ÉTS, the engineering school of the Université du Québec network, has become the first university campus in Montreal to achieve carbon neutrality.
The downtown Montreal and Griffintown area school has reached the carbon neutrality goal nine years ahead of the initial 2030 target date it set in 2019.
“It’s the result of many years of good work from our team in the building department,” says ÉTS (École de technologie supérieure) secretary general Cédrick Pautel, who is in charge of carbon neutrality at the school.
He notes most of the buildings on the campus were built since the 1980s, so they are very efficient in terms of carbon neutrality. “We’re fortunate to have a very young campus and we built it very efficiently over the last 10 or 15 years in terms of carbon footprint. We’re inheriting the benefits of the way we built it.”
An analysis of the school’s carbon footprint found it produces 2,000 tons per year, much lower than other Quebec university campuses, which produce 20,000 to 40,000 tons per year.
ÉTS, which was founded in 1974, becomes the second university in Quebec to achieve carbon neutrality. Université Laval reached that goal in 2015, which was also a Canadian first.
However, Pautel notes the Quebec City university owns a large forest which greatly reduces its carbon footprint. The 412 square kilometre Forêt Montmorency, the largest research and teaching forest in the world, is in Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, about 50 kms from the Quebec capital.
ÉTS achieves goal ahead of schedule
With 11,000 students, ÉTS is the biggest engineering school in Quebec and the second-largest in Canada. The campus has about 15 buildings, including two main buildings where 80 per cent of activities take place.
In 2019, ÉTS pledged to become carbon neutral by 2030 but decided “the 2,000 tons were accessible right now. Why wait until 2030?”
ÉTS has embarked on a carbon offset scheme to balance its carbon footprint by investing in environmental projects with the non-profit organization Planetair. The carbon credits meet the Gold Standard, an independent certification for carbon credits generated from clean development or voluntary emissions-reduction projects.
ÉTS will give Planetair about $50,000 annually for carbon offset projects, based on its 2,000 tons of carbon emissions. Part of the money paid to Planeteair will be reinvested in an ÉTS-Planetair fund to conduct applied research on ways to develop more efficient carbon reduction technologies.
ÉTS is also creating a climate change research fund, which will finance research projects involving technologies for reducing, adapting to, measuring and modelling climate change.
Pautel says 80 per cent of its carbon footprint comes from the heat ÉTS buys from Énergir, chaleur et climatisations urbaines (CCUM, or urban heating and cooling), which provides thermal services that heat and air condition more than one third of Montreal’s downtown core.
Énergir (formerly Gaz Métro) CCUM has been operating the Montreal Thermal Plant since its creation in 1947.
Pautel expects Énergir CCUM will be able to reduce some of its carbon emissions in the years to come, which in turn will improve the carbon footprint of ÉTS.
However, “at 2,000 tons we are already quite low. As you can imagine, the last tons that you try to eliminate are the most difficult to eliminate. We don’t expect to be able to be a zero net emissions campus.”
ÉTS expansions targeting carbon neutrality
ÉTS has grown dramatically in recent years, almost quadrupling in size from 1990 when it had about 3,000 students. It has been on a building spree with about one new building every two years.
“We lack space for research activities,” Pautel says. “We need more space for our laboratories.”
One of its latest buildings, in the former Dow Planetarium at 1000 Saint Jacques Street, houses Centech, its centre for technological entrepreneurship. Centech is one of Canada’s largest business incubators for tech start-ups.
Last year, the Quebec government said it would invest about $22 million to help the ÉTS renovate its main building on Notre Dame Street West.
Future buildings at ÉTS will be designed with carbon neutrality as a target, Pautel says.
The school plans to grow from five to six departments with the addition of a design department which will focus on the interaction of humans with technology.