University helps bring sustainability to 2015 Canada Winter Games

Snowy UNBC campus as night falls
The University of Northern B.C.'s campus isn't just stunning architecturally, it features leading-edge sustainability measures such as a biofuel heating plant that uses wood pellets and waste wood from the sawmill industry to help heat campus buildings. Five sports events and the closing ceremonies at the Canada Winter Games will be held at UNBC.

As 'Canada’s green university,' UNBC goes above and beyond for Prince George  

When the 2015 Canada Winter Games take place in Prince George in February, five sports and the closing ceremonies will be at the University of Northern British Columbia. UNBC’s involvement is a key reason the Games is taking sustainability seriously, and even students have jumped aboard by helping deliver free transit during the Games.

We'd expect nothing less from “Canada's Green University”.

How UNBC has earned its green designation

David Claus, a finalist in the 2014 Power Smart Excellence Awards, is the assistant director of facilities management at UNBC. On the phone from his campus office, he explained that a number of sustainability initiatives have helped the school earn their green designation.

The most prominent is the biofuel heating plant that provides 85 per cent of the heat required by the campus. It’s actually comprised of two systems. The first is a wood pellet boiler, installed in 2009, that heats the forestry research greenhouse. The second is larger, and uses waste wood from the sawmill industry to produce heat, which is distributed to campus buildings through a pre-existing pipe system.

The wood used is “destined to be burned” said Claus. “It’s either burned for nothing, to reduce the volume, or we burn it for heat. Or it’s turned into pellets and sent to Europe to be burned for electricity.”

Then there’s the geodesic dome greenhouse, where produce is grown for the student-run pub. Tied to that is a regular farmers market where UNBC students and researchers work with producers on issues such as food availability and local production.

“Lots of food comes into the region by transport, which makes it vulnerable,” said Claus. While there are dependable routes to Prince George itself, Claus explained, communities that are farther north are susceptible to disruptions in the availability of things like food and fuel.

At the Northern Sports Centre, where five events in the 2015 Canada Winter Games are being held, BC Hydro supported a LED lighting retrofit. And the light meter readings and other data used to design the retrofit are being used during construction of the building’s squash courts.

UNBC has just signed on to BC Hydro’s Workplace Conservation Awareness program, which will help the university actively engage staff and students to take responsibility for their energy use.

“We have the credibility to go to people and ask them to make some changes” said Claus.

Canada Winter Games sustainability manager Emily Harrison at UNBC campus
UNBC relied on several funding partners to hire Emily Harrison as sustainability manager for the Canada Winter Games, which will feature the likes of free public transit for all, shared use of event programs, and a push to have spectators bring reusable drink cups for tap water at Games events.

How Prince George is staging a sustainable Canada Winter Games

When organizers of the 2015 Canada Winter Games expressed an interest in hosting a green games, UNBC was a natural partner in those efforts.

Supported by several funding partners, UNBC hired Emily Harrison to be the sustainability manager for the Canada Winter Games. Claus said that Harrison was able to get support and information from the university as she worked with the Games organizing committee to deliver on sustainability.

“She was the one who said ‘Yes, we can do this, and we should do it,” said Claus.

Hired less than a year before the Games were scheduled to begin, Harrison had a lot to do in a short time. She spent her first six months working on initiatives such as a plan to have spectators reuse event programs to reduce waste, encouraging the use of reusable water bottles and hot beverage mugs at water refill stations, and discounts on coffee and tea.

The Games are striving to meet Canadian and International standards for sustainable event management, said Harrison. And while they won’t be entirely carbon neutral, UNBC and the organizing committee are committed to offsetting as much as possible, she added. The effort, she said, builds credibility and accountability, and she’s been sourcing local forest projects for carbon offsets so that the Games can also contribute to the regional economy.

Students are helping make the green Games a reality

For the last few months, Harrison has been getting UNBC faculty and students engaged with the sustainability efforts. Students have created a committee to advocate for the Games to be carbon neutral, and have managed to fully fund Prince George public transit for the duration of the Games, making it free for everyone whether they are athletes, spectators, or citizens.

Learn more about the Students Pave the Way free transit initiative

UNBC students have been going into Prince George elementary schools and giving presentations on the importance of recycling. Curbside recycling was only recently introduced in Prince George, and Harrison said that a “lasting legacy” of the Games will be recycling receptacles, donated by Multi-Material BC, that will be repurposed for use in regional apartment buildings after the Games end.

How being green attracts students to UNBC

The designation of being “Canada’s green university” has far-reaching implications.

In 2013, the Canadian University Survey Consortium surveyed first-year students and asked how satisfied they were with their institution’s “commitment to environmental sustainability”. While the national average of students answering “very” or “somewhat” satisfied was 74 per cent, at UNBC it was 92 per cent.

Claus said that he’s met students who have chosen the school “because of the label, but once they get here they become an integral part of making us Canada’s green university.”

Eryn Beddoes, 26, just completed a degree in environmental engineering at UNBC, a joint program with UBC that she says is the only one of its kind in Western Canada. In an email, she said that she loves UNBC.

“It was beneficial to be part of a school that has sustainability initiatives happening all the time,” she wrote. “It’s so nice to see thoughts put into action and I believe they make a difference in the big picture.

Originally from Victoria, Beddoes has been assisting with the Students Pave the Way initiative and sits on the Games Carbon Neutral committee.

“This is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” she wrote. “It is so nice to be using my knowledge and experience to give back to the world and be a productive member of the community.”

To help celebrate UNBC's 25th anniversary, the university is offering a $2,500 tuition credit to participants at the Canada Games.