Campus Sustainability at the University of Ottawa

PEO Student Conference — Designing for Sustainability

© David Giral Photography — University of Ottawa Social Sciences Building, July 2013
“This building has no heating.”
Jonathan Rausseo, University of Ottawa Sustainability

…What? This is what we were told at the start of Jonathan’s talk while we sat in the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Social Sciences building. To be fair though he said, for the five coldest days of the year, it does require additional heat from other buildings. How is this all possible he asked, leaving us on a cliff hanger. He then began to gave us some background on who he was first, and the path that led him to where he is now.

Aiming High, Reaching Zero

Jonathan is responsible for leading the University’s sustainability efforts. Before him, there was no “Campus Sustainability Manager,” and so his job slowly came to be out of nothing. He was initially given a budget of $0 by his manager. His manager explained that, if he gave Jonathan money, it of course would be spent, but by not giving him any (not that he had much to give for projects in the first place), Jonathan would be forced to come up with unique and creative ideas of changes that could be made within the University. He proved his worth from here to the point where his position was more of a permanence, than an experiment.


One of his first projects when he did have access to capital, was planning out a set of solar panels to be installed. To install the amount he wanted on one of the building’s roof’s, he calculated out everything: it was something like $10 million, and it would power… 5% of the building’s electricity needs. Not very cost effective; so he began to do more research, and discovered that a lot of buildings are not very efficient with their energy usage. And so by increasing their efficiency, it would be more GHG & cost effective than just trying to power it all with green energy.

“This building has no heating.” So how is this done? Ottawa is a cold place in the winter. Consider a server room; the computers in there often generate enough heat that they need a good cooling system to be constantly running. Instead, by redirecting this throughout the rest of the building, they could save on the costs of cooling the room, and heating the building. Other clever efficiencies like this were implemented, such as having smaller, and less windows that are more efficient at trapping heat, and in the rare scenario where the building cannot heat itself, it can do a heat exchange with any nearby building, as they are all hooked up together, unlike traditional systems which only connect to the central heating building.


Despite the University of Ottawa building more and more buildings over the years, and supporting more students, they have more or less managed to keep their greenhouse gas emissions at the same level as they were 20 years ago through these increases in building efficiencies, and the other projects. So while the graph may have looked static, and unimpressive without context, knowing this information made it applaudable.

Water & Air

Like the Environment 3 building at the University of Waterloo, the building had a 3 story green wall, where air could be filtered through, and ended up costing the University nothing. Well, nothing more than if they were to have purchased an air ventilation filtration system instead. It provides the more benefits, for the same cost. Grey water is used to keep the plants hydrated, which in turn I think helps moderates the moisture level in the building.


The building has a blue bin (metals & plastics), gray bin (paper-based products), a green bin (compostables & organics), a liquid drain (for leftover drinks prior to disposing the container), a yellow bin in the bathrooms (for medical/hazardous waste), electronics recycling in select places throughout the campus, and a garbage (for everything else). With a complete suite of disposable options, and clear easy to understand labels, Jonathan has created a culture at the university where people will sort their waste into the appropriate bins, which has drastically reduced their waste output. It is entirely possible that they would never need to change their garbage pail, because almost all waste can be diverted into a bin they have available

Designing Our Tomorrow: Sustainable Design

One of the videos he showed us towards the end of the presentations is included below. It was very well done, and so I thought it would be worth sharing too.

Further Resources

For more on the Professional Engineers of Ontario Student Conference I attended in which this talk was presented, see my profile, or search for the tag PEOSC.