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At Capilano University, student success includes energy efficiency

Image of Capilano University campus
One example of Capilano's immersion in Power Smart culture is the initiative, led by students, that ensures computer monitors across the campus shut down automatically when not in use.

With a history of being Power Smart, university on track for 33% cut in energy use

Sometimes you gain the most power when you give it away. At Capilano University, a program that encourages students to take the lead in conservation has helped create impressive savings across the school's three campuses.

Capilano University started on energy efficiency when the concept was still new, says director of facilities Susan Doig.

"I found a piece of paper in my files saying 'Congratulations, you are the very first Power Smart Partner,'" she says. Now, the university is focused on its goal of an impressive 33 per cent reduction in energy usage (from 2007 levels) by 2015.

"We're going to be close," says Doig.

University implements Workplace Conservation Awareness — with a twist

In 2007, Capilano conducted an energy management assessment, leading Doig to a new role as energy manager with a list of energy efficiency projects. The next step was involvement in BC Hydro's Workplace Conservation Awareness (WCA) program, and a campus-wide sustainability conference in 2008.

When they realized that they needed to engage people to realize their conservation goals, the university staff quickly realized something else; there was no way they had the internal capacity to get there without help.

"We needed green teams, which are usually made up of staff, but we were already working with students. The biggest 'a-ha' for us was when we realized, 'The students are the leaders,'" Doig says.

That realization led to the creation of a program called CapUWorks, with paid student interns taking the lead in a variety of areas: community gardening, food, power, and climate change. The program includes public lectures, films, and field trips open to the university community.

As part of the program, students are connected with instructors from all sorts of disciplines — English, archaeology, geography, or business to develop curriculum.

An example of a student-led project was an effort to ensure computer monitors across the campus shut down automatically when not in use. Tracking and analyzing electricity consumption supported course curriculum. Then, students created awareness campaigns and activities to help make change.

University's mission of student success goes well with energy engagement

The key to energy conservation engagement across Capilano's departments and campuses is a focus on the university's mission: student success.

When students invited the university's IT department into the computer monitor project, the staff helped the student-led group overcome challenges and shift into action. Eventually they successfully implemented software that ensures more than a thousand computers are regularly shut down when not needed.

Doig says that while Capilano's energy engagement efforts put students rather than staff at the forefront, they still model key elements of workplace conservation awareness.

"People change behaviour when it's connected to them, when they understand 'what's in it for me and what's expected of me'," she says. "We tie all our efforts back to student success. Energy conservation contributes to financial savings — the money that we save, it goes to giving students a better experience here.