, recyclable, and waste for the landfill. That’s a difficult one to tackle because there are different waste removal companies, so it depends on what contract we have at what time. I don’t have specifics, but it’s interesting that if you go to Maple Ridge, to Vancouver, or Victoria, what is considered organic or a compost may differ through different communities, or different contracts for neighborhood waste removal.
I didn’t know it was that complicated. Is it not consistent?
It’s not uniform. When we’re looking to — [notices my cup of tea] like your paper tea cup there, some districts or organizations, depending on their waste removal contract, could compost that. There’s a really small plastic lining the inside, but it depends on how that company has their composting recipe, if you will. How they mix their compost together; are they able to test the compost? The soil produced from it? Is that minute amount of plastic from those coffee cups affecting the product? And to what extent? It’s sort of at the discretion of the waste removal company.
It’s difficult to get the message across on every day-to-day item what slot it fits into. If you live in Chilliwack, then it might be different, so at home your recycling habits are different to what they need to be here at the Abbotsford campus. You might be contaminating the wrong things.
So that’s one of the things I’m going to be really focused on this fall, and through the winter: getting a cohesive understanding of what’s appropriate across our campuses on what’s compostable, recyclable, and what’s waste for the landfill.
That’s a lot of cultural changes. How will you you be getting those ideas across?
Communication, and it starts here with you — print communication. We also have nine boards dedicated throughout the campuses to sustainability, so that’s a good location to go to for information, but also going to the sustainability section on UFV’s webpage, or facilities and janitorial as well. Some of the initiatives that we’re taking to increase awareness and functionality of those recycling and composting systems. The interesting thing about a university environment is that every four years there’s nearly a 100 per cent turnover in the population. So every year you need to reinforce the message, you have fresh ears, fresh faces that are willing to learn and to participate in new initiatives. At least to the individual they’ll seem new, even though they may be long-running programs.