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Spotlight on: Alan Griffiths, Manager of Mohawk's Sustainability Office

Last-minute decision turned would-be farmer into Manager of Sustainability at Mohawk


Spotlight on is a special series profiling the faculty and staff at Mohawk who are making a difference at the college and in the community.

Alan Griffiths is Mohawk's Manager of Sustainability.Alan Griffiths made a “last-minute” decision to head to Mohawk College and nine years later, he’s leading the ongoing sustainable transformation of the campus.

Griffiths grew up on his fifth-generation family farm in Thorold and planned to carry on farming but decided on a whim to give college a shot. He earned a pre-technology certificate and then enrolled into the environmental science technician program.

The environmental work of his grandfather David Griffiths was his inspiration.

“He has been a true environmental advocate in the Niagara Region for many years, so it was something that appealed to me.”

After completing his diploma, Griffiths served two terms as president of the Mohawk Students’ Association before being offered a one-year contract with the college to develop its first sustainability plan.

“I was challenged to develop a plan that was tailored to a college. It had to fit how we do business and focus on student engagement.”

With the plan approved by the Board of Governors in 2011, Mohawk became the first college in Canada to create an environmental management plan with bold targets around carbon reduction.

Thanks to the collective results of many initiatives, Mohawk exceeded the original target of a 20 per cent reduction in 2007 baseline emissions by 2020. The college managed a 24 per cent reduction eight years ahead of the projected timeline.

Much of the reduction is due to the province’s elimination of coal-fired power generation, says Griffiths, but 10 per cent is directly due to changes at the college in transportation, energy consumption, waste management and paper use.

The college is now working on bringing to life its Environmental Management Plan 2.0. launched in 2014. The new target calls for a further 30 per cent cut in baseline 2007 carbon emissions by 2020.

The college’s sustainability commitment has produced plenty of honours, including five Smart Commute recognitions and being named Canada’s Greenest Employers in 2014 and 2015.

Griffiths, who was promoted to manage the Sustainability Office in 2013, says college leaders fully back the sustainability work.

“Our senior administration recognizes the success of what’s come in the past and are helping us plan for the future.”

Both versions of the EMP are built on eight pillar sectors that touch virtually all aspects of campus life. That includes building the David Braley Athletic and Recreation Centre and the Cummings Library to LEED gold certification and changing how thousands of people arrive to Mohawk each day.

Griffiths says Mohawk’s Fennell campus was in a “parking crisis” in 2009. Lots were jammed with single-occupancy vehicles and there seemed to be no end to the demand.

But after reaching a deal with the HSR for a universal transit pass, instituting a carpool and car share program, installing lockers, racks and showers for cyclists, and improving connections into adjacent neighbourhoods, Mohawk has seen its parking demand drop sharply.

In fact, though there are 40 per cent more students now than there were in 2009, there are fewer parking spaces today and the crisis has passed, says Griffiths.

A full 60 per cent of Mohawk’s daily people count arrives to campus by means other than a single-occupant vehicle. Daily HSR share alone has jumped from 18 per cent in 2009 to 34 per cent this fall.

We are helping to improve food literacy among our staff and students. To have a sustainable food system, we need to provide students with healthy, sustainable food options on campus.”
Alan Griffiths

That’s expected to only grow. A new Mohawk College Terminal planned for 2016 will be a “game changer” in how students, staff and visitors get to Mohawk, says Griffiths. The sustainability office continues to work on convincing those within a 30-minute radius of campus to take transit.

On the local food front, Mohawk students and staff have embraced community gardens, a seasonal produce stand and a campus orchard.

“We are located next to some of the most prime agricultural lands in Canada and agriculture is central to the local economy,” said Griffiths.

“We are helping to improve food literacy among our staff and students. To have a sustainable food system, we need to provide students with healthy, sustainable food options on campus.”

The community gardens have bloomed from eight plots in the first year to 50 now. The gardens include an outdoor classroom, sheds, fruit trees and rainwater harvesting from the rooftops of neighbouring buildings. Griffiths says it may be the nicest site in southern Ontario.

The orchard of 21 apple and pear trees is planted at the southern edge of the Fennell campus. It’s a nod to the history of the property because the land that became Mohawk was once a farm that grew the food for what was then the Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital across the street.

Griffiths hopes to eventually see all the trees on campus replaced with fruit-bearing varieties.

Many projects are supported by the Mohawk Sustainability Initiatives Fund (SIF), which pools $5 per student per semester to act on a student’s idea. It adds up to an impressive $140,000 per year that is governed by a steering committee made up by an equal split between students and college staff.

“It kind of feels like we are building a little city here. This city is growing, adaptively reusing buildings, building in pedestrian mobility and growing its own food.”
Alan Griffiths

“These are enhancements for the students by the students,” said Griffiths, pointing out that building students at the Skilled Trades Centre in Stoney Creek built the boxes, composters, raised beds, sheds and water harvesters for the community gardens.

Erica Eldridge, a student in Integrated Animation and Graphic Design Production, put forward the idea for a rooftop water harvester and then helped design it.

“Many students who participate are not environmental or technology students. There is just natural skill set for environmental issues in today’s students. If they see their feedback shapes what happens on campus, they will get involved more.”

Another idea from a student and funded through the SIF is the seasonal farm stand. That is a partnership with the Mustard Seed Co-op, Hamilton’s grocery co-operative, which provides products at cost. Environment Hamilton operates the stand.

In the off-season, the offerings are extended with a biweekly bounty bag filled with local fruits and vegetables.

Being part of the sustainable renewal of the Fennell campus is rewarding work for Griffiths.

“It kind of feels like we are building a little city here. This city is growing, adaptively reusing buildings, building in pedestrian mobility and growing its own food.”

Contact Alan at:


905.575.1212- ext 4168

Spotlight on is written by Freelance writer and editor Meredith MacLeod.

Follow Meredith on Twitter @meredithmacleod

About Mohawk

Mohawk College educates and serves more than 29,500 full-time, part-time, apprenticeship and international students at three main campuses in Hamilton, Ontario and learning hubs across Hamilton through City School by Mohawk, and at the College’s Centre for Aviation Technology at the Hamilton International Airport. Mohawk is among the top five colleges for applied research in Canada. It has been named one of Canada’s greenest employers seven years in a row, holds a GOLD STARS rating from AASHE for sustainability achievements and is home to the country’s largest and first institutional building to receive dual certification for Zero Carbon Building Framework design and performance for The Joyce Centre for Partnership & Innovation. More than 135,000 people have graduated from Mohawk since it was founded.