How do theoretical concepts of sustainability translate into real-world changes? One way is to use UTown@UBC, UBC’s on-campus residential community, as a “Living Lab” for testing sustainable practices.

UTown@UBC is already home to more than 18,000 students, faculty, staff and other residents, and growing fast. Throughout the planning and construction of UTown@UBC, the University has developed a number of innovative sustainable practices. Here are five examples of sustainability in action.

Green streets

“Green streets are similar to conventional streets, but instead of cars, they are designed for pedestrians or people on bicycles or other non-motorized vehicles,” explains Joe Stott, director of planning at Campus and Community Planning (C+CP).

In Wesbrook Place, South Campus’ latest development, green streets alternate with car streets to create a network that encourages walking, cycling and alternative modes of transportation, as well as increasing green space. The green streets are lined with sidewalks, while bicycle paths run along the central area. Treed boulevards on either side separate the pathways.

“Residents who live in the buildings along these green streets get to their front doors by walking through the streets, which helps animate the area,” says Stott. “They will become centres for all sorts of activities, including relaxation.”


Storm water — waste not, want not

Every year, UBC’s Vancouver campus consumes more than 4.3 billion litres of water, almost all of which is piped in from off campus. At the same time, about 5 billion litres fall on the campus as rainwater; most pours into stormwater drains and ends up in the sea or river.

“Wesbrook Place takes a very different and more sustainable approach to stormwater management,” explains Siu Tse, associate director, infrastructure and services planning at C+CP. “The green streets include a waterway and a greenway through the village, which is fed by storm water.”

Streets are designed to harness storm water as a resource instead of draining it away. The water flows on the surface through the green streets and creates a small lake, which can then be used for irrigation or for water features. This cuts down the neighbourhood’s demand for high-quality, potable water and minimizes the amount that gets discharged into the Fraser River. The lake also helps to clean the water.


REAP: a sustainable building code

Good water management is also a feature of the Residential Environmental Assessment Program or REAP, the University’s homegrown green building standard. All developers who build residences at UTown@UBC must apply REAP standards to their projects. Since Version 2.0 of REAP was launched in 2006, 926 family housing units have been developed to REAP Gold standards in eight buildings.

REAP was developed in consultation with academic and operational staff because the LEED system, the benchmark for environmental building design, was not appropriate for four-storey wood frame residential construction.

UBC aspires to be a leader in residential green building standards in North America, and is already surpassing most jurisdictions. The University is enhancing REAP standards to continue to exceed Province of BC and City of Vancouver standards. These higher standards will help UTown@UBC achieve its climate and resource conservation goals, which are to be developed in the upcoming Community Energy & Emissions Plan and the Water and Waste Action Plans.

“We’re working to improve REAP all the time,” says Kyle Reese, Community Energy Manager in the campus sustainability office. “We’re working on Version 3.0 now. It was time to raise the bar. That was our aim when we created REAP – to be a leader.”

The REAP standard aims for reductions in total building water usage, providing high-efficiency fixture requirements inside each home and high-performance irrigation for each building.


Yu: Innovative design for saving energy

In 2011, the University entered into a strategic partnership with Modern Green — one of China’s largest property developers — to advance green building research and development at UBC. The first result is Yu, a mixed-use green residential development in Wesbrook Place that will include a sustainability research and development demonstration centre where UBC can test and deploy theories incubated on campus in an effort to provide market-based solutions to global sustainability challenges.

“UBC is doing something rarely seen in Vancouver,” explains Reese. “The development has a courtyard but no internal corridors – all the walkways to get to the individual apartments are outdoor. This can lead to significant energy savings. And all the apartments are day-lit, with natural ventilation.”

Yu is also adapting its heating system for the future use of waste energy from another source — waste heat produced by TRIUMF, Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics. This concept is already at work for residents living atop the Save-On-Foods in Wesbrook Place; the store’s refrigeration units’ waste heat generates hot water for the apartments above.



Compost: From kitchen scraps to garden beds

UTown@UBC is home to Greater Vancouver’s first residential compost program for multi-family homes.

“The program is a partnership between UBC and the University Neighbourhoods Association (UNA),” explains Ralph Wells, sustainability manager at the UNA. “The first compost pilot took place in 2005, and the program has now been has now been expanded to reach more than 1,200 homes in 19 multi-family buildings. In 2010, more than 60,000 kg of home organics were diverted from the waste stream and turned into compost.”

Organic waste from the UTown@UBC family neighbourhoods and the UBC academic campus are processed in UBC’s “in-vessel” composter, a fully enclosed system that allows for controlled, accelerated composting to occur. The whole in-vessel process only takes 14 days. The highly nutritive soil created from the composting process is used for UBC landscaping, as well as at the local community gardens.

UBC will participate in the GLOBE 2012 conference on business and the environment.


To learn more about sustainability at UBC, visit