University of Guelph Humber: Restoring Nature in Education


The University of Guelph Humber stands as a beacon of academic excellence, fostering a dynamic environment where education meets practical and experiential learning opportunities. With a keen focus on environmental stewardship and community development, the University of Guelph Humber emerges as a pioneer in higher education, seamlessly blending academic rigour with a dedication to sustainability. Some of the school’s sustainable initiatives include a green roof space, solar panels, Honey bee hives, and a five-storey living wall Biofilter installation which contributes to the aesthetic appeal of the campus but also serve as a practical model for sustainable building practices. These initiatives along with many other environmental features not only shape the minds of future leaders but also contribute significantly to the broader well-being of the surrounding community.

In 2022, Guelph-Humber recognized that the living wall within the campus’ central atrium had reached the end of its life cycle. The 57 ft. tall, 30 ft. wide living wall was originally installed in 2003 and contained over 100 different plant species. Over the years it had grown lush and dense however the infrastructure behind the wall was aging and needed to be replaced.

University of Guelph Humber living wall


During the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Guelph-Humber faced a significant challenge when its existing living wall, a key component of the school’s brand, experienced a gradual decline. The issues arose due to a lack of maintenance and automation during lockdowns and ultimately led to a water cycle failure that was caught late that killed off most of the plants. Recognizing the pivotal role the living wall played not only in campus aesthetics but also in promoting sustainability, the institution decided to embark in a comprehensive restoration project. This initiative aimed to rebuild and replant the living wall while also to leveraging newer, more advanced technology to align with the school’s sustainability goals and minimize the need for manual upkeep.


The failure of the existing living wall underscored the importance of proactive maintenance and highlighted the need for a more resilient and self-sustaining system. The traditional setup lacked the integration of automated processes, resulting in a breakdown of the water cycle and diminishing the wall’s overall effectiveness.

With sustainability and longevity at the forefront of the university’s objectives, a new solution was sought that would not only restore the living wall to its former glory but also enhance its functionality as a sustainable and low-maintenance feature.

  1. Rebuild and replant the living wall to restore its aesthetic benefits.
  2. Upgrade the system to align with sustainability goals.
  3. Implement automation to reduce manual maintenance requirements.


To address these challenges and achieve the outlined objectives, Guelph-Humber opted to implement an HVAC-integrated Biofilter Living Wall (Respira Pro Biofilter) designed and manufactured by New Earth Solutions. This innovative approach restored the living wall’s beauty while also contributing to the institution’s commitment to environmental responsibility.

The HVAC integration provides improved air quality within the building without increasing the energy consumption of the ventilation unit, helping to avoid increasing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions while improving the health of the building.

Sensors and New Earth’s smart technology were installed to monitor and manage the living wall’s water cycle, nutrient distribution, and overall health. This approach significantly reduced the need for manual intervention, ensuring that the living wall can flourish with minimal maintenance.



The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Ventilation Standard 62.1 is a set of guidelines for designing and operating ventilation systems in commercial and institutional buildings. The Ventilation Rate Procedure (VRP) outlined by ASHRAE Standard 62.1 provides a method to determine the minimum ventilation rates for acceptable indoor air quality. This procedure establishes the minimum outdoor air requirements based on factors such as occupancy, space type, and floor area.


The Indoor Air Quality Procedure (IAQP) offers a more customized approach to ventilation requirements, considering specific pollutants and their respective limits. This approach involves identifying the sources of indoor pollutants, determining their emission rates, and then calculating the ventilation required to maintain acceptable indoor air quality. Lowering these emissions can be done through traditional ventilation or alternative filteration methods such as the Respira Pro Biofilter.


Tailored Approach: IAQP allows for a customized calculation, accounting for specific contaminants present in a particular building. This ensures that ventilation rates are directly aligned with the actual indoor environment and needs of the space.

Holistic Consideration: VRP primarily focuses on occupancy, while IAQP considers a broader range of contaminants. This holistic approach ensures that the ventilation system addresses various pollutants, promoting a healthier indoor environment overall.

Adaptability: IAQP accommodates different building uses and occupancies, making it suitable for diverse environments. It considers variations in emission rates and acceptable concentrations, providing flexibility in ventilation design.

Long-Term Effectiveness: IAQP is often considered more forward-thinking, as it takes into account changes in building use, occupancy patterns, and emerging pollutants. This adaptability ensures that ventilation strategies remain effective over the long term.


While both VRP and IAQP are recognized methodologies, the IAQP offers a more comprehensive and adaptable approach, considering a wider array of factors for determining ventilation requirements based on indoor air quality goals.

In a 3rd party study with the National Research Council of Canada, New Earth Solutions’ Respira Pro Biofilter was tested for its removal efficiency of the contaminants of concern listed by ASHRAE. Showing an overall reduction of contaminants between 18-98% has allowed the Respira Pro Biofilter to become a filtration alternative for buildings looking to improve indoor air quality through the use of natural biofilters using the IAQP formula to calculate ventilation.

