University of BC doesn’t just want to be carbon neutral. It wants to improve the environment

Perhaps its because the city is nestled between expansive, snow-capped mountains and a vast ocean, but Vancouver has always been ambitiously green. While not a large city, it strives to lead the world with its eco-friendly initiatives. 

When a city is this passionate, it stirs emotion. The University of British Columbia, for one, has caught the bug. Embraced by beautiful natural settings on the western tip of Vancouver, UBC is using technology to push boundaries—it doesn’t just want to be carbon neutral, it wants to improve the environment.

“It’s one thing to make a building that has a lower or zero carbon footprint,” project director John Robinson told the Vancouver Sun recently. “We want to make a building that actually improves the environment.”

The chief aim of the project is to generate electricity, purify rainwater, and regulate energy, thereby reducing the university’s environmental impact. Quoth the Vancouver Sun:

As new buildings come online and older buildings receive energy-saving retrofits, the entire campus will evolve into a city-sized sustainability lab. “The idea of treating the entire campus as an integrated system in which every operational decision is considered from the point of view of sustainability and to tie all of it to research and teaching is transformative,” Robinson said.

The university is uniquely positioned to develop and test system-wide energy solutions of a kind that would be nearly impossible to achieve in a city in which every property is individually owned, he added. Plus, universities can invest for the long term and be forgiving about the payoff for those investments, Robinson said. “We will be able to prove out these technologies, make mistakes — and there will be things that don’t work — and then deliver it to the world,” he said.

John encompassed a widespread trend succinctly: “The old agenda was being ’less bad,’ not being as harmful as older buildings. The new agenda is giving back, being net positive.”

That’s truly sustainable. And that’s what today’s technology makes more possible than ever. A new research facility, for example, which is set to cost only eight percent more than a “conventional” building, will employ a vast spectrum of leading technologies: a “living” green wall to regulate the building’s temperature through all seasons, and self-contained sewage treatment and water purification.

The CIRS building, which is only projected to cost eight per cent more than a conventional building, will employ a host of technologies new and old to meet its goals, from a living green wall that will regulate the building’s summer cooling and winter heating requirements to self-contained sewage treatment and water purification. All the building’s water needs will be met with rainwater.

All very impressive—but what’s most exciting is when that sort of building becomes what we call “conventional.”