By Ryann Anderson

Founded in 1969 as Malaspina College, Vancouver Island University has since become a multi-campus school with four locations in Nanaimo, Cowichan, Powell River, and Parksville-Qualicum. VIU’s main Nanaimo campus boasts an ocean view, lush forests, and even Japanese gardens. These features serve as reminders of the environment that VIU strives to protect.

The school has always been a world leader in the construction of sustainable buildings. In 1996, the university’s facilities earned recognition for the use of exterior glazing that eliminated the need for perimeter heating systems and light shelves, which reduced the need for artificial lights. Since then, VIU has approached all of its construction and renovations projects with environmental stability in mind.

Richard Lewis, director of facilities, services, and campus development at VIU, oversees maintenance and planning of the university’s physical infrastructure. “Our connection with the environment means that the environmental sustainability of our activities directly impact the well-being of our community and its members,” says Lewis. “LEED is one guideline we follow to this end, but we are also mindful of opportunities outside of LEED as we design and construct.”

Students sit on the stairs on VIU's hilly campus
VIU’s Nanaimo Campus. Photo: International Student Office

LEED stands for leadership in energy and environmental design and is the most widely used green rating system in the world for buildings. VIU currently has eight buildings that are either LEED certified or equivalent. “Incorporating effective ideas from other methodologies, such as the WELL Building Standard and Passive House Standard, is also important in our desire to reduce our environmental impact,” says Lewis.

VIU built its first LEED facility, the Faculty of Management Centre, in 2006. The building boasts water-saving fixtures such as waterless urinals, low-flow showers and toilets, and temporary irrigation systems. It’s 30 percent more electrically efficient than a conventional building thanks to energy-efficient light fixtures, occupancy sensors, and access to natural light. The building saves enough energy to power almost 80 homes a year. During construction, 75 percent of waste was recycled and 10 percent of materials were manufactured locally.

“VIU has committed to minimizing the overall environmental impact of these buildings during all phases of design and construction, and they have been built in accordance with that consideration,” says Lewis. “This consideration goes well beyond material selection and waste products, and also considers indirect impacts to the environment and the local area.”

A green roof building at the new Cowichan campus. Photo: Connect Landscape Architecture

Other LEED facilities include the Deep Bay Marine Field Station, located on the Baynes Sound, and their new Cowichan campus. The campus features permeable parking lot surfaces, bioswales, and a wet meadow for stormwater management. The building features ultra-low-flow plumbing fixtures, and its hot water comes from gas water heaters in wa. No potable water is used for landscape irrigation. Ninety percent of the lighting is provided by natural daylight, and the roof is 90 percent green.

The Cowichan campus will also be one of the VIU buildings to use a new geo-exchange system for heating and cooling, something the university has been developing for a decade.

The Nanaimo campus geo-exchange uses salt water trapped in the shafts of the nearby abandoned Wakesiah coal mine. The system relies on two water loops. A mine water loop will bring water up out of the shafts to a pump house and then back to the mine. An ambient water loop will take the water from the pump house to heat the buildings before heading back to the pump house to rejoin the mine water loop. The water in the system will be continuously recycled. It is currently used for their Health and Sciences Centre, with the ability to expand it to others. Slightly different forms of geo-exchange are used at the Cowichan campus and Deep Bay centre.

“We recognize our responsibility to engage our students on the topic of sustainability,” says Lewis. “It’s part of who we are, where we live and what we value.”

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