UBC develops North America’s greenest building

“Sustainability is about what kind of world we want to live in,” says UBC’s John Robinson. If so, then the ambitious project he’s leading – the development of the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) – should provide some valuable inspiration. The $37-million building will be greenhouse gas-positive and a net energy producer, meaning that it will help UBC reduce the energy it uses and carbon it emits. All water will be sourced from rainwater, with wastewater treatment occurring on site. There is also more carbon sequestered in the building’s wooden structure than will be emitted during its construction and eventual dismantling.

Not only does the UBC-based centre aim to be among the greenest buildings in North America, it will also serve as a living laboratory for sustainability research, development and practice. For example, building processes will be continuously monitored, including heating, cooling, lighting, equipment use, water harvesting and treatment, building occupancy, inhabitant behaviour and more. People working in the facility will be able to follow the proceedings on their desktop computers and vote on their usefulness.

Construction began last September, and the building is set to open in the summer of 2011 on Sustainability Street on UBC’s Vancouver campus. In addition, CIRS will be in the Olympic spotlight this month, as it’s featured at the BC Canada Pavilion located on the fourth floor of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

“I think it’s going to help contribute to the world,” says Robinson, who speaks from experience. In January, he was named the new UBC Vancouver Sustainability Executive Director. He’s a professor at UBC’s Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at UBC, and was one of thousands who participated in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, the global warming guru and former U.S. Vice President.

Robinson also chaired the university’s Sustainability Academic Strategy, which delivered its final report in October 2009. One of that report’s recommendations, which is moving forward, proposed that CIRS should serve as the home to the overarching University Sustainability Initiative (USI). “This will create a single home for UBC’s sustainable activities,” Robinson says. “It’s particularly appropriate to take a highly innovative, new approach and put it in the most sustainable building in North America.”

In addition, this move means that the academic and operational sides of the sustainability equation will be represented in a single setting – a rarity at other North American universities. “It’s proven hard to do,” notes Robinson. “They’re very different worlds.” Indeed, sustainability is serious to UBC – so much so that it’s listed as one of the nine key commitments in Place and Promise, the University’s new strategic plan.

Other research partners at CIRS include Simon Fraser University, the Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design, and the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Meanwhile, commercialization opportunities will be explored with partners such as BC Hydro, Haworth and Honeywell.

CIRS will also encourage public involvement, a move that Robinson says is crucial. “Community engagement isn’t just desirable in principle…it’s actually necessary to achieve a sustainable future,” he notes. “Politicians can’t act to change things without a constituency for that change. Business can’t deliver sustainable products and services if there isn’t a market.”

For more information, please visit www.cirs.ubc.ca.

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UBC Reports | Vol. 56 | No. 2 | Feb. 8, 2010

A rendering of CIRS, due to open on Sustainability Street in 2011 - photo courtesy Busby Perkins + Will

A rendering of CIRS, due to open on Sustainability Street in 2011 - photo courtesy Busby Perkins + Will

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UBC sustainability facts

  • In 1997, UBC became Canada’s first university to adopt a sustainable development policy. One year later, it was the first Canadian university to open a campus sustainability office.
  • William Rees, a professor at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning, originated the “eco-footprint” concept and continues to develop the method with his graduate students.
  • As a result of ECOtrek, UBC reduced greenhouse gas emissions in its 277 core buildings by nearly 6% compared to 1990 levels, despite a 14% increase in floor space.
  • UBC offers more than 300 sustainability-related courses.
  • In 2003, 2005 and 2006, UBC was Canada’s first and only university to receive Green Campus Recognition from the U.S.-based National Wildlife Federation.
  • Carbon Offsetters, a company co-founded by President, CEO and UBC Associate Professor James Tansey, is the official supplier of carbon offsets for the 2010 Winter Games – a first for the Olympics.

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