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The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Green Building Technology Lab and Demonstration Centre offers research infrastructure dedicated to reducing the carbon footprint of buildings, for example, through building-integrated green technologies and renewable energy solutions.SUPPLIED

Research and innovation are considered key tools for addressing today’s most urgent and complex challenges, climate change among them. As the effects of extreme weather events and environmental degradation are increasingly impacting the lives of Canadians across the county, colleges and institutes heed the call to take action.

“We always talk about the idea of future-proofing society, and for colleges and institutes, this means contributing to positive change for people, communities and the planet,” says Denise Amyot, president and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan), the national and international voice of Canada’s largest post-secondary education network. “We take our role in advancing environmental sustainability very seriously, and this includes applied research, climate-focused curricula and sustainable campus infrastructure.”

Meeting community needs

Colleges and institutes were created with the mandate to meet the needs of local communities, and Ms. Amyot believes that the success of Canadian communities, industries and learners is closely linked to our ability to advance a low-carbon future.

There are many examples from colleges and institutes that show how applied research can help businesses and community organizations implement innovative solutions to lower their carbon footprints, she says. “Areas under investigation include clean technology, transportation and mobility, climate adaptation and resilience, Indigenous-led initiatives, green buildings, food systems and the circular economy.”

In B.C., for example, a farm at the Department of Sustainable Agriculture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) explores various low-carbon farming practices, such as a novel way of sequestering soil carbon, a solar greenhouse and organic farming practices that avoid dependence on greenhouse-gas-producing fertilizers and pesticides. What’s more, the produce grown on the farm is sold into local markets and on campus as part of KPU’s effort to evaluate, support and promote regional and sustainable food systems, and help communities accomplish their food sovereignty aspirations.

In the area of green buildings, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) Green Building Technology Lab and Demonstration Centre is a 6,350-square-foot example of energy efficiency, building-integrated green technologies and renewable energy solutions. With additional space dedicated to specialized workshops, testing bays, storage and a large construction staging area, the facility offers valuable research infrastructure, where researchers and partners have access to service lines, technical consultation and R&D resources like building-integrated solar and water technologies, green materials fabrication, prototyping and product testing.

Leadership in waste and remediation efforts can be found at Groupe CTT at Cégep de Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, with laboratories specialized in applied research, development and analysis of technical textiles, geosynthetics and advanced textile-based materials. Under investigation are a range of textiles, including eco-textiles and processes that focus on developing bio-based alternatives, recovering textile waste and improving natural fibre processing.

" We always talk about the idea of future-proofing society, and for colleges and institutes, this means contributing to positive change for people, communities and the planet.

Denise Amyot
President and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada

Colleges and institutes are helping to integrate a sustainability perspective into “all aspects of the economy, from farming and construction to health and education,” says Ms. Amyot, adding that other applied research initiatives explore sustainable agriculture and forestry, such as new technologies and processes that reduce the energy, greenhouse gas emissions and resource consumption of these activities, as well as finding new high-value uses for byproducts.

Colleges and institutes also work to advance “clean communities,” through measures like environmental monitoring and remediation – and adapting buildings and infrastructure to a changing climate.

Partnering for impact

“Achieving a more sustainable and just future requires collaborative and productive relationships between industry, educational institutions and communities,” says Ms. Amyot. “Applied research and community engagement led by colleges and institutes illustrate how such relationships can allow us to find innovative solutions to real-world challenges – and support knowledge mobilization and economic development.”

Key objectives at colleges and institutes are aligned with Canada’s commitment to reduce its emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 – and to achieve net-zero by 2050, she says. “Our commitment is to achieve net-zero emissions on college and institute campuses by 2050.”

CICan’s ImpAct-Climate Challenge project aims to advance this goal by increasing awareness and promoting behavioural change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the college and institute sector.

“Efforts include green campuses, green curriculum, green communities and green research. Embedding sustainable practices into everything we do also requires a ‘green culture’ that includes behaviour, values, attitudes and ethics,” says Ms. Amyot. “We’ve also recently expanded this scope to include Indigenous ways of knowing since there is a strong alignment with sustainability.”

Climate change – and the principles of environmental sustainability – have also challenged us to rethink how we live and work, and Ms. Amyot explains that CICan members integrate sustainability across program disciplines to address skills needed in the green economy.

“Historically, colleges and institutes have relied on feedback from industry and communities to guide their programs,” she says. “However, over the last decade, these partners have increasingly come to us for guidance on questions like, ‘What are the trends that we need to be prepared for? And what can we do to future-proof our businesses and communities?’”

Advancing sustainability is central to the answer, and colleges and institutes are rising to this challenge, says Ms. Amyot. “Taking care of our communities, our country and our planet means mitigating the impact of climate change.”

Lifelike computer-generated human characters, known as virtual humans, can be used in multiple applications.

Innovating the Human-Digital Experience

Sheridan’s Screen Industries Research and Training (SIRT) Centre is at the forefront of the next frontier of the human-digital experience – creating lifelike virtual humans that are changing the way content is created and how people engage and interact across all media platforms. SIRT is an integral part of Generator at Sheridan. In 2022, the Centre helped industry partner Cream Productions create a patented standardized, efficient workflow to enable the creation of more realistic and less resource-intensive digital characters. The Centre also contributed to creating a new department for Cream, which helped grow their team and brought them into the interaction market. Building on this accomplishment, SIRT will continue to enhance innovation and enable the adoption of digital humans into people’s daily lives.


Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.