Respira Pro Biofilter VOC removal rates graph

In Guelph Humber’s case, six 3’x3′ ducts are positioned behind the Respira Pro Biofilter Living Wall and use the building’s existing HVAC system to draw air across the face of the plants and into the root zone, before dispersing that air back into the ventilation system for the rest of the building. The importance behind pushing the air into the root zone of plants is that a plant’s ability to break down toxins exists within the root zone where a build-up of microbes and beneficial bacteria break down the contaminants of concern.


In response to Guelph-Humber’s strategic objectives of system upgrades and decreased manual maintenance requirements, the implementation of automation emerged as a pivotal solution. Upon hearing this, New Earth Solutions took an approach that covered both the low hanging fruit such as swapping halogen Grow Lights for LED’s (reducing OpEx and increasing longevity) as well as more comprehensive solutions such as automated controllers collecting plant health data (reducing servicing and lowering risk of wall failure) By embracing automation technologies, Guelph-Humber aimed to achieve a comprehensive overhaul of its existing system, fostering innovation and adaptability through the following features;

Implemented A More Precise Watering & Pump Cycle

  • Reduced water consumption by an impressive 45%.

Replaced Halogen Lights With Energy-Efficient LED Grow Lights

  • Achieved an 80% reduction in energy consumption related to the grow lights.

Integration Of Monitoring Sensors

  • Installed integrated sensors for real-time monitoring of wall health.
  • Parameters monitored include water temperature, water flow in GPM (gallons per minute), and ballast temperatures in the basin.

Ballasts For Temperature Control

  • Incorporated ballasts in the basin to regulate water temperature.
  • Ensured an optimal environment for plant growth and system efficiency.

Pressure Regulation & Monitoring

  • Installed pressure regulators to maintain consistent pressure.
  • Integrated pressure sensors to ensure alignment with the specified GPM in irrigation lines.

Flow Regulators In Irrigation Lines

  • Introduced flow regulators in irrigation lines for precise water distribution.
  • Improved water efficiency and reduced waste through controlled flow.

Modernization Of Basket Lift

  • Replaced the existing bulky basket lift with a modular, electrical Bosun chair.
  • Achieved cost savings of $15,000 per year in certification costs.
  • Realized additional annual savings of $40,000 in reduced time on site during maintenance.



By restoring the living wall and bringing the beauty of nature back into the built environment, students were able to return to campus after the COVID-19 pandemic to a fresh, bright and lively feeling atrium. In interviews, student Ashna Narumathan stated “The plant wall is an integral part of our campus because it represents what the University of Guelph Humber is all about. You’re not walking into a school, you’re walking into a place you want to be, with teachers and friends.”

The improved indoor air quality facilitated by the Respira Pro Biofilter also has direct implications for the physical health of occupants such as the reduction in headaches, dizziness, respiratory illness, and “brain fog”.

Beyond the tangible environmental benefits, the living wall fosters an environment that promotes the physical and mental well-being of individuals by creating a space where students and faculty can immerse themselves in the revitalizing effects of nature. The experience of connecting with nature within an educational space contributes to reduced stress, increased productivity, and a heightened sense of comfort and satisfaction among students.


The installation of the Respira Pro Biofilter Living Wall emerged as a transformative and comprehensive solution for the Univeristy of Gueph-Humber, not only restoring the aesthetic appeal of the living wall and the health benefits of occupants’ connecting with nature but also contributing significantly to the institution’s sustainability goals.

By harnessing the natural air-purifying capabilities of the living wall’s vegetation, the Respira Pro Biofilter has mitigated the presence of pollutants, creating a healthier indoor environment in the University’s central atrium. This strategic integration effectively filters 16,620 CFM (cubic feet per minute) of indoor air, annually saving:

UGH sustainability metrics

In addition to the avoided increase in energy consumption and potential GHG or carbon penalties of the future, the University of Guelph Humber was also able to implement the automation needed to reduce ongoing maintenance costs. While the Respira Pro Biofilter will still require some maintenance, the integrated automation is set to reduce operational expenses by 60% annually. The result of these savings is realized while simultaneously increasing the overall health of the building.

Guelph Humber’s investment in sustainable technologies reflects its broader commitment to social responsibility. This holistic approach, addressing social, environmental, and operational aspects, underscores the institution’s dedication to creating spaces that prioritize the health and well-being of the community while contributing to a more sustainable and resilient future. In doing so, the University of Guelph Humber exemplifies a forward-thinking approach to campus management and sets a benchmark for universities aspiring to integrate sustainability into their core values.


This restoration project at the University of Guelph-Humber serves as a beacon for other educational institutions seeking to embark on similar sustainable initiatives. The success of this project reflects the university’s dedication to environmental consciousness and positions it as a leader in sustainable development within the academic community.

The updated and improved Biofilter Living Wall stands as a perfect example of the transformative power of sustainable practices in fostering a healthier and more vibrant learning environment. This achievement highlights the myriad opportunities available for educational institutions to proactively contribute to a greener future. The University of Guelph-Humber’s commitment to innovation, coupled with its demonstrated success in this restoration endeavour, encourages other institutions to explore and embrace sustainable technologies and practices. By doing so, they not only enhance the quality of their campuses but also play a pivotal role in shaping a more sustainable world.

University of Guelph Humber living wall plants close up