What can I do with a campus sustainability grant?

Sustainability inspiration from a student-led solar greenhouse project.


The phrases “climate emergency” and “climate crisis” have been streaming through the news and social media over the past few years, giving me an uneasy feeling about my inaction. Looking for inspiration, I investigated student-led sustainability projects at the University of Alberta.

I came across the Campus Sustainability Grants offered through the Energy Management and Sustainability Operations (EMSO). These grants range from micro grants of less than $2000 to major grants up to $50,000. (Micro grants are offered on an ongoing basis, and the upcoming deadline for major grants is May 15, 2022. Apply now to act against climate change!)

The EMSO connected me to the Solar Greenhouse project team, who were the recipients of this grant program. The Solar Greenhouse Project transformed the U of A Campus Community Garden to test aquaculture feasibility in a cold northern climate. I had the pleasure of connecting with Larry Zhong–the Founder of the Renewable Energy Design (RED) Club–to learn more about the project and his inspiration. 

Can you tell us a bit more about the project and your background? What motivated you to start the solar greenhouse project?

I am a recent graduate from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering co-op program. I became very passionate about renewable energy at a young age and started a club called Renewable Energy Design (RED) in 2017. The Solar Greenhouse Project is RED’s biggest 2019-2021 project located at the northern edge of the Campus Community Gardens to make improvements in the fields of research with the goal of demonstrating sustainability in cold climate zones. 

What inspired or motivated you to pursue a sustainability project? 

The City of Edmonton declared a climate emergency and I wanted to take initiative by starting the Solar Greenhouse Project to educate and develop the field of renewable energy and permaculture. I hope this greenhouse project will educate my peers on renewable energy and permaculture and their ongoing research while uniting two completely different studies: engineering and agriculture. Our goal is to come together and share perspectives to make sustainable permaculture possible. 

How did you learn about the sustainability grants that the U of A has for students? 

Newsletters and events such as Sustainability Awareness Week.

I think a lot of students may be interested in sustainability but do not know where to start. What advice would you give to students?

Sustainability is a very broad field so it’s important to find what you are passionate about within this field. Whether you are interested in conservation biology, renewable energy or permaculture, there are a lot of ways to contribute. There are also opportunities on campus to join faculty clubs and meet new people and discuss their experiences.

As a student, I always struggle to find the time between my classes and work to pursue interests and hobbies. How did you balance your workload and this sustainability project? 

Some semesters can be very demanding so finding a balanced semester can be one way to incorporate extracurriculars. When managing a project, each member contributes to a specific role within the project so no single person gets overloaded.

How did you continue this project in a virtual environment?

Projects which require a lot of communication become challenging in a virtual environment. It helps to have the first meeting in-person so everyone can get to know each other and set an end-goal for your team.

What has been the most challenging part of the solar greenhouse project?

The most challenging part is the multidisciplinary nature of this project. This involves coordinating communication between different fields of study, construction and administration. When things get technical, it’s better to have a call rather than communicate through email. Things don’t always go as planned so it’s important to stay flexible with any approach. 

What has been the most rewarding part of the solar greenhouse project?

It was a pleasure to get to know everyone involved in this project and seeing this project through from beginning to end. It is also exciting to see the first kale-growing workshop and future opportunities where the Solar Greenhouse project will provide education to junior high, high school and university classes, research and inspiration for other projects.

What is the current status of the solar greenhouse project?

I am currently an advisor for the solar greenhouse project. The greenhouse’s heat pump research is on-going and future workshops will be hosted by RED's Operations team.

What is next for you within the sustainability space? 

I recently started an organization called Youth Climate Conversations whose mission is to find common ground amongst youth to effectively implement climate solutions. 

This group would be of interest if you:

  • Are passionate about climate change and want to connect with others 
  • Would like to learn about food forests, renewables, and other climate solutions such as Project Drawdown and Regeneration 
  • Are worried about the future and would like to be involved in taking action

Students are more than welcome to join Youth Climate Conversations! To sign-up or for more details, please fill out this Google Form.

The 2022 deadline for major sustainability grants is May 13, 2022. For more details visit the Campus Sustainability Grants Website


About Rebecca

Rebecca is in her second and final year of the Bachelor of Education After-Degree program. She aspires to teach secondary science, but loves teaching all subjects. She holds a Chemical Engineering Degree from the University of Toronto and still has nightmares about advanced thermodynamics. Rebecca also loves hiking, camping and anything outdoors. She spends most weekends getting outdoors with her fluffy dog friend Ginny.