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UBC Reports | Vol. 51 | No. 4 | Apr. 7, 2005

New Centre will be a Hub for Vancouver Sustainability Initiatives

By Brian Lin

UBC’s first building at the new Great Northern Way Campus (GNWC) is not only good for the environment, it also makes excellent financial sense and offers opportunities for community service learning and increased export potential.

The Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS), to begin construction in spring 2006, is designed to serve as a living laboratory where sustainability researchers, businesses and policy makers will practice -- and reap the benefits of -- what they preach.

Designed with 3D virtual technology, which has already eliminated the need for an enormous amount of paper, CIRS will be built with sustainable materials and incorporate some of the most innovative sustainability technology. Features such as eventual net annual power generation -- where a building generates more power than it uses -- 100 per cent day-lighting, and oxygenated environments make it environmentally friendly, economical and a healthy place to work.

Meanwhile, the building’s price tag, at $23.5 million, is comparable to conventional campus buildings of the same scale. Funding comes from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, private sources, and is expected from the BC Knowledge Development Fund.

“Sustainable infrastructure doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg,” says John Robinson, a professor in UBC’s Sustainable Development Research Institute and CIRS project leader. “Nor does it mean sacrificing the level of comfort we have become accustomed to.”

“While certain sustainable features may cost more to construct -- solar hot water tubes and natural ventilation systems, for example -- other equally costly equipment, such as central air-conditioning and heating systems are not required. As a result, tenants are spared significant long-term energy costs,” says Robinson.

As a showcase of its own innovative features, such as remote-source lighting that uses prism light guide technology invented by UBC physicist and VP Academic Lorne Whitehead, CIRS could also help catapult B.C. to be the leader of sustainable building technology.

CIRS is no ivory tower, either. Partnerships are being struck with private, public and non-governmental organization sectors, including the City of Vancouver, the David Suzuki Foundation, BC Hydro and Vancity Credit Union, to ensure ongoing knowledge and technology transfer. Some potential partners have requested to house their sustainability departments or retail outlets in the building.

“B.C. already has a number of advantages in sustainability development,” says Robinson. “By working closely with our partners, we can help government develop better policies and businesses make better decisions.”

The Centre is providing valuable learning opportunities before the first shovel even goes into the ground. The Learning City Project, which brings together researchers from UBC, SFU, BCIT and Emily Carr Institute (the four GNWC institutional partners) to address sustainability issues, is creating academic programming that turns the GNWC into an open classroom.

The Project’s first offering, a six-week intensive undergraduate course titled Action and Awareness: Focus on Urban Sustainability, starts in June 2005 and involves instructors from all four institutions and follows the construction of the Central Valley Greenway, a 26-kilometre stretch of urban trail that runs from Science World, through GNWC and Burnaby, and ends in New Westminster Quay. The course will be open to students from all GNWC institutions.

Between now and when the Greenway is completed in 2007, students in each year will develop proposals to address issues identified at various stages by community stakeholders, including the three municipalities, community organizations and residents.

“It’s the first time anyone has taken the idea of community service learning to the level where undergraduates could impact policy development,” says Institute of Health Promotion Research Asst. Prof. Rob VanWynsberghe, who co-designed the course with UBC graduate Janet Moore around the principle of university-community engagement. “We plan that students will get to see their proposals implemented or adopted as part of the Greenway.

“The trans-disciplinary nature of the course, incorporating design, architecture, geography and sustainability, allows us to provide creative solutions to a truly complex urban development project,” he adds.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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