Living laboratory will advance sustainability research and innovation
The University of British Columbia has opened the most sustainable building in North America, a $37-million “living laboratory” that will help to regenerate the environment and advance research and innovation on global sustainability challenges.
The Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) is one of only a handful of buildings worldwide that will provide “net positive” benefits to the environment. It reduces UBC’s carbon emissions, powers itself and a neighboring building with renewable and waste energy, creates drinking water from rain and treats wastewater onsite.
CIRS will be an international centre for research, partnership and action on sustainability issues, including green building design and operations, environmental policy and community engagement. Researchers will study users’ interactions with the facility to improve building performance, maximize the happiness, health and productivity of its inhabitants and advance best green building practices at UBC and beyond.
“CIRS is a place for big ideas that make big impacts,” says Prof. John Robinson, Executive Director of the UBC Sustainability Initiative, who led CIRS’ creation. “It will serve as a living laboratory to test, learn, teach, apply and share the outcomes of sustainability focused inquiries.”
Built to exceed LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge standards, CIRS is one of the few commercial buildings constructed primarily of certified wood and beetle-killed wood (currently B.C.’s largest source of carbon emissions). Its wood structure locks in more than 500 tonnes of carbon, offsetting the GHG emissions that resulted from the use of other non-renewable construction materials in the building such as cement, steel and aluminum.
Major features of the four-storey, 60,000 square-foot facility include: the BC Hydro Theatre, which has advanced visualization and interaction technologies to engage audiences in sustainability and climate change scenarios, the 450-seat Modern Green Development Auditorium, indoor environmental quality and building simulation software labs, a building management system that shares building performance in real-time and a café that uses no disposable packaging and serves local and organic food.
CIRS will house more than 200 inhabitants from several academic disciplines, including applied science, psychology, geography, forestry and business, and such operational units as the UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI), which works collaboratively to integrate the university’s academic and operational efforts on sustainability. CIRS website makes building technical information and performance available to the public.
“Unsustainable buildings are 100-year mistakes that affect us all, so accelerating the adoption of green building practices is crucial,” says Robinson, a professor in UBC’s Dept. of Geography and Institute of Resources, Environment and Sustainability and co-author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that shared the Nobel Prize with Al Gore in 2007. “CIRS will serve as an agent of change, providing cities and builders a model to learn from, improve on and ultimately surpass.”
CIRS is one of four flagship projects – valued collectively at more than $150 million – of UBC’s transformation into a living laboratory for sustainability. Innovations that result from CIRS and other UBC sustainability projects will help UBC to achieve the most aggressive carbon-reduction targets at any major research university: a 33 per cent reduction in Vancouver campus institutional GHG emissions by 2015, a 67 per cent reduction by 2020 and 100 per cent by 2050.
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Take a peak inside CIRS
Regenerative features make the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability ‘net positive’ on energy, carbon and water.
By capturing waste heat from the Earth, the sun and the nearby Earth and Ocean Sciences (EOS) building, CIRS heats itself and returns 600 megawatt hours of surplus energy back to campus.
Sans Fossil Fuels
While CIRS is carbon neutral (building systems require no fossil fuels), the surplus energy CIRS returns to EOS removes an additional 150 tonnes of GHG emissions annually through reduced natural gas use.
Beetle-killed wood structure
One of the few commercial buildings with a primarily wood structure, CIRS locks in more than 500 tonnes of carbon, eliminating GHG emissions that would have resulted from non-renewable construction materials or unused beetle-killed lumber, which is currently B.C.’s largest source of carbon emissions.
Rain Water Harvesting
CIRS will satisfy the water needs of 200 inhabitants, plus hundreds of auditorium and café users by capturing rain and treating it onsite. Excess water will recharge the local aquifer.
Superior Work Environment
CIRS’ U-shape design maximizes the amount of natural daylight and fresh air for inhabitants, who control their environment (light levels, temperature) through their computers. And thanks to flexible design— there are no light switches or wiring through walls—workspaces can be completely reconfigured overnight.
CIRS has no servers and desktop computers guzzling energy. Instead, everything is stored “in the cloud”—drives, desktops and servers are part of a green information technology pilot project with UBC IT.
Researchers, including members of the Dept. of Psychology, will use CIRS to study how best to encourage people to adopt sustainability in their lives.
At CIRS’ Loop Café, you stir your coffee with dry linguine, which composts faster than stir sticks. It has no disposable packaging onsite, and serves local, organic choices.
Cost comparison: CIRS cost 25 per cent more than an equivalent LEED Gold building, which is standard at UBC. The university is projected to recoup the extra cost in 25 years or less through reduced operation, maintenance and energy costs –and reap significant cost savings over the building’s project 100-year lifespan.
CIRS’ “net positive” environmental impacts:
- Energy: By capturing energy from the sun, the ground and the nearby Earth and Ocean Sciences (EOS) building, CIRS heats itself and returns 600 megawatt hours of surplus energy back to campus.
- Operational carbon: CIRS’ operations require no fossil fuel and the surplus energy CIRS returns to EOS removes an additional 150 tonnes of GHG emissions annually through reduced natural gas use.
- Structural carbon: CIRS’ wood structure locks in more than 500 tonnes of carbon, offsetting GHG emissions from non-renewable materials used in the building’s construction, including cement, steel and aluminum.
- Water: CIRS will satisfy the water needs of 200 inhabitants, plus hundreds of auditorium and café users, by capturing rain and treating it onsite. Water that can’t be used for drinking will recharge the local aquifer.