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Sustainability is an attitude, says new coordinator

LET'S GO GREEN: Tim Lang holds the inaugural position of Sustainability Coordinator for the U of T Scarborough campus. (Photo by Ken Jones.)

In keeping with the motto of “Waste not, want not”, the University of Toronto Scarborough has hired a Sustainability Coordinator.

Tim Lang took office on May 7, and says he is pleased to hold the inaugural position. He looks forward to working with others to help make the campus more environment-friendly.

Lang has just completed his Master’s degree in Civil/Environmental Engineering at the University of Toronto. Previously he worked for the University of Toronto Sustainability Office on the St. George campus, and maintains a connection and network there. Together, the team will be examining and coordinating some tri-campus initiatives and larger sustainability projects that the university may study and implement in the future.

“Tim’s mandate is to coordinate environmental initiatives across the campus, including the SCSU, the residences, and administrative and academic departments,” says Prof. Ted Relph, Academic Director of the Sustainability Office. “These initiatives include, for example, such things as improving energy efficiency, relamping, Bikeshare, composting, the tree plantings promoted through Evergreen, purchasing policies, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and student projects about sustainability in Environmental Science and other programs.”

“The intention is not for Tim to direct or take over responsibility for any of these,” Relph adds, “But rather to coordinate and ensure effective communication between them so that Scarborough can become an outstanding example of integrated practices for sustainability. Specific tasks will be to establish benchmarks so that green progress can be assessed accurately, and to promote sustainability as an ongoing and accepted part of the campus.”

Some specific projects that may be pursued are as follows: replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents, upgrading in-ceiling fluorescent lights, installing devices to cut power consumption on refrigerated pop machines, a campus greenhouse gas inventory, low-impact de-icing solutions for roads and walkways, organic waste diversion, waste reduction, conversion of campus police vehicles to liquid propane, energy efficient building retrofits, procurement and purchasing initiatives including increased use of recycled paper products and purchasing of local food.

“My role is to help facilitate and coordinate sustainability or sustainability-related projects, but that does not always mean big hi-tech projects,” says Lang. “A lot of people associate sustainability with big fancy initiatives, but sustainability is really an attitude and an approach that we can build into our everyday lives, and there are many little things we can do that make a difference.”

The office has also hired an intern, May Quach, a student in the Master of Environmental Science program, for six months. Currently, she is looking at the feasibility of local food purchasing for on campus food services facilities, some of which is happening already. She is also investigating the potential purchase and use of an organic worm waste product that could be used by the grounds crew in landscaping on campus to prevent and reduce plant disease.

Lang notes that many people think of the concept of Reduce, Re-use, and Recycle as three equal options, but they are instead meant to be a hierarchy, in order of importance. “This distinction is lost on many people. They focus on recycling, but recycling is meant to be the last of those three options. Recycling only comes into the equation when you have something you must dispose of,” he says. “If you don’t generate the waste in the first place, then you don’t have to figure out how to deal with it. Many people forget that if you reduce the amount of waste you produce, or re-use it, then you will have also less material to throw out or recycle.”

He describes his approach to sustainability as something that is “not a radical position – it’s a position of seeing what we need to do in order to ensure that we aren’t depleting the natural capital of the earth, or that we reduce the rate at which we are doing so, in order to ensure that future generations also study and enjoy the Earth the way we do. I like the phrase ‘Equity for future generations’.”

Sustainability ought to be inherent in an organization, and not just a special interest, says Lang. “It’s similar to equity or accessibility -- just as we wouldn’t think to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, and we wouldn’t ignore the special needs of someone with a disability, we can’t ignore sustainability,” he says. “Sustainability is thinking about whether and how our activities affect the environment, and then doing the right thing.”

“Sustainability relates to everything we do and permeates all aspects of our lives,” he says. “It’s an attitude and an approach to our everyday lives, rather than something that is external and imposed upon us,” he says. “It’s about looking around at our activities and routines and the things we are already doing and asking ourselves: ‘What is the impact of what I’m doing? Can I do it in a better and more sustainable way without noticing a big difference in my quality of life or work environment?’”

Here are some of his tips to enhance sustainability every day: 

  • Carry a mug for coffee and tea rather than using disposable cups
  • Use the backs of one-sided office paper for scratch pads and note pads
  • Bring your lunch in a re-usable container
  • Rely on natural light more often, especially if your lab, class or office has a window
  • Walk, bike, carpool or take transit as often as possible
  • Donate used clothing and other items instead of throwing them out.

"These are just a few of the things people can do to make their activities more sustainable, and they don't require that much effort. People who bring their lunch in a container probably don't think of it as a sustainable practice, but it's a good example of a sustainable approach that can be built into everyday activities."

“Environmental issues are increasingly important to society so the establishment of a Sustainability Office is both important and timely, says Kim McLean, Chief Administrative Officer at U of T Scarborough. “Tim will be instrumental in terms of facilitating and/or coordinating sustainable initiatives across our campus. Tim will also work with both the UTM and St. George campuses of the University of Toronto in terms of tri-campus sustainability initiatives.”

Lang has family ties to the University of Toronto. His father, Dan Lang, is a long-serving professor and administrator at the University of Toronto, and is the coach of the Varsity Blues baseball team, which opened its playing fields on the Scarborough campus last fall.  Tim’s mother, Diane Lang, is a math teacher at University of Toronto Schools. His sister, Kate Lang, graduated from the Management Co-op program at U of T Scarborough in 2003.

Tim Lang can be reached at (416) 208-2668 or by email at: His office is located in room 204 in the Management building. For more information on sustainable initiatives on campus, visit the Sustainability Office web site at:

by Mary Ann Gratton

© University of Toronto Scarborough