UBC on track to meet 2015 sustainability goals

UBC has forecasted that it is on track to meet its 2015 greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets of 33 per cent from 2007 levels.

UBC's next target is a 67 per cent reduction in GHG by 2020. The campus community is currently being asked to submit ideas for how to reach that goal.

“These were bold targets,” said John Madden, director of Sustainability and Engineering for Campus and Community Planning. “Most municipalities had signed up for a 33 per cent reduction by 2020 so we’re advancing that goal by five years.”

The goals were originally set by UBC’s first Climate Action Plan in 2010, building towards a 100 per cent reduction in GHG emissions by 2050.

In comparison, Vancouver is among the municipalities with a 33 per cent reduction goal by 2020, while the province of B.C. has committed to an 80 per cent reduction by 2050.

Although UBC has forecasted that it will reach its 2015 emissions targets, the university will officially report its emissions to the province at the end of the fiscal year in April so confirmation of the 2015 goal won’t come until mid-2016.

Most of UBC’s reductions up until now have been met by three key projects: the Academic District Energy System converting steam based thermal power to hot water for an expected 22 per cent GHG reduction; the Bio Energy Research and Demonstration Facility that burns wood byproducts as fuel for an expected 12 per cent reduction; and the continuous building optimization project that attempts to identify and eliminate wasted energy in existing buildings for an expected seven per cent reduction.

These projects should bring UBC to 41 per cent carbon emissions reductions but with all three projects nearing completion, UBC is in a project lull until it receives and evaluates all its submissions from the campus community as part of the development of a new Climate Action Plan 2020.

“It’s quite exciting right now because it’s an opportunity to think about this if it’s your area of expertise or even if it’s not,” said Madden. “There’s nothing saying that if you’re not a climate researcher you won’t have a brilliant idea to address energy emissions.”

A significant incentive for UBC’s goals is the province’s carbon tax. UBC’s carbon emissions cost $2.5 million last year because of a tax of $30 per metric tonne of carbon emitted and a carbon offset tax of $25 per metric tonne.

But it’s not just a financial motivation: UBC has a history of leadership in sustainability and is looked to as a leader among Canadian universities in the area.

“You can be proud being a student at UBC in realizing how far ahead our targets are compared to other universities … it’s evident that we really are leaders in [sustainability],” said Chiyi Tam, the AMS sustainability coordinator.

Madden points to the fact that some prestigious North American universities have recently identified UBC as an example of some best practices in sustainability and sought out advice accordingly.

Tam, for her part, said the AMS regularly receives requests from visiting scholars about UBC’s sustainability plan and at the most recent student union summit she was flooded with questions about how to begin sustainability projects and how to engage students.

Submissions for ideas on how to meet UBC's target close September 27 and the best ones will be returned to the community for review before they go to the Board of Governors in the spring.