The role each one of us can play in supporting environmental sustainability is an issue on everybody’s mind these days. As a school board, TDSB has a dual responsibility when it comes to being green – not only in what we teach our students, but also in how we ourselves operate.
Sheila Penny, Executive Superintendent of Facility Services, is well aware of the importance of both. “You just read the paper, look at what’s happening around us to realize we’ve got to respond to that in education,” she says.
“A key commitment we’ve made is to assist the TDSB in becoming Canada’s leading education institution in environmental stewardship.”
“A key commitment we’ve made is to assist the TDSB in becoming Canada’s leading education institution in environmental stewardship,” she says. Given our size, the TDSB can’t help but have an environmental impact. Initiatives like energy conservation and waste minimization can make a huge difference when they happen daily at more than 600 sites across the city.
According to EcoSchools Program Leader Richard Christie, who works closely with Facilities, TDSB is doing a lot. “Facilities does great things,” he says. “They’re showing great results, but who knows about it?” He would like to see Facility Services spread the word about their successes.
One of these successes is EcoSchools. Programs like EcoSchools lay the groundwork for environmentally responsible citizens of the future. “We’re walking the talk through every school that participates in the program,” says Penny. But the TDSB's Facilities Services department is doing even more.
On the operational side, it falls to Penny to chart a green course for our schools.
This can include everything from installing “smart” meters so each school can track its individual electricity consumption to envisioning a future where we can take all our schools “off the grid.”
The annual Energy Management Master Plan, developed by Facility Services' Energy Coordinating Committee also initiates design measures in existing buildings to reduce energy consumption. “We’ve saved the board millions over the last few years,” says Penny. For example, between 2002/03 and 2004/05, adjusting for weather effects, TDSB gas consumption dropped by 7.8 percent while electricity use declined by 5.3 percent. That’s a combined savings of approximately $5 million.
Another initiative under way is developing a renewable energy strategy for the board’s 600+ sites. “If we partner with the Catholic Board, they have 250 sites – that’s almost 1000 sites embedded in the hearts of residential communities,” says Penny.
The highly ambitious plan, which would involve establishing a renewable energy grid across the entire city, may seem pie-in-the-sky, but Sheila has her feet firmly planted in the financial reality. The current technology would not offer savings in under 30 years, which she readily admits is too long. So Sheila plans to test the industry every 6 to 9 months, inviting renewable strategy proposals to see whether we’re getting close to achieving our financial objectives.
Another important piece of the puzzle is building and retrofitting sustainable schools. With many of our schools reaching middle age – 95 percent of TDSB schools are at least 20 years old while 37 percent are over 50 – estimates of current renewal costs are as high as $1.4 billion.
“That doesn’t include program updates, that doesn’t include code compliance, and that doesn’t include sustainability,” says Sheila. She adds it’s critical these schools also meet the program needs of today and tomorrow. That’s the goal of the Program Revitalization process currently being piloted in two areas of the city.
Sheila believes that Program Revitalization is the key to meshing her vision of green, light-filled, sustainable schools with the rich program choices students need to prepare for their futures, and gaining the support of local communities. “If we start to demonstrate 4 or 5 places in the city that we’re creating great schools with great programs for kids, then people are going to start saying, ‘Hey, what about me?’”