Sustainability takes root at SMU

University aims to attract students, help the environment through green projects

Saint Mary’s students Peter Lakner and Jeremy Mock study in front of The Atrium’s three-storey living wall, the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada. Photo: Meghan McCabe
Saint Mary’s students Peter Lakner and Jeremy Mock study in front of The Atrium’s three-storey living wall, the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada. Photo: Meghan McCabe

From installing a living wall to organizing an event called the Halifax Dump and Run, Saint Mary’s University is working to be kind to the environment.

The students, faculty, and staff have combined forces reduce, reuse and recycle. What began with an energy study in 2007 has led to an all-around energy project with a one-third reduction in yearly carbon emissions and a sustainability initiative that involves everyone.

Shelley Price, manager of custodial and administration at Saint Mary’s, helps make things happen. The university has a committee of faculty, staff and students that comes up with sustainable initiatives, and Price works to integrate them into the school.

“We’ve really been taking this seriously, not just from a grassroots perspective, but making sure it’s intertwined with all the operations on campus. If it’s part of everyone’s role, then everyone has ownership.”

Price says students are becoming increasingly interested in environmentally progressive campuses. She said she often gets calls from prospective students who have visited the campus and want to know more about its sustainability measures.

“It’s been recognized by universities that students really are looking for a university that is actively engaging in sustainable behaviour.”

Saint Mary’s is a member of the Atlantic University and College Sustainability Network, which shares information and ideas on environmental initiatives and these initiatives double as teaching tools.

Lin Liu, a Saint Mary’s co-op student working as a sustainability officer, talk to Liam Cook looks and Venktesh Sharma about the importance of using reusable coffee cups. Photo: Meghan McCabe
Lin Liu, a Saint Mary’s co-op student working as a sustainability officer, talk to Liam Cook looks and Venktesh Sharma about the importance of using reusable coffee cups. Photo: Meghan McCabe

Cara Harvey, a fourth-year environmental science student and president of the Saint Mary’s University Environmental Society, says students notice the green elements around campus.

One is hard to miss because it’s three stories tall.

In 2009 the university installed a living wall – covered with plants and moss –in the atrium adjacent to the campus library. It’s the first of its kind in any building in Atlantic Canada and students such as Harvey use it in their classes.

“We look at the moisture and the oxygen, how pure it is coming off of it, things like that,” says Harvey. She also says it makes the atrium a popular spot for students to study.

“I find it helps, just personally when I’m studying there, it’s peaceful, it helps you focus.”

Another sustainability project Harvey has been involved with is the dump and run. “It’s basically just a ginormous yard sale,” she says of the event, which has been running for 11 years.

Student volunteers, in partnership with Dalhousie University, pick up clothes, furniture and house wares from students moving out at the end of April. They hold the sale at Dal and donate the proceeds to charities such as Out of the Cold Shelter and Feed Nova Scotia.

Harvey says the idea came from people working in the facilities departments at Dal and Saint Mary’s who were looking for a better way to clear out dorms in April. They were spending hours removing things students left behind.

Last year about eight moving trucks of discarded items turned into half a truck for Value Village and $5,000 for charities.

Such initiatives reflect the depth of commitment to the environment on campus, Harvey says.

“It’s a sense of community.”