Driven towards sustainability

They might not make a lot of noise driving down the road, but the new fleet of electric vans is creating some buzz on campus as the latest sustainable vehicles on the lot for Physical Plant & Capital Planning Services.

The recent delivery of three Vantage electric vans to Physical Plant & Capital Planning Services marks another milestone in the university’s attempts to improve sustainability in its operations. One of the vans will be used for Parking Services, while the other two will be used for transporting materials.

“We have two goals in our effort to become leaders in sustainability: one is to reduce our carbon footprint; the other is to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels wherever possible,” says Roy Langille, Associate Vice-President of Physical Plant & Capital Planning. “We are looking at all of our vehicles so that we can ‘right-size’ our fleet and ensure we have enough flexibility to get our staff around campus in an efficient manner.”

All that can be heard when the vans drive up is the sound of tires on road; they are otherwise virtually silent. Smaller in stature than most traditional vans, the vehicles can travel up to a maximum speed of 40km/h. They are licensed for road use, although they are intended to be used in a closed environment, such as a university campus. Two of the zero-emission vehicles will be used as cargo vans and the other will be used as be used by Parking Services.

They have a charging system integrated into the vehicle, allowing the vans to be plugged into an outlet. On a full charge, the vans run for approximately eight hours.

Western also opted for the winter package, which warms the batteries during the cold months.

“I don’t think that electric vehicles are the final answer, at least not yet, so we are working with a combination of vehicles, which include one hybrid, several fuel efficient vehicles such as the Transit Connect and Ford Escape,” says Langille. “We even have several bikes that the staff in the Power Plant have been using for the past couple of years.”

Physical Plant and Capital Services is serious about reducing its footprint and want to be seen as leaders in the community, he adds. But, success can only be achieved with the campus community working together.

“We have a very active community when it comes to environmental responsibility, and at Western, sustainability is everyone’s responsibility – that includes faculty, staff, and students,” he says.

Western is behind the time in implementing electric vehicles on the university campus, says Tim McLennan, electrical/mechanical & elevator service supervisor, noting many universities in the United States are currently using them.

“We have a lot of transportation responsibilities. We have to show some sort of leadership in these areas,” says McLennan.

With constantly changing technologies, Western is always looking for the latest innovation to improve its operations and make it more energy efficient and sustainable, he adds.

According to the distributor, Vantage low speed electric vehicles can reduce annual carbon emissions by more than nine tons and operate for one-tenth the cost of comparable gas-powered units.

Western is the first university in Ontario and the second in Canada to purchase these electric vans. Many universities have purchased electric vehicles, part of a growing trend of campuses trying to reduce their carbon footprint, notes Langille.

“Because we have a large campus, we need a lot of vehicles to move our staff to their various work sites. The vehicles are a necessary evil, and we can’t do without them,” he says. “That being said, it doesn’t necessarily mean we need large vehicles to get around, so we are looking at all types of alternatives.

“We also know the cost of fuel isn’t going to come down anytime soon, so if we can find ways to mitigate the rising costs, it helps our bottom line, and puts those valuable resources to better use,” he continues.