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SFU – Sustainability Ambassador Program

  • Feb, 06 2010
  • Industry Sector:Education


SFU has conducted several building renovations over the past twenty years and has exhausted most of the opportunities for reducing energy consumption through structural upgrades. Therefore the challenge has become that of changing the behavior of building occupants themselves. Even highly energy efficient buildings have people in them who leave lights on, equipment plugged in and windows and doors open to admit cold winter air.

We decided that significant benefits could accrue from making people aware of energy-wasting behaviors, interested in changing them, and willing to spread the word to others within the University and in their many other communities.


Our strategy was to develop a program that engaged staff, communicated broadly about required actions, and changed the organizational culture of the University in a way that behaviors complementary to highly efficient buildings became the norm within offices across campus.

To achieve this we developed SFU’s Sustainability Ambassador Program.

The Sustainability Ambassador Program is a component of Simon Fraser University’s Culture Change and Education Initiative. Staff Ambassadors play a unique role as sustainability educators and advocates within their own academic and administrative units to assist with office culture and behavior change.

They carry out three main activities in their role as Sustainability Ambassadors.

1) Ambassadors are the connection between the SFU Sustainability Advisory Committee and their specific unit. They maintain an open communications link between the Committee and their office unit for more personal and effective sharing of information and feedback.

2) Ambassadors are a resource for their unit. They pass along educational information (including sustainability tips, related campus events and updates on activities) and provide assistance with sustainability-related activities (e.g., teaching co-workers how to duplex print).

3) Ambassadors implement three educational campaigns each year. Each educational campaign runs for eight weeks, with each campaign focusing on educating members of the SFU community about one key action area related to sustainability within the University and beyond. For example, in Fall 2008 Sustainability Ambassadors educated their colleagues on the benefits of turning off lights, monitors and computers when not in use.

Sustainability Ambassadors tend to be people who are already interested in sustainability and who bring some enthusiasm to learning more about sustainability principles and issues and to living a more sustainable lifestyle. Most ambassadors want to contribute to the University’s efforts and participate with a team of like-minded individuals in their community.

Sustainability Ambassador Educational Campaigns to date have included:

1. A “Turn it Off” Campaign directed at changing repetitive behaviors such as turning off lights, computer monitors and printer/photocopy equipment.

2. A “Close the Doors” Campaign directed at reducing heat loss during the winter season due to open windows and doors across campus.

3. A “Transportation Challenge” directed at encouraging campus members to try out and incorporate alternatives to single occupancy vehicle travel. Our Sustainability Ambassadors are currently promoting duplex printing and the use of recycled paper.


Many different types of impacts are associated with this program. Among the most important impacts so far has been the discovery that SFU has saved over $250,000 over the past year due to energy use reduction efforts. Despite one of the coldest winters in many years and an increase in buildings and students, both electricity and natural gas consumption declined (by 3,655 GJ and 15,104 GJ respectively). These savings are enough to power over 100 average households, heat 150 average-size Canadian houses for an entire year, and are equivalent to $30,000 in SFU’s avoided costs for carbon offsets and carbon taxes.¹

Our Ambassadors also “spun off” several projects independent of our formal education campaigns. For example, an Ambassador recently implemented a nightly cross-campus computer lab shutdown procedure that saved $1,875 per year and 47,000 kWh of energy—enough to light approximately five homes for a year. Another example is the transformation of SFU’s annual Career Days Fair (SFU’s second largest annual event) into a model green event. The “Green Career Days Fair” now includes green tips and offsetting options for vendors, discounts for vendors who set up green display tables, online brochures to replace paper ones and the complete elimination of bottled water at the event. One of our Ambassadors was responsible for this transformation.

Culture change is an important impact associated with the program. Departments and offices are reporting changes in procedures and attitudes to environmental actions.

Consistent with its educational mandate, SFU’s Sustainability Ambassador Program is being carried out with an explicit mandate to take its behavioral change beyond the University through work with other community groups and institutions. For example, we have been providing advice to and consulting with the Canadian Revenue Agency (housed, with SFU’s Surrey campus, in the Central City complex), and with the City of Surrey to assist these organizations to develop similar programs.

¹SFU must be “carbon neutral” (a net zero balance between carbon emissions and offsets) by 2010 and will begin purchasing carbon offsets from the Pacific Carbon Trust at the currently stated cost of $25/tonne.