Sustainability report shows drop in water use, development of future classroom projects

UBC Sustainability has released its annual sustainability report for the 2013-2014 year.

The 48-page report highlights various activities, operations and achievements regarding environmental sustainability at UBC, as well as outlines for future plans to increase sustainability on campus.

For example, UBC has seen a 55 per cent drop in water use per full-time student since 2000, while absolute greenhouse gas emissions have also decreased by 14 per cent since 2007.

By 2020, UBC Sustainability hopes to drop these emissions by 67 per cent.

Aside from achievements, one of the main breakthroughs detailed in the report included future plans to integrate sustainability-related education into various courses at UBC.

The new initiative will aim to give all students access to learning about sustainability, and to create programs where students can specialize in sustainability-related fields.

At the first-year level, the aim is to add sustainability content into every one of the major first year courses across all programs and faculties. Once this is fully implemented, around five or six-thousand first-year students will have had access to sustainability education in their courses.

Even more important is the development of the Sustainability Learning Pathway, a collection of sustainability-oriented courses that students can take alongside their chosen major, or as a separate minor. The program consists of courses, real-world experience such as a co-op or participation in the SEEDS (Social Ecological Economic Development Studies) project, and a leadership or capstone course.

With this new initiative, UBC Sustainability hopes to reach students across as many programs as possible.

“I want to get to the point where every single student at UBC is offered a sustainability pathway,” said John Robinson, the associate provost of Sustainability at UBC. “They can add sustainability to their program no matter what program they’re in, whether it’s civil engineering or medieval history. It doesn’t matter.”

Alongside the program, Robinson believes that sustainability is important to UBC students overall.

“I would say UBC students are probably more sensitized to sustainability than students in many other universities around the world," said Robinson. “It’s more part of a culture here in B.C.”

Meanwhile, UBC also took steps to convert the district energy system from steam to hot water -- a significantly more efficient, environmentally-friendly source of energy.

The sustainability report also highlights many of the operational achievements of the past year at UBC. In particular, the Campus as a Living Lab initiative focuses on using the university campus to test out operational innovations related to sustainability. It combines campus operations with sustainability-related projects in order to carry out research.

As one of these projects, the SEEDS Sustainability Program works with students and faculty interested in sustainability projects such as the Zero Waste Action Plan and the Climate Action Plan.

By using the campus as a miniature test-bed for sustainable societal innovations, UBC Sustainability hopes to test out elaborate projects on campus, thus gaining them sustainability experience that they can then export into the world.

“We can turn our whole campus into a sort of sandbox” said Robinson. “We think that’s the future, we think universities around the world should be doing this, and we think we’re starting to pioneer that. That’s where we want to go, where the whole campus is becoming this test-bed for society.”

He’s also praised the new SUB for being one of the most sustainable building of campus. Still, Robinson believes that UBC still has a long way to go for better sustainability.

“We’re not there yet” said Robinson. “It’s not like we’re there in 8/10 areas and we just have to build in the other two. We just have to get better at everything.”

In order to reach their sustainability goals, Robinson points towards the university's new strategy, which consists of six initiatives to be developed on campus over the next 20 years: new sustainability research pathways for undergraduates, internships and student-engagement programs, operational sustainability goals to reduce waste and emissions networking goals, the development of partnerships with the city government and new research projects on the university campus.