University Affairs//

UBC’s buildings are going green

UBC hopes to have “greener” buildings on campus by 2035.

At the September 13 Property Committee meeting, UBC’s Board of Governors met to discuss the Green Building Action Plan (GBAP), which lays out how the university plans to reduce its buildings’ respective carbon footprints.

The plan was created in response to a need for sustainable development in the rapidly growing campus, as the university hopes to make its new developments more environmentally conscious and better-suited to changing weather patterns.

On the Vancouver campus, which hosts both academic and residential buildings, the plan aims to improve ecological and human health through better plans for building renovations and new developments.

John Madden, director of sustainability and engineering at UBC Campus & Community Planning, said the plan is part of a greater sustainability initiative on campus.

The plan outlines eight key components, each with their own prioritized goals and the most important of which the school aims to complete within just five years. The eight components include energy, water, materials and resources, biodiversity, health and well-being, quality, climate adaptation, as well as place and experience.

Component targets include reducing water intensity use by 16 per cent in 2025, making institutional buildings net-positive in terms of “contributions to human and natural systems” by 2030 and requiring all buildings to be zero-waste by 2020.

According to Madden, the eight sets of goals came from consultation with staff, faculty, consultants and other members of the UBC community to pinpoint emerging issues in sustainability.

“We […] saw, and heard through the course of our interviews that there are emergent concerns that we needed to address around climate, adaptation and resiliency,” he said.

Building better

The GBAP aims to address these concerns through changes at the building and site scale, especially for buildings that rely on thermal energy, which Madden said are “a big generator […] of climate emissions — or greenhouse gas emissions — for the university.”

Priority areas of the GBAP are energy and climate adaptability, which align with UBC’s 20 Year Sustainability Strategy — a guide for how the university can have a more positive world impact.

“We’re going to see more stringent energy use intensity targets set for residential buildings,” said Madden, along with “commissioning to ensure that all systems are operating in accordance to their design.”

Accordingly, buildings will undergo air tightness testing to prevent heat-loss and improvements in use of utilities.

In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Madden said improving building efficiencies will reduce utilities costs.

This idea of future cost saving was also echoed at the committee meeting, when Dr. John Klironomos — UBC Okanagan faculty representative and biology professor — asked how the plan would manage the higher costs that come with certain green choices. The university will also try to seek external fundings, such as federal funding, and come up with a “decision matrix” so that not every component is costly.

In addition, the new building design will be better suited to withstand unpredictable weather events.

“As summertime temperatures and heat waves are having operational impacts, we know that we’re losing natural assets to climate change and drought,” Madden said. Selecting adaptive and weather-tolerant plants will be a priority, along with building designs that limit bird collisions.

“We want to ensure that growth isn’t at the cost of the biodiversity.”

The biodiversity goals of the plan will also look into integrating Indigenous perspectives, said Madden at the committee meeting. This came after Dr. Charles Menzies — a member of the Gitxaała Nation, UBC Vancouver faculty representative on the Board and anthropology professor — pointed out that the landscape did not exist on its own but has also been managed by the Indigenous community on the land.

Madden then added the design of these new buildings will help promote social and mental well-being on campus, as the university starts to look at factors like livability and stress when making planning decisions.

“Evidence has proven [that] there is a strong correlation between people’s mental health and connection to nature,” said Madden to The Ubyssey. “We can actually address these things in a synergistic way.”

Catching up

A major challenge in creating the plan was its size as it aims to target both new and existing academic and residential buildings on UBC’s ever-growing campus.

“UBC is like a small city in itself, the breadth of that scope is pretty enormous,” said Madden. “So that was one of the big challenges.”

Renewals of existing buildings will ensure that older buildings also meet plan standards.

“A great example of something being undertaken right now is the Biological Sciences Building renewal,” said associate VP Facilities John Metras. “We’re putting in heat recovery systems on the fume hoods to improve energy efficiencies in the building, we’re putting in low-flow fixtures in the washroom [and] more energy-efficient LED lighting.”

Goals in the plan have been slated as short-term or between 2018 and 2020, medium-term between 2021 and 2025, and long-term between 2025 and 2035. Monitoring of progress and review of the plan will take place every five years, and the team cautiously hopes to complete the plan by 2035.

“We don’t take an isolated view on the Green Buildings Action Plan,” said Madden. “It’s a plan that very much finds itself embedded within and aligned with other policies, and […] actually helps the university to think more aggressively on future challenges.”

Plan actions will be continually researched, benchmarked and evaluated throughout the implementation period to pinpoint areas for improvement.

“In some ways it’s just about good design,” Metras noted. “Creating great places for teaching, learning, research, and the life of the campus community. [The GBAP] really supports that.”