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Humber College students and staff planting trees to build a natural habitat for wildlife and improve water quality in Humber Pond.Provided

At Humber College in Toronto, students in every program learn how sustainability impacts their areas of study and the professions they are pursuing. A culinary student, for example, is taught to apply knowledge of sustainability, ethical and local food sourcing, and food security to food preparation and kitchen management. It is an integral part of the Humber education.

“It’s like your own children,” says Sanjay Puri, vice-president of administration and chief financial officer. “You teach them when they’re young to switch off the lights as they’re leaving the room, and it becomes an innate habit.”

The commitment to sustainability permeates every facet of Humber College – from its curriculum and its food service to its community connections and recycling and energy conservation programs, as well as its approach to building and renovation.

“Sustainability is a core value – it’s in our way of being, in our way of behaving, we work to embed it into everything we do,” Puri adds. “And it’s also how we educate students to get them ready for the future while helping them understand their connection to the world and their ability to make a positive impact on it.”

Incorporating a sustainability mindset is nothing new for Humber College. In 2010, the school started by addressing its paper usage. Five years later, Humber instituted an integrated energy master plan, which will see a $65-million investment in energy conservation measures over a 20-year period.

Since then, the school has made about $35 million worth of investments. “It’s not something we just embarked on,” says Puri. “We’ve been on this journey for a long time.”

The long-term plan is to wean the college off natural gas: recently constructed buildings on campus work on net-zero energy; future buildings will be net-zero carbon. Its newest 360,000-square-foot building, the Humber Cultural Hub, will use geothermal heat from 800 feet below ground level. Photovoltaic panels placed on the rooftops will convert light into electricity.

Through it all, Humber has engaged students. “Every inch of space at the campus is a learning lab – a classroom where students get to see, behave and learn from all the different measures the college is taking,” he adds.

There’s even an academic component to the school’s massive SWITCH decarbonization project, which will reduce fossil fuel use by 70 per cent at the college’s largest campus through heating infrastructure changes and retrofits.

Aman Hehar is the associate director of energy and climate change and oversees these projects. Not only do contractors and engineers hire some of the students to work, but Hehar’s team develops project-related programs and challenges for fourth-year students. “They have to present to the actual construction teams, not their professors,” says Hehar. “And then they get real-world feedback from the companies that are working on this.”

He adds that Humber College is keen to educate other institutions and cities about its successes and challenges with deep decarbonization projects like SWITCH. “This kind of solution can be implemented in a variety of different settings,” Hehar says. “We’re just trying to get people over the hump so that they’re encouraged to do it as well. And when they see our savings, that helps.”

Energy and cost savings aside, the hope is that the thousands of students who graduate from Humber College every year will go out into the world into different industries and become sustainability champions.

“It’s tied to the Indigenous ways of being, knowing and doing; we have an obligation to Mother Earth,” says Puri. “It’s our purpose and our mission to create the global citizens of tomorrow. We have a responsibility in that regard.”

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Advertising feature produced by Canada’s Top 100 Employers, a division of Mediacorp Canada Inc. The Globe and Mail’s editorial department was not involved.

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