U of G Vehicles Going Green...embarrassingly late.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Written by Scott Gilbert

The university announced today that “Every University of Guelph-owned vehicle will eventually be environmentally friendly.”

What an incredibly vague commitment. I think I know what they're getting at, but I thought we had this goal like 20+ years ago. It can be hard to criticize a good thing, and sometimes a little good deed late in the game is still better than nothing, but come on – climate concerns and resource scarcity issues were well-known and debated daily in academic centres decades ago. This announcement should have come when my mom was in school during the 1970s.

In the press release issued today, the university declared that the new initiative “requires that all newly purchased vehicles meet top standards for fuel efficiency.” Well they certainly ought to, but even the auto industry is almost past the “fuel efficiency” paradigm and moving full steam ahead towards completely electric vehicles.

The university is not even making the move immediate. It is waiting for the older vehicles to “come up for replacement”. With the generally accepted standard of 10 years of decent life on a vehicle, this much-touted “green” move is not even going to be fully implemented until we have passed what many experts agree would be the global peak in oil production, and about a decade closer to climate catastrophe.

One of the moves championed by the university is that they have “already started the process by buying a Smart Car for Parking Services to use when checking parking meters on campus”. Seriously?

First, a Smart Car isn't even at the top of the fuel efficiency list, like the press release promised such purchases would be. But what about a low-speed electric vehicle, a golf cart, or a moped that gets 100 miles to the gallon?

This is not even to delve into the actual need for a car to do such work. It appears walking or riding a bicycle isn't even on the radar.

Smart Cars for parking tickets is not a genuine attempt to reduce emissions. It is a photo-op that hangs around for everyone to see. An efficient car-pooling program modeled by our best brains may be more effective, but yields no flashy image.

The press release also says that “as part of the initiative, the department will report annually on the fuel savings and the corresponding reduction in emissions.” OK, but...The emissions generated by this university as a whole since the Kyoto Accord was signed have not been on par with our relative commitment to the agreement (regarding percentage reductions compared to 1990 levels). A minor reduction in emissions as a result of this program will result in yet another green washed press release a year or two down the road. But I assure you that when the announcement of emission reductions comes, the context will not be there so that everything makes for good press, but completely omits the fact that they are way, way behind their relative contribution to our country's green house gas emissions for even Kyoto. And even Kyoto targets are so modest few feel it would have any impact even if fully realized.

But I think this opinionated rant develops from my frustration around the lack of collective action on crises that will impact our future. The university did not make a bad choice by doing this today, but it saddens me that at an academic institution that is so well regarded, they wouldn't notice that their press release essentially acknowledges that there has NOT been a policy to reduce the emissions of university-owned vehicles until now. This is the travesty. The elephant in the living room. I think it's embarrassing. What do you think?

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  1. Posted by: zzzroom_zzzroom on Oct 30, 2008 @ 12:26am



    ...these are the types of cars the university should use to dick around the campus in.

  2. Posted by: Editor on Oct 30, 2008 @ 3:08am


  3. Posted by: Anonymous on Dec 1, 2008 @ 12:59am

    I really don't care what the Parking Nazi's and/or the other University employees drive around in. If it's cheaper for them to go green, sure, why not, but if it's going to cost the University more money - no way. We pay enough as it is without having to subsidise the Uni's bid to go green.

  4. Posted by: other priorities on Dec 12, 2008 @ 1:31am

    whats embarrassing is this article. the university has had much bigger issues to deal with, and while I do not negate that environmentally friendly vehicles are helpful, anon up there nailed it; we pay enough as it is, and guess who would foot the bill if it costs money? yeah, us. I'm all for stewarship and responsibility but some of us can barely afford to eat in a semester.

  5. Posted by: Dan on Dec 21, 2008 @ 1:55am

    I agree with the first post.
    Zenn cars are the type the university should be using. ZERO EMISSIONS. and charges from a standard electrical outlet, so no paying for petrol.

  6. Posted by: Nicole on Jan 14, 2009 @ 5:27pm

    I agree other priorities and anonymous, I am pretty sure the university is facing huge budget shortfalls due to current economic conditions. While environmental concerns are important, replacing all the University's vehicles with brand new cars (new smartfortwo costs $14,990) just to be environmentally responsible is hardly fiscally responsible.

    Additionally some of the things the university does with their vehicles will always require a somewhat less enivornmentally friendly vehicle (ie trucks and tractors) and these are certainly not cheap to replace either.

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