News / Vancouver

UBC cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 30%

University of British Columbia makes huge reduction to carbon footprint despite expansion.

A building at the University of British Columbia's Vancouver campus.

Emily Jackson/Metro File

A building at the University of British Columbia's Vancouver campus.

The University of British Columbia believes its strides towards sustainability are “unprecedented.”

James Tansey, executive director of UBC’s sustainability initiative, announced Wednesday that the university saw a 30 per cent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 2007 levels, last year.

The feat is even more impressive considering UBC’s student population grew 20 per cent and the size of the campus’ physical footprint expanded by 16 per cent in the same time.

“It’s fairly unprecedented. Not just for a university, but it also shows what municipalities can do to dramatically reduce emissions,” Tansey, taking part at the GLOBE 2016 conference in Vancouver, told Metro.

Tansey said the biggest environmental gains came have come from replacing the university’s antiquated natural gas and steam-powered heating systems.

The projects, one of which is ongoing and is expected to help reduce emission by a further 67 per cent by 2020, do come with a high up-front cost.

Switching the steam heating infrastructure over to a more efficient hot water heating system, for example, will cost $88 million.

But with government grants, Tansey says there’s still a strong business case for making the switch.

“In B.C., we have carbon pricing for all the emissions we contribute, so it’s saving us money because of what we would have been paying into the carbon tax,” he said. “In all areas, we should at least break even, if not save money.”

UBC received $6.95 million in provincial funding for its hot water heating system, and has received a further $1.25 million over the last two years under the Carbon Neutral Capital Program.

Earlier this year, the provincial government released a report that B.C. is the first provincial, state or federal government to achieve five years of carbon neutrality in North America.

Public institutions, such as UBC, are required by law to operate with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a combination of reductions and offsets.

The university’s overall emissions were approximately 42,000 tonnes in 2015, down from 61,000 in 2007.

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