Climate & Energy

Change Agent:
20 Years of Sustainability at UBC

Taking action

As a global research institution, we’ve embraced the opportunity to become a leader in sustainability by balancing social, economic and environmental challenges. Our community of students, staff and faculty work collectively to create a model for others to follow. By threading sustainability through every aspect of our institution, from our physical infrastructure and operations to research and education, we continually find ways to minimize our carbon footprint and inspire our students, staff and faculty to work towards our collective climate and energy goals.

Hitting targets

We don’t shy away from the hard work needed to create long-term change. Our 2010 Climate Action Plan outlines bold greenhouse gas (GHG) emission-reduction targets of 33 per cent by 2015, 67 per cent by 2020 and 100 per cent by 2050, compared to 2007 levels. Our Climate Action Plan 2020 Phase 1, identifies further actions UBC can take to reduce energy consumption towards achieving these targets. Important areas of focus include the Building Tune-Up program, the emerging Green Building Plan and expansion of renewable energy supply.

The plan continues to build on years of progress in sustainability, which has been woven into our identity since 1990 when UBC joined 21 universities in signing the Talloires Declaration to make sustainability the foundation for campus operations, research and teaching. In 1997, UBC became Canada’s first university to adopt a sustainability policy and a year later, we became the first in Canada to establish a campus sustainability office. In 2006, after intensive consultation, we published Canada’s first campus-wide sustainability strategy and a year later we met our Kyoto GHG reduction targets for academic buildings — five years early and in spite of growing our building floor space by 35 per cent and enrolment by 48 per cent since 1990. In 2016, UBC further reduced its GHG emissions by 33% below 2007 levels and has set out a series of new actions to advance towards its 67% reduction target.

Since 2007, UBC Okanagan achieved a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per student, despite a 94% increase in building space and an 86% increase in student enrolment.

The big picture

In 2016, UBC Okanagan embraced a new pathway to sustainability with its Whole Systems Infrastructure Plan (WSIP). The plan envisions the campus as an integrated set of systems and proposes actions that will guide the next phase of campus development to achieve community wellbeing and ecological resilience.

An implementation framework of the UBC Okanagan Campus Plan (2015), the WSIP establishes a long-term roadmap and a five-year implementation plan to achieve a number of far-reaching objectives in technology, organization and behaviour. With this plan, UBC-O will be on track to mitigate future climate-change risks, reduce operational and maintenance costs, support technological innovation and create opportunities for research and development. By 2050, UBC-O plans to: achieve net-positive operational energy and carbon; support low-embodied carbon in new developments; ensure optimum water quality, supply and security; and divert all of its stormwater from municipal systems. In addition, the campus is striving towards full-waste recovery and restoration of the local ecology.

These are ambitious goals but UBC-O is well positioned to hit its targets — since 2007, it has already attained a 45-per-cent reduction in GHG emissions per student, despite a 94-per-cent increase in building space and an 86-per-cent increase in student enrolment.

Powering innovation

Embodying our concept of “Campus as a Living Lab”, a unique energy- and power-generating initiative at the UBC Vancouver campus is providing faculty and students with opportunities to conduct research, study, teach and apply learning at a cutting-edge facility.

The first of its kind in North America, UBC’s Bioenergy Research Demonstration Facility (BRDF) uses renewable biomass to generate hot water for heating campus buildings, providing a quarter of our campus-heating needs. This has resulted in a significant reduction in our reliance on fossil fuels, eliminating 14 per cent of our campus GHG emissions. In addition, the system can also operate as a power generator, using renewable natural gas to generate more than five per cent of the power for the UBC electrical grid, harnessing the waste heat to heat campus buildings. The BRDF continues to receive attention as a Living Laboratory project, integrating UBC’s core academic mandate of research and teaching with our district infrastructure and business operations.

UBC’s Bioenergy Research Demonstration Facility eliminates 14% of our of campus greenhouse gas emissions.

Steam cleaning

Meeting the energy needs of our growing Vancouver campus while reducing our GHG emissions is no small undertaking. Enter our Academic District Energy System (ADES): this five-year $88-million conversion project, begun in 2011, replaced UBC’s aging steam-heat infrastructure with a more efficient hot-water system. It was one of the largest conversion projects of its kind in North America and an integral component of UBC’s Climate Action Plan. The initiative reduced our thermal energy use by 24 per cent, cut our GHG emissions by more than 22 per cent and saved $5.5 million annually in operational and energy costs. The ADES also offers opportunities for UBC students, faculty and staff, researchers and industry partners to collaborate in exploring and developing green technologies in areas such as geothermal energy, biomass gasification, ocean-thermal energy, solar energy and waste-heat recovery.

Mind over matter

At the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES), researchers from a variety of disciplines are working to foster sustainability in an integrated approach that links human, technological and natural systems. Research concentrations focus on governance, decision making and risk analysis in the context of built environment and energy systems, ecosystem services and water resources. IRES researchers include anthropologists, psychologists, biologists, chemists, lawyers and engineers, and their work, which spans the globe, often involves close collaboration with governmental bodies, NGOs and international businesses.

Womam walking in farm
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Introducing the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability

Introducing the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability

UBC is tackling global challenges on climate and energy.

Other stories in the series

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