UBC plays a leadership role among global post-secondary institutions that focus on researching, developing, and demonstrating sustainable practices. With over 400 faculty investigating sustainability, our goal is to excel across the spectrum of fundamental and applied research.
We operate multiple centres of excellence and research groups in order to address complex issues at different scales, and respond to critical community needs. And our research advances interdisciplinary and cross-cutting methods, linking research to action both on-and-off campus.
Below and in our ‘Spotlight section’ are some examples—just a small selection from the incredible breadth of sustainability research taking place across the university.
HIGHLIGHTS: INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH GROUPS
URBAN INNOVATION RESEARCH GROUP
In 2017, UBC established the Urban Innovation Research Group to support interdisciplinary research capabilities and strengthen the role of the university in responding to the interconnected challenges of an increasingly urban world, demonstrate potential solutions, and advance sustainable practices and policies.
Featured research: Tallwood Building Research Program
UBC recently completed Brock Commons Tallwood House, the tallest hybrid mass timber building in the world. A three-year interdisciplinary research project by UBC’s Sustainability Initiative and faculty in Forestry and Civil Engineering studied the design, construction and performance of this innovative mass timber high rise.
The results, documented in a series of case studies, show how the alignment of advanced computer modelling with prefabrication technology and the use of mass timber improved construction productivity, safety, and accuracy. The work also highlights the creative strategies and lessons learned from the integrated design and construction teams to inform future projects and policies related to tall wood buildings.
Featured research: Social and environmental impact investing in Indigenous communities
Reconciliation issues remain at the forefront of Canadian policy and culture. Government, non-profits and charities, and indigenous communities have begun to interact on ways to address these issues, but private investors can play a major role as well.
Working with Purpose Capital, an impact investment advisory firm, UBC’s Centre for Social Innovation & Impact Investing (Sauder S3i) produced a report that examines a critical question in the Canadian investment community: With an estimated $10.5 billion available for investments towards social and environmental impact, how can we allocate capital to contribute to the betterment of Indigenous communities in Canada?
HIGHLIGHTS FROM UBC OKANAGAN
LAVENDER EXPLORED AS A NATURAL PESTICIDE
While lavender has long been known for its strong scent and soothing oils, UBC Okanagan researchers are exploring the plant’s ability to create natural pesticides. Soheil Mahmoud, an associate professor of biology at UBC’s Okanagan campus, conducts research on organic compounds found in plants – specifically lavender. While lavender is known for its strong scent, and the plant’s oils are said to have a healing or soothing benefit, Mahmoud agreed lavender has much more to offer.
“Lavender has proven to be very good at protecting itself through production of antimicrobial and anti-fungal biochemical compounds,” reported Mahmoud. “One of our goals is to identify molecules that are involved in this natural self-defence.” Traditionally, chemical herbicides or pesticides have been used to control fungal growth or pests like insects. But according to Mahmoud this method is becoming less and less desirable as many of the pests and fungi have become resilient to the chemicals used, and as consumers prefer food that is untreated or treated with “natural” pesticides.
“We’ve become much more health conscious,” he added. “There are healthier options instead of spraying chemicals on plants; we just need to explore these. Aromatic plants like lavenders could provide suitable alternatives to chemical-based insecticides.”
IMPACTS OF URBANIZATION ON RAINWATER FLOODING
Research from UBC’s Okanagan campus showed municipalities should put a greater emphasis on green initiatives to reduce heavy rainfall flooding urban areas. Rainwater flooding occurs when an urban drainage system has trouble funnelling intense amounts of rainfall. In Canada, the costs of flooding from extreme rainfall events have been recently estimated at more than $13 billion.
The study reported that urbanization changes a city’s land cover – more buildings, roads and other development means fewer porous areas made up of trees, grass and natural greenspaces. So instead of being absorbed by these natural areas, rainfall ends up in a city’s drainage system.
“By promoting green development like green roof constructions and encouraging the use of porous pavement materials, urban planners can reduce the vulnerability of neighbourhoods currently at risk,” said lead author Yekenalem Abebe, a PhD student in the School of Engineering.
The research goes on to provide a detailed methodology that will assist municipalities in identifying the areas at risk and help identify unknowns in the decision-making process. “Flood risk mitigation requires a coordinated effort between multiple stakeholders,” explained Abebe. “We are currently collaborating with municipalities in the Okanagan region to develop a holistic approach looking into climate change, infrastructure management and urban planning.”