SMALL CITY, BIG IDEAS

How UBC is mod­el­ling sus­tain­able ur­ban trans­for­ma­tion

Trek Magazine - - Class Acts -

Q: What are some of the key chal­lenges to over­come in terms of ur­ban sus­tain­abil­ity and how can uni­ver­si­ties play a role in over­com­ing them?

The core chal­lenge is how we in­te­grate built form with trans­porta­tion, en­ergy and re­source sys­tems in a way that con­trib­utes pos­i­tively to our qual­ity of life. UBC is a liv­ing lab­o­ra­tory for the kinds of ur­ban sys­tems we need to cre­ate in order to de­liver on these goals.

Given its size and pop­u­la­tion, the Van­cou­ver cam­pus al­ready func­tions like a city. Many of our projects al­ready have a di­rect ap­pli­ca­tion to ur­bann sus­tain­abil­ity: we’ve built high-per­for­mance build­ings, in­clud­ing the world’s tallest con­tem­po­rary wood build­ing; de­liv­ered award-win­ning pub­lic realm projects; adopted electric ve­hi­cle fleets; sup­ported smart en­ergy grid re­search; and in­cor­po­rated a re­new­able en­ergy sys­tem, the Bioen­ergy Re­search and De­mon­stra­tion Fa­cil­ity, as part of our cam­pus en­ergy sources.

By pro­vid­ing a mi­cro­cosm of the chal­lenges faced by cities, we can sup­port an in­no­va­tion agenda that will shape the cities of the fu­ture. Over the course of our re­cent evo­lu­tion, as we solve one set of chal­lenges, new ones emerge. So our ca­pac­ity to in­no­vate is not just an eco­nomic im­per­a­tive, it’s es­sen­tial for us to thrive as a species.

We also have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure our stu­dents leave as re­spon­si­ble global cit­i­zens. To en­sure their suc­cess, we pro­vide on and off-cam­pus op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents to de­velop ap­plied skills and make a pos­i­tive im­pact in the com­mu­nity.

Q: The univer­sity com­mit­ted it­self to a pol­icy of sus­tain­abil­ity in 1997. Look­ing back, what are you par­tic­u­larly proud of in terms of UBC’s ef­forts?

Look­ing back, our over­all ef­forts are in­deed re­mark­able.

UBC now of­fers more than 50 sus­tain­abil­ity-re­lated aca­demic pro­grams and more than 600 sus­tain­abil­ity-ori­ented cour­ses, and hosts more than 400 fac­ulty work­ing on sus­tain­abil­ity-re­lated re­search. Stu­dents can also par­tic­i­pate in ini­tia­tives such as the Sus­tain­abil­ity Schol­ars Pro­gram – which pro­vides them with ap­plied ex­pe­ri­ences and helps ad­vance the sus­tain­abil­ity goals of our part­ners, in­clud­ing the City of Van­cou­ver and Metro Van­cou­ver – or the SEEDS Sus­tain­abil­ity Pro­gram, which teams them with fac­ulty and staff to tackle op­er­a­tional sus­tain­abil­ity chal­lenges amount­ing to more than a hun­dred projects each year.

Op­er­a­tionally, we’ve had many firsts for Canada. In 1997, we were the first cam­pus to de­velop a sus­tain­able devel­op­ment pol­icy, and the fol­low­ing year were the first to open a sus­tain­abil­ity of­fice and pub­lish a cam­pus-wide sus­tain­abil­ity strat­egy. We’ve re­duced our green­house gas emis­sions 33 per cent rel­a­tive to 2007 lev­els – and that’s as our stu­dent pop­u­la­tion in­creased by 20 per cent and our cam­pus foot­print by 16 per cent over the same pe­riod.

These cli­mate ac­tion achieve­ments were made pos­si­ble through our re­new­able en­ergy Bioen­ergy Re­search and De­mon­stra­tion Fa­cil­ity, the re­place­ment of the Van­cou­ver cam­pus’ ag­ing steam heat­ing in­fra­struc­ture with a more ef­fi­cient hot wa­ter heat­ing sys­tem, the open­ing of the new Cam­pus En­ergy Cen­tre, and con­tin­ued fo­cus on green build­ings and en­gage­ment and be­hav­iour-change pro­grams. Now we are mov­ing to­ward the 2020 emis­sions re­duc­tion tar­get of 67 per cent, and be­yond to reach the 2050 tar­get of zero emis­sions.

What makes me proud­est, how­ever, is the pas­sion and en­thu­si­asm of our stu­dents, who con­tinue to ex­plore and in­no­vate. Just re­cently, a PhD stu­dent (now an alum­nus) de­vel­oped an in­no­va­tive way to use the univer­sity’s ex­ist­ing Wi-Fi net­work to de­ter­mine the num­ber of build­ing oc­cu­pants and ad­just ven­ti­la­tion ac­cord­ingly – sav­ing en­ergy with­out sac­ri­fic­ing air qual­ity. His patent-pend­ing in­no­va­tion is the ba­sis of a start-up called Sen­si­ble Build­ing Science and is be­ing in­stalled at cam­puses across BC. As far as we know, it’s the first of its kind in North Amer­ica. And I ex­pect we’ll see more ex­am­ples like this in the fu­ture.

WE’VE RE­DUCED OUR GREEN­HOUSE GAS EMIS­SIONS 33 PER CENT REL­A­TIVE TO 2007 LEV­ELS – AND THAT’S AS OUR STU­DENT POP­U­LA­TION IN­CREASED BY 20 PER CENT AND OUR CAM­PUS FOOT­PRINT BY 16 PER CENT OVER THE SAME PE­RIOD.

James Tansey Photo by Martin Dee

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