Renew, Restore, Regenerate

Last week, Pope Francis made headlines for his strong call-to-action against climate change, referring to it as a man-made crisis that must be fixed. Now that this issue has caught the attention of the holiest man in the world, it’s evident that our resource-dependent lifestyle has made a huge impact on the environment -- with buildings being the main culprit.

Traditionally buildings were created to meet bare necessities, like function, comfort, and budget. There was little to non-existent thought on ways to harmonize the building with the natural environment or maximize the lifestyle of its residents. Now thanks to initiatives like LEED and GRESB, there are standards in place that measure the sustainable impact of development.

These eco standards have sparked design innovation, including a new concept called "regenerative design". This concept creates systems that restore, renew, and revitalize their own sources of energy and materials. In other words, regenerative designed buildings incorporate a zero waste infrastructure that includes the needs of the both the community and of nature.

RRR1

Photo: Martin Nielsen

First conceived by UBC professor Dr. John Robinson in 1999, this approach was introduced at The Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) at UBC. Completed in 2011, CIRS was designed to be the most innovative and high performance building in North America. Its primary goals were to reach zero carbon emissions, have water self-sufficiency, create net-positive energy performance, and overall zero waste.

 RRR2

Photo: Martin Nielsen

CIRS is equipped with a vast network of sensors and control points that track whether the building is functioning properly and meeting net zero standards. The total cost of the 4-story building was $35 million. It achieved CaGBC’s LEED Platinum certification as well as received a number of sustainability and high performance awards.

The success of the UBC development can lead to a new way of thinking, one where a building’s output is equal to or greater than its input. And clearly, this is needed. As Pope Francis tweeted, “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth”. Thanks to Regenerative design, we may be on the road to renewal.

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