All posts by [suh-steyn]

The official blog of the University of Alberta's Office of Sustainability. Designed as a collective, collaborative and colloquial voice for campus sustainability, [suh-steyn], will focus on the stories of sustainability at our university and offer exciting ways for us to incorporate it into our lives. Each post will integrate a diverse range of imagery, design and ideas.

De-amplify Your Power Consumption

Happy Earth Hour!

Every year, for one hour in March, we shut everything down to remind ourselves to reduce our consumption in an effort to promote sustainability on our planet.

With technology increasingly engrained in our lives, we tend to forget the impact that each little device has in terms of electricity consumption. With that, let’s focus on the small things that we can all do to reduce the amount that these gadgets use.

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Wash dishes with a full load

While we may all be too busy to do the dishes in the first place, if you own a dishwasher, it is better to wait until you have a full load inside to run it. A full dishwasher cleans most efficiently. This habit provides the added bonus of needing to empty the dishwasher less often!

And for those of us who don’t own a fancy, new-age dishwasher, we can cut down on our water consumption when washing dishes by hand by not leaving the water on at all times.

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If you’re dining out on campus, SUB provides reusable dishes that you can use instead of the disposable polystyrene or cardboard container that the vendors provide. You also get a discount!

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Unplug your devices

We often forget that our devices draw power when they’re not in use. It only takes a few seconds to unplug and it takes loads off our eco-conscience.

As an added measure, make sure to buy gadgets with an Energy Star® rating, as they run more efficiently. Even better, if you don’t really need it, you may be better going without the gadget all together. And for those of us who have older or broken items lying around, the University of Alberta recycles a variety of electronics, and there are local charities who also take donations.

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Turn off the lights!

Here’s another thing we always forget–to turn off the lights when we’re done in a room. Once again, a small thing that takes no time.

And when our light bulbs burn out, buying more energy efficient ones is a smart, long-term, sustainable investment. Take a trip to a hardware store to find a pleasantly bright bulb with a low power rating. LEDs are currently the most efficient as they use 25-30 per cent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, while lasting 8 to 25 times longer, which more than makes up for the increased upfront cost.

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Turn down the brightness of our devices

This is one that benefits not only the environment but also ourselves. Often our laptop and phones screens are on maximum intensity, which can cause eyestrain, not to mention the screen drains the battery on cell phones the fastest.

Start by turning down the brightness to help reduce eyestrain and save battery life. If your eyes are still getting tired, it is a good idea to give them some exercise by looking at something in the distance for a few minutes.

Incidentally, for those of us who stare at our devices late at night, a nighttime screen app like F.Lux can help reduce eyestrain by making the screen more yellow. This works because the blue light of our standard screens keep us awake and makes it harder to get a good night’s rest.

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Get a power bar

Ever wonder why plugs only have two sockets when you have five different things that need to be powered? Power bars are amazing at solving those problems, plus they make it way easier to save electricity because you can turn the whole bar off at once without ripping five cords out of the wall at the same time.

That concludes a few ways to save energy in our current technology-driven society. For this year’s Earth Hour, let’s all unplug, turn off all of these devices, disconnect from social media and get back in touch with ourselves and the real world. The internet can wait, and so can your status update! 🙂

Happy Earth Hour!


About The Author

Bertie Chen is a Campus Sustainability Volunteer and in her fourth year of electrical engineering at the University of Alberta. Sustainability is a big focus for her, as she hopes to work in a renewable field such as solar or wind energy in the future, and advocates energy saving initiatives for everyone.

7 tips for the winter holidays

Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa or just planning to enjoy your week away from campus, there are many ways to make the winter holidays more sustainable.

Choose a natural tree instead of artificial

The evergreen tree decorated with lights, apples, delicate ornaments, sparkly garlands, strings of beads sits at the heart of many families’ homes during the holiday season.

If you’re concerned about the environment, it might not be obvious whether a natural or artificial tree is preferable. But according to locally-produced podcast Terra Informa, a natural tree has less environmental impact than a synthetic tree. Keeping a synthetic tree for two decades or more can turn the tide, but that may increase your risk of accidental lead poisoning.

The best option, of course, is to decorate a living tree that can thrive outdoors for decades to come.

String up some colourful LED lights

LEDs are the most efficient type of electric light available today. An ordinary incandescent  lightbulb works by heating up a metal filament, which means most of that energy is wasted as heat instead of generating light. LEDs are electronic which makes them much more efficient and cooler to the touch. This also makes LEDs better on Christmas trees since they are less likely to spark an accidental fire.

