Change Agent:
20 Years of Sustainability at UBC

Greener supply, healthier demand

When you’re as big an institution as UBC, the smallest actions can wield enormous influence. That is why we take care to select suppliers who value sustainability as much as we do. This ensures not only that the goods and services available on our campus meet our rigorous standards, but also provides ongoing incentives for suppliers to develop green and ethical products and services. Today, all our major tenders include sustainability questionnaires as part of our ongoing effort to balance value, social equity and environmental principles in all our purchasing decisions. Read on to find out how, as Canada’s first Fair Trade university, we are encouraging sustainability through constructive engagement with our suppliers, students, faculty and staff.

Pay it forward

As Canada’s first Fair Trade university, a designation received in 2011, UBC is deeply committed to purchasing sustainable consumer goods. That intention is reflected in our Sustainable Purchasing Guide, a resource developed to assist all university departments in contributing to our goal of becoming a zero-waste institution. This searchable guide offers tips on choosing sustainable suppliers and highlights which certification labels to look for. It also provides recommendations on how to evaluate purchasing decisions using a triple-bottom-line approach that balances value, social equity and environmental protection. Our Supplier Code of Conduct (SCC) outlines UBC’s ethical performance expectations for suppliers of goods, services or equipment and incorporates environmental sustainability when awarding contracts.

UBC became Canada’s first Fair Trade university in 2011.

Musical chairs

With two campuses, 17 faculties, 14 schools and one college, our furniture and office supplies sometimes outlast their necessity but that doesn’t mean they lose their value to the institution. That’s why, in March 2011, UBC launched its reuse-it! program. An online service to enable department-to-department transfers of furniture, office supplies and electronic equipment, it proved an instant success.

Developed through a partnership between UBC Financial Operations’ Supply Management unit and the Campus and Community Planning Sustainability and Engineering group, reuse-it! has rescued more than a few office chairs from the landfill and helped various departments achieve cost savings along the way. But our on-campus recycling doesn’t stop there. UBC’s Recyclepedia resource offers an extensive A-Z how-to guide of everything that can be recycled or composted on campus.

A new leaf

As a busy research and learning institution with a workforce of more than 15,000 faculty and staff, UBC goes through its fair share of paper. Unfortunately, paper production is not only resource-intensive, requiring significant inputs of energy, water and raw materials, but also costly. Under B.C.’s Greenhouse Gas Reductions Target Act, we are required to buy carbon offsets for all the copy paper we purchase. Not all paper is created equal, however, and UBC is committed to maximizing the recycled content of the paper we use.

Our paper-management strategy is yielding results. Our preferred paper supplier now offers us 100-per-cent post-consumer recycled content at a lower cost than virgin paper, and all departments are encouraged to use it for their copying needs. We have also turned the page on our paper consumption: between 1999 and 2016, we reduced the volume of the paper we used by 66 per cent.

Between 1999 and 2016, UBC reduced the volume of paper used by 66 per cent.


Paper Paper Paper Paper Paper Paper Paper Paper Paper Paper Paper Paper


Paper Paper Paper Paper Paper Paper Paper Paper

Cleaning house

Much of UBC’s work in sustainability happens behind the scenes — and nowhere is this more evident than in our Green Housekeeping Program, established in 2012. Coordinated by UBC Building Operations, this program ensures that UBC’s Custodial Services works to minimize its ecological impact throughout its day-to-day operations. From the EcoLogo certified products used to clean and sanitize classrooms and offices, to the Green Seal hand soap in our washrooms, UBC is ensuring that all working and learning spaces are clean and toxin-free.

All academic buildings use only 100-per-cent recycled paper towels and toilet paper, as well as degradable garbage bags manufactured in Canada. Even our hand dryers have been thoroughly vetted: a 2012 SEEDS project studied the environmental, health and economic consequences of alternative hand dryers on campus and as a result, the formidably high-tech (and low-maintenance) Dyson Airblades were found to be superior to standard paper-towel dispensers. The Dyson Airblades are now recommended for use and installed in most new UBC buildings.

UBC Building Operations uses EcoLogo certified products to clean classrooms and offices. Photo credit: Martin Dee

UBC Building Operations uses EcoLogo certified products to clean classrooms and offices.
Photo credit: Martin Dee

You can make more sustainable purchases at UBC and beyond.

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