Teaching, Learning & Research


Change Agent:
20 Years of Sustainability at UBC

A living lab

At UBC, we are developing the next generation of global sustainability leaders, which is why we strive to weave sustainability into our curriculum wherever possible. We feel strongly that each student, regardless of their degree program, should have access to sustainability education, including applied experiences. With more than 647 sustainability related courses, 400 researchers engaged in sustainability and 80-plus research organizations on campus, there are almost limitless opportunities at UBC to contribute, learn and collaborate on some of the most challenging sustainability issues facing the planet.

It’s an approach outlined in our Sustainability Academic Strategy, developed in 2009 after widespread consultations with students, faculty and staff. The strategy is where we honed the concept of Campus as a Living Laboratory — a kind of giant sandbox in which to explore, test and invent, sparking new ideas and technologies that affect positive change in sustainability. Read on to learn more about what we are doing to embed sustainability into the student and research experience.

Clean Energy Research Centre

Innovation is the key to a cleaner future. At UBC’s Clean Energy Research Centre, leading researchers are collaborating with industry and government to address the challenges of our future energy needs. These researchers come from an array of university departments — including the Faculty of Applied Science, Sauder School of Business and the School of Community and Regional Planning — and their projects are paving the way for a greener, more energy-efficient future. An embodiment of our living-lab philosophy, the centre facilitates multidisciplinary research to achieve innovative sustainable energy solutions and create further opportunities to work with local, regional and global industry partners.

Sustainability fellowships

What do a sociologist, marketing expert and chemical engineer have in common? At UBC, they have all been engaged as Sustainability Fellows, developing sustainability curriculum within their respective departments or faculties. Established in 2010, the yearly fellowship recipients meet once a month throughout the academic year to discuss their projects and work on shared curriculum goals. Some of the developments led by these fellows include the development of the UBC framework for sustainability education and sustainability learning pathways; white papers on advancing sustainability curriculum at UBC; and projects to advance sustainability research in a wide variety of fields.

Seeds of change

It’s been 16 years since UBC launched its SEEDS Sustainability Program in 2000, an academic program that links campus operations and academics in collaborations that address real-life sustainability issues on campus. It has come a long way since its first success, which connected UBC’s landscape architect with a graduate student in the School of Community and Regional Planning to design a campus trail that addressed place, history and landscape.

Today, SEEDS projects are making an impact on most areas of university operations. Together, students, staff and faculty work to address a range of issues, from green buildings and food systems to water management and wellbeing. Reports on every project are uploaded in the open access SEEDS Library as a resource for the university and the broader community. A first in western Canada, SEEDS remains the largest and most comprehensive of any such university program in North America. To date, the program has been globally recognized through several organizations, including the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, the UNEP Green Gowns Awards, and the International Sustainable Campus Network.

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Exploring Vancouver’s water data

Exploring Vancouver’s water data

Greening the city

The City of Vancouver has set itself a goal of becoming “the greenest city in the world” and UBC graduate students are helping it get there through the UBC Greenest City Scholars Program. Open to UBC graduate students from all academic disciplines, the program, which runs early May to mid-August, has sponsored more than 100 UBC graduates in paid summer internships with the City. In 2014, bolstered by the program’s success, UBC expanded the model to build the UBC Sustainable Scholars, which offers paid sustainability-internship projects with a variety of stakeholders including BC Hydro, Metro Vancouver, health authorities and other municipalities.

Studied focus

For students who want to integrate sustainability into their university experience, UBC’s Sustainability Education Resource Centre, opened in 2010, offers advising services that provide course and program exploration, one-on-one assistance and referrals to co-curricular activities. Housed in the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability, students can discover where their interest in sustainability might lead them in their academic careers. With a staggering number of courses available, students from all disciplines can find a way to integrate sustainability into their studies.

Other student opportunities to get involved in sustainability initiatives abound. These include the Annual Sustainability Fair, held in the Student Nest each January; the UBC Reads Sustainability lecture series featuring prominent sustainability authors such as Naomi Klein and Roy Henry Vikers; and the Sustainability Ambassadors Peer Program where volunteer student ambassadors deliver sustainability programming to fellow students on UBC’s Vancouver campus. UBC’s sustainability ambassadors can be easily identified by their green ambassador T-shirts as they network with student groups and promote sustainability education to students, faculty and staff alike.

UBC is internationally recognized for the diversity in our teaching, learning and research on sustainability.

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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