UBC releases annual sustainability report

UBC has released its 2014-2015 Sustainability Report. This report is used as a benchmark for future initiatives on campuses across the globe, as UBC is at the forefront of sustainability research and action.

The university has made a commitment to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions through a series of goals which the director of Communication and Community Engagement of the UBC Sustainability Initiative, Victoria Smith, described as “aggressive” — 33 per cent by 2015, 67 per cent by 2020 and 100 per cent by 2050. Each year, the UBC Sustainability Initiative releases a report that summarizes gains towards these goals.

The last academic year marked significant gains in productivity of the community’s sustainable initiatives.

“We took [the report] to the board in December and I think we keyed in on a couple of very significant achievements from our previous year,” said Smith, citing the university’s reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, sustainability-related for-credit courses and the scholars’ program, which allow more hands-on learning opportunities for graduate students.

The community is on track to accomplishing their goals, thanks in part to LEED-certified construction across campus and the steam-to-hot water heating conversion process occurring in 130 of UBC’s buildings, among other initiatives. The new hot water heating systems will reduce the university’s total greenhouse gas emissions by 22 per cent, energy use by 24 per cent and operation cost by $5.5 million per year.

All of UBC’s faculties have made a commitment to integrating sustainability-related course material into their existing curriculum. The goal is to give every undergraduate student enrolled at UBC the opportunity to take a minor in sustainability, regardless of their faculty, department or academic discipline. As of the 2014-2015 academic year, there are 636 courses, up from 500 the year before available to every student.

“Many other universities will have a dedicated sustainability college or a degree program,” said Smith. “But we think that everyone should be contemplating and thinking about sustainability, regardless if they are taking mechanical engineering or medieval history.”

The graduate student internship program is an opportunity for graduate students from any faculty to work on issues related to the sustainable city action plan, which the city of Vancouver has created. The program encourages dialogue on sustainability issues in the city through new emerging applied research opportunities for students.

“We have expanded our thinking and our available internship opportunities for grad students. We have grown the number of student opportunities with the city … and diversified the opportunities to work with folks like BC Hydro, Fortis and the Musqueam Nation,” said Smith.

This program allows the UBC community to contribute to research and action on sustainability issues that are larger than the Point Grey campus, but those which affect the entire Vancouver region.

“The dominant narrative surrounding sustainability over the past few decades has been … that we have a limited planet with limited resources and the more we use, the more it becomes inherently unsustainable.” said Smith. UBC is attempting to make this narrative more accessible through the three pillars of the new sustainability report — teaching learning research, operations infrastructure and community — all of which encompass social, economics and environmental sustainability.

The narrative at UBC is being changed from focusing on exclusively nature-based preservation towards a more holistic, humanist narrative — even if students are not aware of it. The UBC Sustainability Initiative is “getting beyond natural resources and damage limitation,” said Smith. “As a global leader of sustainability … we get to push the thinking on this a bit and it’s exciting.”