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What can McGillians do to reduce on-campus water consumption? Plenty, according to Dennis Fortune, the University's Sustainability Director – starting with turning on the tap.
"We have perfectly potable tap water all over campus, and yet we use bottled water," Fortune said, lamenting the waste that in recent years has turned water in plastic bottles from a once-coveted status symbol to an environmental pariah – and an expensive one at that.
"There are departments at McGill that say they're strapped for cash and yet they're spending money on water," he observed. Despite this, Fortune said McGill is well ahead of the curve on the water-consumption issue, installing low-flow toilets where possible and implementing a variety of other tools and measures to stem the tide.
"There are many small, individual initiatives around the University, and as we identify building products and equipment that allow us to reduce water consumption, we're trying to work those into the University's overall environmental guidelines," Fortune said.
In other words, when buildings are upgraded or new buildings constructed, Fortune would hope to see green materials such as dual-flush toilets – which use either four or six litres of water, depending on the flush – and greywater retrieval systems put in place.
He cautioned, however, that there remains a certain amount of trial and error to overcome.
"There were waterless urinals in the Otto Maass building, but we had complaints that they weren't working properly. Now we're looking at other systems. As with any technology, there's always a new generation of consumer products and every new generation is going to be a better, improved product."
Fortune has been meeting and negotiating with manufacturers of environmentally friendly building materials and has also been talking to members of the McGill community to spread the gospel of reduced water consumption.
"We already have guidelines to reduce paper use. What we want to do is set the same sort of guidelines for water consumption."