Integrating Sustainable Energy Projects - a Community-driven approach

In the world of renewable energy, most people agree that drastic change is necessary to usher our economy toward a greener, more sustainable future. Yet achieving change can be challenging and often takes time. We at the Sustainability Ontario Community Energy Co-Op (SOCEC) believe that igniting the spark of change can be more easily achieved in post-secondary institutions. University campuses are, after all, platforms for transformation, a living lab where opportunities for collaboration and co-creation are possible. This means they are the perfect environments in which sustainable and clean energy installations can thrive.

Earlier this year, SOCEC organised a workshop designed to leverage these opportunities, and together as a community of academics, students, administrators and industry, unpack and understand the most efficient way to build a truly integrated approach to promoting sustainable energy development on university campuses.

Ideating Clean Energy - step by step

On March 31st, over 50 sustainable energy evangelists gathered at the MaRS Discovery District in downtown Toronto to learn, discuss, interact and ideate together, with further support provided by our partners Studio Y and The Co-Operators (through the Impact Fund).

In order to facilitate productive and creative conversations, we encouraged workshop participants to form multi-disciplinary groups. Students, industry experts, academic professors and administrators were all present with a shared excitement and hope for what is possible to create together. In fact, at the heart of the workshop was the idea that co-creation yields the most creative and diverse ideas, whose viability is informed from all angles of the post-secondary system by the experience of each individual.

The process of co-designing methods to integrate sustainable energy in post-secondary institutions was facilitated by Howard from the ThinkFresh Group. Howard’s experience in design-thinking workshops was invaluable in leading the various groups and helping them to tease out many ideas and solutions. The process each group underwent was a well-structured, yet very open discovery process.  

To begin the process, each member of each group was tasked with suggesting their own ideal energy project using an exercise called ‘Headlines’ - for example, ‘UofT has the largest number of Solar charging stations than any Canadian University!’. These headlines were then shared with the group, at which point a collective decision was made which project would be of focus for the rest of the ideation process. From this, a diverse range of exciting potential projects were formed. Amongst them, green roof installations around campus and net zero buildings to a decentralised blockchain-based peer-to-peer transaction grid for solar energy to be shared throughout university communities - phew!

For the rest of the workshop, the groups participated in further exercises designed to tease out the potential benefits and disadvantages of their chosen project, the stakeholders who would need to be engaged, and any barriers to a successful implementation they may encounter. This enabled the groups to also identify ways to navigate those barriers and minimise the risk of failure.

A How-to Guide for Integrating Sustainable Energy Projects

Following a successful morning of brainstorming, Bernie McIntyre, senior manager of Corporate Sustainability at the TRCA, spoke to the room to lend some of his own thoughts and experience in being a promoter of sustainable energy practices, and reminded everyone of the important role they have to play as evangelisers of clean energy.

Toward the end of the workshop, after all attendees had the opportunity to network, their final project overviews were shared with the room. It was truly inspiring to hear of their ideas and how they would plan to approach such a project in real life, and it served as a reminder of just how motivated such a community of students, academics and industry experts are in achieving their visions of clean, green energy integrated within their various institutions.

SOCEC is developing a report to capture the learnings of the day, to serve as a ‘playbook’ of sorts for any institution, especially post-secondary institutions, to successfully get their respective sustainable energy projects off the ground and installed. The report will be shared with our partners and community once finalised later this summer.

 We would like to take this opportunity to thank MaRS, Studio Y, ThinkFresh Group, The Co-Operators, and all of our attendees for their participation, and for helping to bring us all one step closer to community-driven clean energy at its best.