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UBC’s greenest new building puts spotlight on sustainability

“Living laboratory” will serve as a test bed for innovation and research.

BY LÉO CHARBONNEAU | NOV 07 2011

There are “green” buildings that incorporate principles of sustainability and there are research institutes that test the concepts of sustainability. The recently opened Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability at the University of British Columbia aims to do both.

Not only is the building being touted by the university as one of the greenest yet, but it also will serve as a “living laboratory” to demonstrate sustainability through innovation and research, says John Robinson, executive director of the UBC Sustainability Initiative. “We’re going to treat it as a research test bed over the whole life of the building.” Even the people working in the building will be followed to measure their health, happiness and productivity.

But that’s not all. The most notable aspect of the 5,600-square-meter building, says Dr. Robinson, is that it is “regenerative,” meaning the building actually reduces the university’s energy use, carbon footprint and environmental impact. It does this, for example, by using waste heat from the building next door for its own heating needs and by using rain water and treating and recycling it afterwards. As well, because it’s a mainly wooden structure, the building sequesters more carbon than the amount emitted in its construction and in the manufacture of materials used in the building.

While the new CIRS is the jewel in the crown, the whole campus is starting to incorporate the principles of sustainability on a system-wide basis, says Dr. Robinson. The goal is to integrate the operational and the academic, “so that every operational decision at UBC is viewed through a sustainability lens and explored for teaching and research opportunities.”

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