The University of Toronto is advancing Canada’s goals of transitioning to a low-carbon future and strengthening its economy through each of its research, innovation and teaching missions – with students playing a key role.
Scott Mabury, U of T’s vice-president, operations and real estate partnerships, delivered the message at the recent Canada 360° Economic Summit 2022, which was hosted by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and included appearances by Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem – a former dean of the Rotman School of Management – and François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s minister of innovation, science and industry.
Speaking during a panel discussion on “Canada’s Net-Zero Future,” Mabury highlighted U of T efforts that ranged from building cutting-edge sustainability infrastructure and spearheading responsible investing to fostering green innovation and training the next generation of sustainability-minded leaders.
“We actually think there’s a golden bullet, and that is talent – the talent that universities and colleges across the country … are developing,” he said.
Mabury noted U of T is creating “sustainability pathways” that enable students to incorporate sustainability into their studies across a wide range of disciplines.
In science and engineering, PhD students and post-docs are working with faculty to develop the technology of tomorrow, Mabury said. He highlighted the contribution of U of T startups such as CERT Systems – a Carbon XPRIZE finalist that has developed a system to convert carbon dioxide into fuel before it reaches the atmosphere.
“That aspect of students who make these innovations and discoveries – creating companies and bringing not only solutions to the market, but also value back to Canada – are really important to this equation.”
U of T’s new Institutional Strategic Initiative on Climate-Positive Energy, which comprises 90 principal investigators, 28 departments and eight academic divisions, will also help train students to develop comprehensive solutions to reducing emissions.
The virtual summit, held Feb. 9, focused on the theme of “The Future of Economic Growth” and was attended by business leaders, economists and academics from across Canada.
Mabury was joined on the “Canada’s Net-Zero Future” panel by Gillian Doran, chief financial officer – aluminum at Rio Tinto; Michael Torrance, vice-president and chief sustainability officer at BMO; and Anna Stukas, vice-president of business development at clean energy company Carbon Engineering. The discussion, moderated by GE Canada CEO Healther Chalmers, focused on the key opportunities and challenges involved in helping Canada achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 – a pledge made by the Government of Canada in its climate plan.
U of T, which announced a plan to divest from fossil fuel investments last year, seeks to demonstrate that institutional growth can go hand in hand with achieving ambitious emissions reductions targets.
That includes achieving a climate-positive campus at St.George by 2050.
“We are working to ensure that our continued growth and sustainability are compatible, because we’re actually planning on doubling the amount of square footage we have in buildings while hitting a net negative 2050 end point,” Mabury said.
He highlighted key projects that will play a role in U of T’s climate-positive journey, including a massive geoexchange field being constructed beneath Front Campus that will contribute to greenhouse gas reductions of 15,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.
Clockwise from top left: Gillian Doran, Scott Mabury, Michael Torrance, Anna Stukas and Heather Chalmers.
Mabury stressed that accountability is a key feature of U of T’s net-zero plans.
“We know where those funds are going to come from and we’re already on the journey to get there,” Mabury said. “I think just making targets without plans wouldn’t work for us, and that’s why we have advanced this so far.”
Ongoing government support for investments that reduce emissions in operations and ensure that talent and innovation can flourish is critical, Mabury added.
He hailed federal government initiatives such as the Low Carbon Economy Challenge, which supports projects that will generate clean growth, reduce emissions, foster innovation and create jobs, and the Net Zero Accelerator Initiative, which supports academic-industry collaborations working towards clean economic growth.
Such initiatives facilitate government, private and public sector collaboration, and bring together financial, technical, social and political resources, Mabury said.
“It’s going to take an integrated approach, and wherever government can help in that is going to be a net good.”