The University of Toronto is a global leader in research and teaching. It stands among the best public universities in the world and is recognized as Canada’s top university. U of T has three campuses, with more than 64,000 students at the St. George campus, more than 14,000 at the Scarborough campus, and more than 16,000 at the Mississauga campus. The University offers over 700 undergraduate programs and 300 graduate programs in a wide variety of fields.

U of T is on an ongoing mission—to embed sustainability into the fabric of all that it does. The principles of regenerative sustainability and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals act as their guide towards becoming a model of sustainability worldwide.

A commitment to sustainability goes as far back as the 1970s, when the University hired its first full-time energy manager. The St. George campus has cut greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 43,000 tonnes from 2009 to 2019, and the reductions continue with the commitment of an additional 35,000 tonnes by 2030 through its tri-campus 2019 Low Carbon Action Plan. The University’s Climate Positive Plan for the St. George campus was released in October 2021, which will reduce GHG emissions beyond carbon neutral by 2050—providing a net benefit to our community.

In addition, U of T:

  • was the first university to join the UN-convened Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance
  • co-founded the Investing to Address Climate Change charter
  • is a founding member of the U7+ Alliance of World Universities
  • is a member of the University Climate Change Coalition
  • is a founding participant of Climate Engagement Canada.

Accomplishments at the Building Portfolio

  • Number of buildings enrolled: 156 of 156
  • GHG Emissions Intensity: 6.33 kgCO₂e/sq ft²/yr
  • Total GHG Emissions: 98, 027 tCO₂e/yr

Low Carbon Action Plan (2019-2024)

U of T ‘s Low Carbon Action Plan was published in 2019 and lays out a roadmap for how its three campuses will lower carbon emissions to meet the University’s commitments as part of the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3). They have committed to lowering their carbon footprint by 37 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.

The action plan lays out a three-prong approach to reductions: consuming less energy, producing cleaner energy and distributing energy more efficiently. Initiatives include existing building optimization, new building designs, geoexchange fields, PV solar and distribution upgrades. The five-year plan aims to bring the University 80 per cent closer to its 2030 target by the year 2024 – a reduction of 44,576 tonnes per year.

Kings College Geoexchange – Canadas Largest Urban Geothermal field

The Landmark Project – a complete transformation of the University’s iconic Kings College Circle providing a greener, more walkable and accessible campus, more trees, gardens and green spaces, airy plazas, meandering pathways and inviting gathering places, and vehicle parking underground.

In addition, a key component of the Landmark Project will be directly beneath Kings College Circle – Canada’s largest urban geothermal field will save an estimated 15,000 tonnes of GHG each year – equivalent to removing 3,000+ cars off the road – making a significant contribution to lowering their carbon footprint.

In 2018, U of T Scarborough campus added a geoexchange field to their courtyard along with a steam to hot water conversion that saved 2,500 equivalent tonnes of GHG emissions a year, which is approximately 30 per cent of their GHG emissions. In addition, the campus has implemented geoexchange in their Environmental Science and Chemistry Building, the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, and installation is ongoing for an additional geoexchange as part of its Instructional Centre, which is currently under construction.

St. George Campus: Becoming Climate Positive

U of T is committed to taking action against climate change by pledging to go beyond carbon neutral to deliver a climate positive campus by 2050. The first step will be the transformation of their utility and energy infrastructure to reduce their absolute scope one and scope two greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent through three goals:

  1. Responsibly manage the growth of their campus to mitigate the environmental impacts of more space and activity;
  2. Renew existing and aged utility infrastructure to ensure future performance that supports academic and research excellence;
  3. Build resilient systems to support GHG emissions reduction targets with reliable infrastructure by changing how their campus consumes, produces, and distributes energy.

They will then use U of T owned renewables and other emerging strategies to ensure they reduce more greenhouse gas emissions than they emit – creating an environmental benefit in the community.

Financial Investments in a Low Carbon Future

Since the release of U of T’s 2016 White Paper Beyond Divestment: Taking Decisive Action on Climate Change, the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM) has employed an environmental, social and governance framework to evaluate the climate-related risks of long-term investment portfolios in all sectors, shift investments away from high-risk holdings and urge firms to adopt sustainable practices.

UTAM has reduced the carbon footprint of its investment portfolios by 37 per cent compared to 2017 levels – coming very close to achieving the university’s goal of a 40 per cent carbon footprint reduction by the end of 2030.

In October 2021, UTAM committed to divest from all direct investments in fossil fuel companies within the next 12 months, and divest from indirect investments, typically held through pooled and commingled investment vehicles, by no later than 2030, and sooner if possible.

UTAM will also allocate 10 per cent of its endowment portfolio to sustainable and low-carbon investments by 2025, representing an initial commitment of $400 million, and is committing to achieve net zero carbon emissions associated with U of T’s endowment by 2050.

Greenhouse Gas Retrofits Program 2018-2019

In 2018-19, U of T accomplished major projects aimed at reducing current and future GHG emissions across its three campuses. They combined support leveraged from the provincial government with their own investments, to complete projects ranging from rooftop solar systems to ground-source heat pumps. These projects represent over $50 million in investment and more than 8,500 tonnes in GHG emission reductions. Meeting the tight deadline confirms their capacity and ability to develop and implement high performing energy and carbon reduction projects with timely efficiency.

Energy Modelling & Utility Performance Standard

U of T is committed to delivering on the benchmark high-performance building performance standards established by the U of T in 2020. The performance standards ensure that energy performance and sustainability best practices are incorporated into all University buildings. While they continuously work to incorporate sustainability principles across all campus planning, the University also explores and incorporates innovative solutions in deep retrofits of existing historic buildings to become significantly more energy efficient. The standards will continue to evolve to incorporate innovation, new concepts, feedback, and practical applications.

Disclaimer: Profiles presented are based on information provided by participants. Participants’ GHG emissions performance published are based on utility data submitted and converted to GHG emissions. The emission factors applied aligns with the period of energy data reported (2019). The emission factors utilized for the conversion are calculated based on a combination of sources: Government of Canada (National Inventory Report & Canada’s Proposed Greenhouse Gas Quantification Requirements), Government of Ontario (Guide: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting), The Atmospheric Fund (A Clearer View on Ontario’s Emissions – Electricity emissions factors and guidelines) and Enbridge Gas Inc. (Chemical Composition of Natural Gas).