Light the menora with beeswax candles or LED lights

Due to the risk of fire, many who celebrate Hanukkah prefer to use electric menorot. As with any sort of light, LEDs will provide the most light for the least energy consumption. But if you prefer candles, consider avoiding common paraffin wax, which is a petroleum by-product, a non-renewable resource. Beeswax is more sustainable, available from local manufacturers and has a naturally lovely scent.

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Give gifts that make a difference

Your true love set the bar a bit too high with their golden rings, leaping aristocrats and partridges in pear trees. Give fewer, simpler gifts this year and be conscientious of the social and environmental impact of their production. Look for fairly-traded gifts from a store like Ten Thousand Villages. Or make your own practical gifts from scratch—things like brownies in a jar, freezer jams, photo albums, houseplants from cuttings and more. You could also change a life through giving gift certificates to social enterprises like Kiva.

Minimize waste when wrapping gifts

Holiday gifts traditionally entail a huge waste of wrapping paper and other packaging. Instead of gift-wrapping at the mall or home, consider some easy, fun alternatives. Paper or cloth gift bags can be reused over and over. If you prefer wrapping, use sheets from the weekend newspaper, especially the colourful funny pages. For finishing touches, you can use twine with pine cones and cedar sprigs to spruce up the package.

Eat seasonal, organic and Fairtrade goodies

Many of the classic holiday snacks are already easier on the environment. In wintertime, nuts and dried fruit have a lower impact compared to fresh, tropical fruits flown-in on refrigerated cargo planes. For those exotic ingredients you can’t pass up (cocoa, for instance) be sure to choose Fairtrade and organic to ensure the fairest price and working conditions for farmers.

Eggnog is a once-a-year treat, so you should absolutely get the best—both in terms of taste and environmental impact. You can make your own at home using organic cream and eggs, and fairly-traded organic sweetener and spices. Alternatively, purchase it pre-made from a local, organic dairy like the Canadian co-operative Organic Meadow.

Go meat-free for the big meal

Growing animals for meat is one of the hardest practices on our planet. The United Nations estimates that all livestock production accounts for 15 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Land needed for livestock also comes at a heavy cost in the Amazon basin (and even here in Alberta, where less than half of native grasslands remain intact).

Christmas dinner can be meat-free and still be a festive occasion for all. Choose a vegetarian main course that will be rich and substantial: a creamy vegetable pot pie; wild mushroom and nut roast; a spicy lentil loaf. Most traditional sides and desserts are already vegetarian—things like butternut squash, roasted root vegetables, field salad, apple pie and mulled wine.


Written by Trevor Chow-Fraser

Trevor is a communications coordinator for the Office of Sustainability. From time to time, Trevor can be found volunteering with campus community radio program, Terra Informa.

The winter holidays are all about tradition. This year, start some new traditions that will make the holidays a little more sustainable. Find your own way to make this special time of year a little brighter for the planet.

The Peace-Athabasca Delta

For those interested in the future of our freshwater, Kevin Timoney has written a provoking analysis of the future of the Peace-Athabasca Delta in his award-winning 2013 book published by University of Alberta Press. The delta is in danger, that much is clear. “The Athabasca River may be Canada’s most endangered river system due to the extensive industrial development along its banks,” Timoney states. This issue is important and relevant to Canada so if sustainability is something that interests you or your friends and family, it is sure to be a fascinating read.

Continue reading The Peace-Athabasca Delta

Sustainability: A History

Perhaps sustainability is your passion and you want to be armed with even more knowledge. Or maybe you don’t know much about sustainability but you want to learn more so you can join the debate. You might even just be curious about why sustainability exists. What got us here in the first place?

Luckily, University of Alberta professor Jeremy Caradonna has written the book you should be reading right now if sustainability interests you in any way—Sustainability: A History.

Continue reading Sustainability: A History

Keeping Up With the Grants

On Wednesday, October 22, 2014, Sustainability Awareness Week (SAW) hosted an informative event on campus funding opportunities. Have you ever wanted to make a sustainable effort? Pursue a social justice project locally or abroad? Start an awesome club on campus to bring people together?

Well, to help make these dreams possible, the University of Alberta has money to support your idea. In case you missed this opportunity during SAW to learn about these grants, there is still plenty of information online and throughout the year on different grants that may suit your needs.

Continue reading Keeping Up With the Grants

Twelve Tips For Being a Green Student

Whether you’re new to the University of Alberta or a returning student, you help build a sustainable future while you’re studying. You can do this while living in residence or off-campus. With a few simple choices you can save the Earth and some cash (who doesn’t want to stretch those hard-earned summer job dollars?). You will join many other students who are working together to make a difference.

Continue reading Twelve Tips For Being a Green Student