Investing in habitat

UniverCity is designed to take advantage of – but also respect – its location adjacent to the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area, one of the most significant wilderness preserves in Metro Vancouver.

UniverCity donated more than 800 acres of that 1,400-acre park in return for the right to develop the 160 acres immediately surrounding the university. The UniverCity community plan also safeguards the natural habitat through stormwater management, tree protection and local planting guidelines.

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Saving with stormwater

The comprehensive and award-winning stormwater management system is one of UniverCity’s most essential and successful sustainable initiatives. The system mimics nature by returning nearly 100 per cent of stormwater to the ground instead of diverting large amounts into conventional drainage pipes or storm sewers. The objective is to maintain pre-development stormwater runoff quality and quantity such that a salmon swimming in a stream at the bottom of Burnaby Mountain would have no clue that a thriving urban community exists at the top.

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Alternative transportation

Transportation Modes

Where SFU was once an exclusively commuter campus – only accessible by private automobile or public transit, the development of UniverCity is helping to create a pedestrian-oriented community. An extensive network of trails and pathways allows residents to walk or cycle to school, work, shopping, recreation, and other amenities. And half of all UniverCity commuters leave their car at home.

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Sustainable Transportation now…

With a transit hub located in the centre of the community served by four bus routes, UniverCity residents have access to convenient and frequent transit services. In 2006, SFU Community Trust, Vancity Financial Services, and Translink collaborated to launch a Community Transit Pass Program designed to boost ridership in the growing community. The first of its kind in North America, the pass offered residents unlimited travel on the regional transit network at a highly discounted price. Ending on December 31st, 2011, the program has encouraged transit usage to the point that 25 per cent of UniverCity residents enrolled and nearly 40 per cent use transit regularly. That is double the Metro Vancouver average.

Residents also have access to community automobiles on an hourly or daily basis through the MODO Car Cooperative. MODO members are also eligible for an annual pass at about a 15% discount off monthly transit passes. Learn more about this perk here.

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Sustainable transit for tomorrow

The Trust is currently examining options for the development of a Burnaby Mountain Urban Transit Gondola, linking UniverCity and SFU to the regional rapid transit network.

The first of its kind in Canada, this high-speed transit gondola would reduce travel times by almost half, even as it saved money in diesel bus operations and maintenance.

A gondola would also cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 7,000 tonnes annually, among other benefits:

  • Eliminate up to 55,000 hours of diesel bus travel
  • Reduce travel times and increase reliability
  • Reduce up to 26 million reduction in vehicle km (auto driving)
  • Save $1 to 3 million in annual transit service operating cost

TranksLink released a business case study in January that affirms the potential for this innovative service alternative. While the business case is sound, the gondola project will not proceed until regional transit priorities are committed, concerns raised by the residential community have been considered, funding is secured, and the project is included in a strategic transportation plan after additional public consultation and Mayor’s Council approval.

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Burnaby Mountain Energy Project

With generous support from the Province of British Columbia, SFU Community Trust is partnering with SFU and Corix Utilities to develop a sustainable energy system that will provide clean, green heat and domestic hot water to new housing projects planned for the UniverCity community and SFU’s Burnaby Campus. The utility will decrease associated greenhouse gas emissions on Burnaby Mountain by 80 per cent. UniverCity’s Neighbourhood Energy Utility is in the early stages of construction and is now powering 4 recently completed buildings through a temporary high efficiency natural gas power plant. A larger Biomass facility will be constructed when sufficient demand has been created.

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Higher Standards for New Green Buildings

UniverCity collaborated with the City of Burnaby in developing environmental standards and reward developers for exceptional features and practices. The bylaw is the most stringent in North America in its demand for high green standards. All new buildings must be at least 30 per cent more energy efficient than the Model National Energy Code for Buildings and 40 per cent more water efficient. SFU Community Trust also offers a 10 per cent density bonus for projects that achieve advanced energy goals (reaching an efficiency level that is 45 per cent higher than code) or that include upgraded stormwater management.

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The Living Building Challenge

Considered the greenest building standard in the world, the Living Building Challenge™ – setting out conditions for buildings that have virtually no ecological footprint. UniverCity has recently completed construction of what is designed to be the first building in Canada to meet the challenge: the UniverCity Childcare Centre.

Green Up


Is free from toxic materials
Generates more energy than it uses
Recycle or harvests more water than it uses
Obtain the majority of its materials from within a 500 kilometre radius
Costs 10%-15% less to build than other B.C. childcare facilities

Cost Down


The UniverCity Childcare project is one of the first in Canada to meet the Living Building Challenge—an attempt to raise the bar in sustainability. Only this type of building can claim to be the ‘greenest in North America and as close to true sustainability as possible.’

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First LEED® Gold renovated school in BC

University Highlands Elementary School is situated centrally and conveniently in an unused university building that was refurbished to meet LEED® Gold standards, and to include an array of energy and water efficiency upgrades that are tied into smart meters and public terminals, allowing students and teachers to learn about and monitor the building’s performance.

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