Change Agent

20 Years of Sustainability at UBC

At UBC, sustainability is more than a subject of inquiry; it’s a way of life. As the first university in Canada to develop a sustainable development policy and open a sustainability office, we have woven sustainability into every aspect of our institution, from our infrastructure and operations to our research and education.

With more than 400 institutional and residential buildings, 60,000 students and 15,000 faculty and staff, every sustainable choice we make, no matter how small, can result in substantive positive change. As a community, we seek to improve our understanding and application of sustainability year after year — we have more than 400 faculty members working on sustainability-related research, 50 sustainability-related academic programs (and growing) and 600 sustainability-oriented courses for students to choose from. This collective focus empowers our ability to affect real change on a local and global scale.

Our 20-year Sustainability Strategy is our roadmap to integrating sustainability across the university to improve human and environmental wellbeing. To meet these goals, we have transformed the way we engage in academic inquiry, reframing our campus as a test bed of innovation. It’s a concept we call the “Living Laboratory”, where students, faculty, staff and partners can engage in hands-on exploration and learning. This approach to higher learning has enabled us to develop innovative technologies and policies in partnership with industry and organizations. It has also revolutionized our own day-to-day operations and inspired advances in sustainability to meet the world’s most pressing challenges.

As UBC enters its second century, our work as a sustainability leader and agent of change is only just beginning. Join us in exploring how we got here and where we are headed, as we work toward becoming one the most sustainable universities in the world.

Explore 20 years of change



We’re exploring the future of mobility and tackling cleaner modes of transportation for the 140,000 trips made to and from the UBC campus each day.


Green Building Innovation

From pioneering green building practices to conducting innovative built environment research, we are redefining the future of high-performance buildings and sustainable communities.


Recycling & Waste

What does a zero-waste community look like? We’re working hard to find out how we can create a waste-free campus, region and world.



Explore how we’re tackling global water sustainability through groundbreaking research, starting with our own campuses as living laboratories.



As Canada’s first Fair Trade university, we work hard to balance best value, social equity and environmental protection.



Food systems affect nearly every aspect of our lives — at UBC, we’re using our campus as our living lab to research, grow and consume more sustainably.


Teaching, Learning & Research

Learn how we’re developing the next generation of global sustainability leaders. Discover the research, learning and teaching that is creating a better world.


Social Sustainability

Discover how our wellbeing, equity and diversity initiatives help our community become happier, healthier and more equal.


Economic Sustainability

We are researching innovative and more sustainable approaches to the exchange of goods and services — at home and abroad.


Climate & Energy

We’re addressing climate and energy challenges through our Climate Action Plan initiatives.

Story Credits

Special thanks to our story partners: The UBC Sustainability Initiative and Campus and Community Planning and the many units, departments, and faculties at UBC that helped contribute invaluable information on sustainability for this story.

Story team: UBC Communications & Marketing — Cindy Connor, online producer; Cynthia Deng, web developer assistant; Margaret Doyle, digital storyteller; Paul Joseph, UBC photographer; Michael Kam, web developer; Adrian Liem, manager, digital communications; Mark Pilon, communication designer; Jamil Rhajiak, digital communications specialist; Laura Stobbe, communication designer; Matt Warburton, manager, graphic design; Aida Viziru, web interaction designer. Content writer — Jessica Werb. Copy editor — David Leidl.

Published: May 2017