Gaving Pattman, a Work Learn student in Arts, and the Green Building Tour Coordinator, shares his perspective on Green Buildings, and how he thinks we can all contribute to a more sustainable future. 

Q. What is a Green Building?

A green building is a building that is designed to have minimal negative impact on the environment. This can be done by achieving goals such as reducing construction waste, energy usage, and water consumption.

Sometimes these buildings are designed to actually benefit the environment, instead of just reducing their negative impact. For example, large buildings with a wooden structure may be able to store more carbon dioxide within their structure than was emitted when constructing them.

Q. How are green buildings contributing to efforts to address climate change?

Green buildings contribute in a multitude of ways. The most direct way they address climate change is through reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gasses are emitted both during the construction process and during the building’s occupancy. During construction, being thoughtful about what materials are used can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many green buildings at UBC use local, recycled, or renewable resources, such as wood, in their construction to reduce their impact on the environment. Sorting construction waste during the building process is also an increasingly popular practise. A great example of this include the Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Facility (BRDF), which utilizes a wooden structure consisting largely of mass-timber products that are produced in British Columbia. This means that the main resources used are both renewable and relatively local.

Even more important is addressing emissions while the building is occupied. A large consideration is energy consumption. Heat is a major energy consumer. Both CIRS and Allard Hall use geothermal heating to reduce their need for other heat sources. This is bolstered by the use highly efficient windows to minimize the amount of heat escaping through their glass. Electricity usage can also be reduced through the use of efficient or natural lighting. It can also be reduced through more efficient ventilation systems, as the systems typically used to move air around buildings consume electricity steadily throughout each day. This is why we often see open atriums in buildings such as CIRS and the Earth Science Building, as they allow for both natural lighting and natural air displacement.

This only addresses some of the many diverse examples, both direct and indirect, of how green buildings can address climate change. There is something interesting to check out in each of the buildings we offer tours for, so I definitely recommend booking a tour of whichever catches your interest.

Q. What inspires you about Green Buildings?

Green buildings inspire me because they can change the way we think and behave. They are a method that we can use to set new, more sustainable norms around the way we design and build structures. What is cutting-edge in sustainability today will hopefully become commonplace tomorrow. At UBC, the campus is viewed as a living laboratory, which means each green building is a chance to explore sustainability practises and technologies. And because buildings are so visible, they are a great tool for teaching and encouraging sustainable behaviors. For example, it has been observed at UBC that a significantly higher percentage of building occupants will sort their garbage properly if the building is clearly a green building. These buildings inspire me because of their potential to encourage positive change.

Q. What’s one things that individuals can do to advance sustainability?

As individuals, sorting garbage is a fantastic practise. One of my favorite features to point out in CIRS are the floors; they are made from recycled car tires and plastic, which creates a very practical and sustainable flooring material.

Q. How are green buildings contributing to efforts to address climate change?

They are contributing in a number of different ways. For example, sustainable design can reduce emissions both during construction and during the buildings usage. During construction, reducing use of greenhouse gas-intensive materials can be a major focus when addressing climate change. Materials such as concrete and steel produce a lot of greenhouse gases when created for the purpose of construction. Using recycled or renewable materials reduce production emissions, and using local materials can lower emissions from transportation.

During the buildings usage, conserving heat and electricity is one way buildings reduce emissions. A creative example includes the vines being grown on the front of CIRS to regulate the sunlight entering the building in the summer, therefore reducing cooling needs.

Gavin Pattman, an Arts student working towards Environmental Design, is the Green Building Tour Coordinator for UBC Sustainability and Engineering.