Susan Doig’s never-ending project

For the noted Capilano University sustainability leader, retirement is just a momentary pause

Carlo Javier // Editor-in-Chief
Illustration by Karla Monterosa

I could not bring myself to tell Susan Doig that I was getting tired from walking. We had taken nearly two whole laps around the Capilano University grounds, starting from her office in the Birch building, passed the Library and Cedar Courtyard and up to the Maple and Bosa buildings. On our way back down to Birch, we were stopped by three students looking for signatures for a new “Meatless Monday” pledge – a small program once put together by the same FoodWorks group that Doig herself helped launch. Myself, a voracious omnivore, pledged anyway.

I had initially thought that our conversation would lead us either back to Doig’s office, the cafeteria, or the pavilions outside the Arbutus Building – essentially anywhere I could sit. Instead, Doig cut through the side of the Library, passed the Centre for International Experience and Continuing Education offices and guided me to the back end of Arbutus. “This is where the residence will be built,” she said, motioning towards the woods adjacent to the Sportsplex.

Having served as the school’s director of campus planning since February, Doig holds a tremendous level of excitement about CapU’s future. She heaped praises to the cultural shift that has enveloped the school since Paul Dangerfield began his presidency and is especially proud of the way communities within CapU have truly captured the collaborative environment she has always championed.

Although she described CapU to be amidst “exciting times,” Doig will not be around to see many of the developments she helped push forward.

On Oct. 31, after 11 years of serving as the vanguard for multiple sustainability initiatives, Doig retired from CapU.

Doig is among the hardest interviews to secure at CapU. This is not because Doig is reclusive or tight-lipped. It is simply because Doig, for the most part, really does not have the luxury of time. “We like to say some people live to work and other people work to live. Susan is definitely one of those people that lives to work,” said Bill Demopoulos, CapU manager of sustainability.

This idea could not be better exemplified than by the fact that for the past three years, Doig has been living in Victoria and would drive to the ferry at an ungodly hour, several times a week, to fulfill her responsibilities at CapU.

Doig wore several hats during her 11 years at the school. She started as the purchasing manager in 2006, a position she took after the school had promised her that 25 per cent of her time commitment would be dedicated to sustainability-based initiatives. In 2008, as the energy manager, she implemented a five-year Strategic Energy Management Plan (SEMP) that led to a 22.5 per cent reduction in CapU’s energy consumption by 2013. In 2011, Doig moved on to become the manager of the Facilities department, and eventually gained the position of director, which she held from 2013 until moving to campus planning in 2017.

No matter the title or department, Doig’s work at CapU was founded on two main pillars: sustainability and the student voice. For Demopoulos, Doig’s unabashed dedication to the two not only created sweeping changes for CapU, but also for himself.

The two first met in an energy management certificate program at BCIT. Demopoulos had built himself a successful career as an independent consultant, but his fateful meeting with Doig ultimately led him to leave the consulting world. “I came to Cap to work for Susan Doig,” he said. “I would never in a million years would have considered joining a facilities department randomly, working for Susan was really the goal.”

The heir-apparent to much of Doig’s responsibilities and projects, Demopoulos is now the energy manager for the University, and is also one of CapU’s four representatives for the Carbon Neutral Government program. Though Doig’s contributions to CapU can be easily measured by the results of her projects – namely the first major lighting retro t that saw the campus move from T12 to T8 fluorescent fixtures, the annual Waste Audit, or the implementation of the Zero Waste System that has now become the standard at CapU – Demopoulos suggests that the intangible aspects of her work is something he won’t soon forget. “What I really admired in Susan was her ability to intuitively see when something was right and just made sense,” he said. “She would find dozens of opportunities and then keep them percolating along by talking to people, finding a benefit to others and identifying that benefit and just to keep those ideas percolating until the right moment came along to actually implement a change.”

Though near synonymous with CapU Sustainability, it would be remiss to brush off Doig’s work in elevating the student voice.

CapU Works, a branch of Sustainability, is one of the few organizations at the school that features involvement from three levels of community membership: staff, faculty and, of course, students. While Doig was obviously instrumental in spearheading CapU Sustainability, it was actually the words of one student, Tiare Jung, that helped plant the seeds of sustainability on campus.

Upon arrival at CapU in 2009, Jung quickly became vocal about how the cafeteria still utilized Styrofoam. “That really was a driving force in moving Susan from a member of our purchasing team to a green purchaser,” said Demopoulos.

