04/22/2013 12:23 EDT | Updated 06/22/2013 05:12 EDT

Generation Green: In The UniverCity Community, Sustainability Is A Way Of Life

As any parent can attest, modelling is a better teaching strategy than finger-wagging. Most parents also know

that children are your sharpest critics: kids know what happens behind closed doors.

So, when Simon Fraser University promised in the mid-1990s to build a "model sustainable community" next

to its Burnaby Mountain campus, it was clear that success would mean demonstrating it to the kids. And

not just university-age "kids," because in the new community of UniverCity, the focus group - a cohort we

think of as "Generation Green" - starts learning lessons in sustainability before the members even reach pre-


The children born into one of Metro Vancouver's newest communities will live and learn in homes and

schools that are at least LEED Gold. Their childcare centre, which celebrates its first anniversary this month, is expected to be certified as Canada's first Living Building - which is to say, the first building with a zero environmental footprint. These are youngsters who will believe, absolutely, that it is possible to live in a

sustainable world because they will have spent their whole life in a sustainable community.

UniverCity, which is being developed by the SFU Community Trust, is - on every level - an experiment in

sustainability. It begins by setting a new standard in planning and development: for example, all construction

is subject to Canada's first regulated green building bylaw, mandating that buildings must be 30 to 45 per cent more energy efficient and 40 per cent more water efficient than required by code. In addition, all new construction is connected to a neighborhood energy utility designed to be fired with renewable energy and to reduce community greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 65 per cent.

But UniverCity is also a model of economic sustainability. It's being planned, built and sold in a highly

competitive market, while still generating income to support SFU's teaching and research. It has already

earned more than $30 million.

That won't matter - yet - to UniverCity kids. But long before they are old enough to notice, they will be

enjoying the benefits of green living. For example, at the LEED Gold Verdant Early Learning Centre, children

will learn to toddle in a building with great indoor air quality, lots of natural light, and a strong connection to

the community.

At age three, they will graduate to the UniverCity Childcare Centre, which Jason McLennan, author of the

most ambitious green building standard on the continent (the Living Building Standard), has called "the

greenest childcare on the planet." This 6,000-square-foot facility, with more than 7,000 square feet of

outdoor play area, generates more energy and harvests or recycles more water than it consumes. It's filled

with natural light and devoid of toxic materials; nearly everything used in construction or operation was

sourced from within 500 kilometres. And all these features were delivered at a cost 18 per cent below what

is being spent on comparable childcare centres in the region. The UniverCity Childcare even has a green

curriculum: the Reggio Emilia program promotes a culture of sustainable learning, using children's interaction with the environment as a key teaching element.

At age five or six, Generation Green will move to the University Highlands Elementary School - the first LEED

Gold retrofit school in Canada. Here again, they will enjoy a curriculum custom built around sustainability.

They will learn about the BC Hydro solar demonstration program on the roof. They will sit in outdoor

classrooms in the forest or around a stormwater pond. And they'll be able to measure their own impact.

In a best case, Generation Green will become the change agents who demand that this standard be applied

everywhere - and ask a question that any optimistic child might: Why not?