One morning during the summer of 2019, Dawne Flaborea received an unusual phone call. A North Atlantic right whale had died, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans wanted to bury it on the property of one of the Correctional Service of Canada’s (CSC) east coast institutions.
“First thing I think of is the drinking water,” said Dawne who is the National Manager of Water Quality and Environmental Protection at CSC. “Our drinking water is from ground water in the Atlantic region. You can’t bury a 60 ton whale just anywhere, and you can’t contaminate sites.”
In the end, the whale was buried elsewhere. The idea of protecting the environment is not usually what comes to mind when people think about CSC. They think about protecting people.
However, as Dawne pointed out, the institutions are like self-contained small towns with similar environmental issues. Correctional facilities have fuel tanks, generators, heating and cooling systems, refrigerators, a fleet of vehicles, lighting ballasts, wastewater, and food waste—all of which need to be properly managed to prevent damage to the environment.
CSC is responsible for its properties, unlike other departments whose properties are managed through Public Services and Procurement Canada. CSC's Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development Division is responsible for the organization’s environmental management, focussing on the conservation and protection of land, soil, water, air, and energy.
“We are a big department and many of our operations are subject to federal legislation and regulations,” said Dawne. “Collins Bay, for example, has wetlands onsite which are home to many species, one being a frog protected under the Species at Risk Act. We are working with Environment Canada to make sure that the onsite farming operations and new building construction don’t negatively impact their habitat.”
Dawne Falborea, National Manager of Water Quality and Environmental Protection
To help address global warming and climate change, the federal government introduced its Greening Government Strategy in 2017, which was updated in December 2020. It requires all departments to achieve a level of energy conservation and efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and considering how to make assets, services, and operations more resilient and adaptable to the changing climate.
“We’re looking at reduction of greenhouse gases, reduction of waste, reduction of plastics—all reductions,” said Paul Provost, Director, Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development. “At an institution, there is a whole host of things to consider.”
When Paul started with CSC in 1993, he was the only environmental employee and was considered part of the Engineering and Maintenance group. As public and political focus turned to environmental issues, the environment portfolio expanded to a team of 30 specialists.
Paul, who became director of the group in 2010, noted that approximately 87 percent of CSC's greenhouse gas emissions is from consumption of electricity and heating fuel in institutions.
“Unless we become more energy efficient, we’ll always struggle with significant greenhouse gases,” said Paul. “The baseline reference is 2005–06, when CSC was generating 139,000 tonnes of GHG per year. In the last annual report on GHG emissions, we had reduced that by 18 percent.”
Paul Provost, Director, Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development
In an effort to reduce electrical consumption, all traditional incandescent light bulbs are being replaced with LED bulbs. They are typically 84 percent more efficient and last significantly longer, so only need replacing once every decade. The lights are on at CSC facilities 24/7—inside the buildings, outside on the grounds, and in parking lots—so LED lighting made sense.
Paul said changing the light bulbs resulted in more than energy savings. The staff found the LEDs’ broader light spectrum helped them see the grounds better at night, improving visibility from a security perspective, including what the cameras were able to capture.
Many of CSC's older sites were built long before environmental protection regulations were introduced. Historically, many institutions disposed of their garbage on their own land. Since 2005, CSC has participated in the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan and manages these contaminated sites.
“Our environmental liability of contaminated sites was around $18 million. It’s now around $2 million,” said Paul. “We reduced it roughly by $16 million over 16 years.”
The group also continues to manage smaller contaminated sites at institutions, such as past leaks/spills from underground petroleum storage tanks and firing ranges where lead bullets are discharged every day.
Water quality is also a major concern.
“Our infrastructure is old. We are upgrading our drinking water treatment facilities, water reservoirs, and wastewater facilities to meet regulatory requirements and improve efficiency,” said Dawne. “We must provide safe drinking water to our staff, inmates, and visitors.”
CSC operates eight onsite water treatment plants and 13 wastewater treatment plants. Approximately, 1,000 drinking water samples are sent to labs every month to test for coliform bacteria, metals, and overall water quality.
The group also conducts institutional waste audits. A lot of waste results from food services, so the focus is on diverting this from the landfill by composting and recycling. Compostable dinnerware and containers are replacing Styrofoam, and condiments in individual plastic packages, such as peanut butter, are being discontinued.
Although there is still much work to do, the Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development Division is making gains in reducing waste, energy, and greenhouse gases.
We need to make sure the way we conduct any operation is sustainable,” said Paul. “And with the efforts of my team, we will continue to do our best to contribute to improving and taking CSC toward a greener environment.”