Jung, in collaboration with Doig, went on to create EarthWorks, the first chapter of what eventually became CapU Works – an umbrella term that now also includes PowerWorks, FoodWorks and PatchWorks. “It’s a big collaboration now between students, faculty and staff, but it originated with a student,” recalled Cheryl Schreader, geography professor and EarthWorks faculty member. “Susan saw opportunity for students to be involved in other areas of sustainability on campus.”

Schreader met Doig in May 2011 at a Sustainability Education Across the Province (SEAP) workshop held at CapU. “I might have been working in a small group with her, and she had this opportunity to do a waste audit on campus, in which students can get involved,” she said. Shreader, who was going to be teaching Environmental Geography that fall, immediately got on board with Doig’s idea, subsequently starting the engines for the Waste Audit.

The two collaborated on bringing members of the campus community together for the inaugural – and ensuing – waste audits on campus. Together, they brought in members from facilities, janitorial, Encorp Pacific and Smithrite to participate. More importantly, they were also able to integrate the project into the curriculum for a host of classes. “The Waste Audit is really important logistically to collect data on waste for campus, but it’s also a really important experiential learning tool for students,” said Schreader.

Like Demopoulous, Schreader believes that Doig’s work stretched far beyond the realm of sustainability. “I think that Susan’s legacy encompasses so many things,” she said, particularly citing Doig’s work in building community, engagement and opportunities on campus. “She was a real connector person. She could envision how initiatives and people were connected.”

Though his time at CapU started towards the tail end of Doig’s career, President Paul Dangerfield recognized the contributions that Doig has made to the betterment of the institution. “I have always admired Susan’s leadership and dedication around sustainability, and she helped me understand what environmental management is all about,” he said. “Capilano University has benefited from Susan’s contributions – she drove sustainability at CapU and made it happen.”

To nobody’s surprise, Doig’s post-retirement plans are centred on furthering a life that’s been driven by the principles of sustainability.

Over the past decade, Doig and her husband Tony have been working towards launching “theDoighouse”, a radically-sustainable living space that is inspired by the Earth Ships designed and built by architect Michael Reynolds. These off-the-grid ready homes are known for their creative reuse of waste materials and other unwanted products, as well as their next-to-zero reliance on fossil fuels.

While theDoighouse is still in its planning and construction stages, Doig and her husband have outlined many of the features that their Earth Ship will have. Once open, theDoighouse will include a passive solar building design, meaning that its walls, windows and floors will collect and distribute heat during the winter and reject heat during the summer. It will include an internal greenhouse and a rocket mass heater, and its construction will include one thousand used car tires, 2,000 glass bottles and 5,000 pop and beer cans.

Located on Vancouver Island, theDoighouse promises to be the culmination of a life’s work that has been dedicated to sustainability.

Our interview came to its conclusion by the pavilions of Arbutus, where I asked Doig if she felt kind of bittersweet since she likely will not see the fruition of some of the projects she had a hand in. One of these projects is the CapU Centre for Student Success, which will open in the summer of 2018. The initiative, which Doig described as having been built on the philosophy that “students are first,” aims to better help students maximize their experience at CapU by building a foundation for both academic success and personal growth. Like the first on-campus residence to be built on the Purcell Woods, and the CapU 2030 Campus and Urban Plan, Doig likely will not see the end products to the plans she has helped create. Despite this, she reiterated that for her, retirement is just a momentary pause and not a goodbye. “Cap has a really special part of my heart,” she said.

For Schreader, Doig leaves behind a legacy that would be tremendously difficult to match. “I think that she was a champion of people and of sustainability in a way that nobody else has been on campus,” she said. “There are big shoes to fill there.”

In 2016, Doig was honoured by CapU with the Award for Excellence in Empowering Learning, highlighting her extraordinary contributions to sustainable responsibility on campus. Yet the legacy she leaves might best be remembered through the lasting projects that will continue long after her retirement. The Sustainability Department will continue to grow and programs like the Waste Audit and the Zero Waste System have become norms on campus. Since its inception, a part of Doig’s pay cheque has gone to the EarthWorks fund, ensuring that the unit remains a prominent group at CapU.

Demopoulos might have put it best: “Nothing in sustainability happens perfectly the first time. We’re not running a sprint, we’re running a marathon – we’re really trying to sustain the effort at sustainability.” The marathon will continue for years to come, and if the same passion and effort that Doig gave to CapU is somehow replicated, then the CapU experience, as Doig confidently put it, should be “second to none.”

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