Greening the Campus

It’s been five years since UNBC trademarked itself as “Canada’s Green University”, five years since UNBC started promoting itself as a post-secondary institution with an environmental focus. Every year new proposals, policies, and projects are bringing our school closer to our vision of sustainability. While we still have a long way to go, our school is starting to live up to its name as the “green” university. But what does “green” really mean?

Green is a colour, but these days it is commonly used to describe something as eco-friendly, sustainable, or generally better for the natural environment. The word and the colour have become a branding and marketing tool, and many corporations use “greenwashing” to make their product seem more “green” than it actually is. While our university is occasionally criticized for not being “green” enough, there are genuine intentions behind our marketing strategy. A variety of changes to many different aspects of campus operations in recent years are showing UNBC’s commitment to sustainability. Institutional change is an arduous process, but we can still celebrate the incremental changes that are reducing our environmental footprint on campus.

UNBC’s most well known environmental achievement is probably our new Biomass Gasification plant, which heats our school using wood waste from a local sawmill. This $15 million project brought UNBC international recognition from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). UNBC is proud to have tied with Harvard for Top Campus Sustainability Project, and we should be; the new system has reduced our natural gas consumption for heating by about 85%. This massive capital project demonstrates the use of a renewable resource instead of fossil fuels, while also providing opportunities for research and teaching.

UNBC has also invested in sustainability through the construction of the Green University Centre, a new hub for sustainability right in the centre of campus. This office in the Wintergarden is used by our Sustainability Manager (formerly Danielle Smyth, now Alvaro Palazuelos) and Energy Manager (formerly David Claus, new manager to be hired). Among other responsibilities, the Sustainability Manager administers the Green Fund, which facilitates the development of green ideas on campus. These full-time positions dedicated to sustainability have led to implementation of many initiatives, while also supporting the broader environmental community on campus.

Of these new initiatives, the University Farmers’ Market (UFM) stands out as a tangible (and fun!) solution to some social, economic, and environmental problems. Every Tuesday from 11 to 3 the UFM brings local vendors and customers to the NUSC Event Space to support local producers and artisans while enjoying the vibrant social atmosphere. After one full year of operation, the UFM has seen fluctuations in traffic and sales, but continues to provide a space for food, music, and interaction for the campus community. Monthly music jams have been a hit, so bring your instrument on April 3rd, the last market of the year! Stay tuned for another kickoff event in the fall.

This year, the UFM coincides with Green Day, UNBC’s annual celebration of sustainability. The fifth iteration of this event was bigger than ever before, with a day full of presentations, workshop, music, and hallways full of community organizations. Students for a Green University (SGU) is also running our annual Car Count, to find out how many vehicles drove up to campus that day. You may have noticed the strings of coffee cups hanging from the hallways, another annual SGU initiative. By displaying waste in a creative way, SGU hopes to inspire the campus community generate less waste by bringing a mug or taking advantage of the new Borrow-A-Mug program, right between Tim Horton’s and the Corner Store.

SGU is well known on campus for selling Bango Smoothies made with our bike-blender, but we have a plethora of other ongoing environmental initiatives and events. SGU’s biggest project (yet) is finally coming to life this May – the geodesic dome greenhouse! With help from volunteers on and off campus, SGU is constructing a 350-ft2-dome greenhouse on campus at the far north end of campus this May, which will provide fresh ingredients for the Thirsty Moose Pub and exciting opportunities for research and student engagement. The greenhouse uses passive solar heating to extend the growing season without any energy inputs, so have a salad at the pub in the fall and enjoy some greens grown on campus! Thanks to funding from UNBC’s Green Fund, Integris Credit Union, and the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS), the dome will be owned by NUGSS and operated by SGU. Volunteers will be needed for the construction and operation of the dome, so please email me at to get involved or get more info.

These projects show structural and institutional steps towards sustainability, but UNBC still lacks a pervasive culture of sustainability. A hardworking and dedicated group of staff, faculty, and students ensure that environmental initiatives are implemented and continued, while a significant portion of the UNBC population lead business-as-usual lives, unfazed by the “green bandwagon” rolling through campus. In addition, some environmentalists may even instigate animosity and polarize issues because their actions and opinions are too radical or extreme for the mainstream. We must respect diversity on campus and allow everyone to make their own decisions, but we must also include the entire campus community in our efforts to make UNBC more “green”. Everyone on campus has a role to play as UNBC embarks on another 5 years as Canada’s Green University.

Cameron Bell