For PhD student Stefan Storey, the time is now for Canada to lead in the emerging field of sustainable-building sciences. “We have so much work to do,” Storey, who conducts research at UBC’s Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability, told the Georgia Straight. “We have provincial targets to meet—things like CO2 emissions—and we need to meet them. To do that, we need to train people who can find solutions, and it’s critical and we have to do it now. It’s not something that can be put off year after year.”
Storey’s sense of urgency has translated into a proposal that seeks funding for a new sustainable-building-sciences program at UBC that he believes “will attract students from all across North America and even beyond”. Murray Hodgson, acoustics professor in the UBC School of Environmental Health, is overseeing the application for what will be an interdisciplinary program and he’s directing it to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. This is a federal research-funding body that reports to Industry Minister Tony Clement.
If the application is accepted, this will secure IRES six years of stable funding, starting at $150,000 the first year and going up to as much as $300,000 annually in subsequent years.
“If we get it, we will be able to fund many graduate students and also some undergraduate-project work,” Storey said. “Basically, the idea is to get students to work on practical problems that happen in the city and to liaise with industry and say, ”˜Okay, we have a group of students who want to work on an active problem.’ It gets the students off campus and into the city and gets them working on real problems.”
The advantage of this approach is that students gain expertise in the fields of architecture, engineering, and construction, Storey said.
His own work focuses on “life-cycle assessment”, which he said provides a “rigorous way of accounting for all the impacts of the product or process”. He said it is similar to ecological-footprint analysis—which was pioneered by UBC ecologist William Rees—but tells you “a lot more”.
“If you’re trying to decide between two different products, two different buildings, two different chairs, then you can look at the environmental impacts using these tools: life-cycle assessment. You can say, ”˜Ah, product A produces way less CO2 than product B,’ so you can make your decisions based on that.”
Storey said he is confident NSERC will come through, especially as the ground has finally been broken for the long-awaited Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS), which will be located centrally on the UBC campus. In 2006, CIRS was planned for a site on Great Northern Way, but the planning fell through.
“There’s tremendous competition for NSERC funding,” Storey added. “But it’s looking pretty good right now, and even if we don’t get the funding, something’s going to happen. Because now CIRS is there, and CIRS is going to be the hub for everything. And the sustainable-sciences program will have its home in CIRS. A lot of the research will be there. CIRS is finished in 2011—hopefully, before I graduate.”
The NSERC application comes at a time when municipalities are focusing a great deal of attention on green building technology. In Metro Vancouver, for instance, Storey claims that UBC’s C.K. Choi Building, which houses the Institute of Asian Research, is the only office building in Canada with self-composting toilets throughout.
In late 2007, the B.C. Liberals legislated that “each public sector organization must be carbon neutral for the 2010 calendar year and for each subsequent calendar year.” Two years ago at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, Premier Gordon Campbell said he would encourage municipalities to do the same by 2012.