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Mountain guide helps Kamloops university go big on sustainability

Image of Jim Gudjonson rapelling on the Patagonia Mountain
Thompson Rivers University energy manager Jim Gudjonson on a mountain peak in Patagonia.

Jim Gudjonson oversees annual $300,000 revolving green fund at TRU

When Jim Gudjonson gets lost in thought, it might be that he's envisioning his next guiding trip through the mountains around Golden, B.C. Or maybe it's planning his 2016 trip to Antarctica, where he'll ski tour and mountain climb.

Then again, it's possible he's just trying to figure out the best way to invest another $300,000 from Thompson River University's revolving green fund in more efficiencies at the Kamloops university.

"We've managed to leverage that $300,000 into about a million dollars' worth of projects every year," says Gudjonson, the part-time mountain guide who helps secure funding from the likes of BC Hydro, FortisBC and B.C.'s Carbon Neutral Capital Program to help pay for TRU's remarkable energy efficiency projects.

Investing big money to secure energy savings, long term, takes a whole lot of planning and a fair amount of lobbying, something that Gudjonson has become adept at in his role as energy manager at TRU. Combining his experience as a former electrician, with a sustainability-related master's degree, he has learned the importance of embracing new technologies while linking sustainability and operational efficiencies to an ironclad business case.

"One of TRU's five strategic priorities is increasing sustainability," he says. "And that seems to be boiling to the top for a lot of students, faculty and staff as well. They want to learn at a place that of gets it. And with support from senior administration that basically gives us an agenda to align resources to increase sustainability."

Gudjonson said that even the most conservative forces at a university, including one former executive initially resistant to investments in energy upgrades, can be won over. And there's nothing like a business case that delivers payback on investment anywhere from two years to seven years – with an average of 4.6 years – to seal the deal.

"When you tell someone that we're going to spend five hundred grand, but we're going to get that back – basically a hundred grand a year back – it's a no-brainer as they say," he says. "Our first big project was about 1.2 million dollars, but we managed to chase down at least $800,000 in external funding."

Image of Jim Gudjonson outside Thompson River University
Jim Gudjonson stands in front of TRU's Old Main building, originally built in 1970 but dramatically changed – including getting a new roof – as part of an energy-efficient retrofit in 2009-2011. The building now features motion sensors to save on lighting in all classrooms, lighting upgrades, override controls on heating and cooling, and a solar hot water heating system.

Next phase is to try replacing T8s with tubular LEDs

As is the case at so many institutions and businesses across B.C., lighting gets a lot of attention because technologies keep evolving so quickly.

One of Gudjonson's first big projects was a campus-wide lighting retrofit that replaced T12 lamps for more efficient T8s.

"Not only were there great energy savings, but significant operational savings," he says. "We eliminated the time consuming task of replacing one light or ballast at a time."

But here we are a few years later and along come tubular LED lamps. So TRU is relamping an entire building, switching out T8s for LEDs for what promises to save the institution about 200,000 kW hours a year.

The tubular LED upgrade is a pilot project that, if successful, could be expanded to the bulk of TRU's estimated 20,000 lamps. Gudjonson estimates that could cost between $600,000 and $800,000, depending on how many ballasts would need to be replaced, but the savings could more than justify it.

"We figure we'd save somewhere between $150,000 to $200,000 a year, so again, that's a 4 to 5-year payback," he says. "But there's probably at least $60,000 in maintenance cost savings as well."

Image of the exterior facade of a Thompson River University's campus building
Silver slats lining the southern wall of TRU's House of Learning prevent unwanted heat and glare from entering occupant offices during Kamloops' hot, sunny days. With the shading, TRU now controls the temperature swings much more easily, improving comfort and reducing cooling costs.

Reducing carbon emissions takes TRU into gas savings, waste reduction

Sustainability at TRU goes well beyond electricity savings, extending into areas that carry a lot of carbon emissions clout. At the top of the list is gas use, where everything from HVAC controls to high-efficiency boilers have helped TRU cut greenhouse gas emissions 33% from a baseline established in 2010.

And just by making it easier to sort waste from recyclables, TRU's Campus Activities Centre has delivered an 80% diversion rate of what might have been garbage and has helped TRU become a zero waste campus.

The numbers are all adding up to a far more sustainable campus that now ranks as one of the most green in Canada. The proof is in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), which has been set up to measure the sustainability performance of colleges and universities across the world.

"STARS breaks down every single meal we sell, whether food is local, examines our energy use and how we design our buildings," he says. " Across four key areas (operations, engagement, academic and governance ) , there are 130 strategies and initiatives to increase sustainability, including 30 that touch on energy conservation."

Three years ago, TRU earned a silver rating for achieving 50% of STARS' more than 200 available sustainability points, and they hoped that by 2016 or so, they'd hit the gold level of 65%. But in March, TRU surprised itself by scoring 71% and earning gold alongside the likes of the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser, Royal Roads and the University of Victoria.

"We're pretty excited – I think there are just 10 institutions across the country that have gold," says Gudjonson. "And there's only one in North America that has platinum. You need 85% of available points, and we're at 72 now. We hope to be there in two years."