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George Brown College opens sustainability institute

College's Brookfield Sustainability Institute aims to serve as nexus of best sustainability practices and learnings

The in-progress Limberlost Place that will host the Brookfield Sustainability Institute. (Courtesy George Brown College)

George Brown College has launched the Brookfield Sustainability Institute (BSI) to promote sustainable communities through education and global cooperation, which will be hosted inside its Limberlost Place structure, currently under construction.

Luigi Ferrara, BSI’s chair and CEO, said in an interview with SustainableBiz the institute focuses “on applied solutions to solve the problems that we have and bring us closer to net-zero, and to have the answers that we need to change our society, technologies, the new products and services that are more sustainable in the long term.”

It revolves around a philosophy of “smart sustainability” derived from the digital transformation to achieve sustainable development goals, Ferrara added.

He also serves as the dean of George Brown College’s Centre for Arts, Design and Information Technology.

BSI is made possible from $18 million in donations courtesy of Jack Cockwell, the director of Toronto-based asset manager Brookfield Asset Management Inc., according to Ferrara. It came to fruition because of Brookfield’s interest in promoting sustainability goals and is independent from the firm, he said.

About the BSI

BSI is currently located at George Brown College’s School of Design and will likely be on the eighth floor of Limberlost Place when the building is completed.

Ferrara highlighted some key areas BSI will focus on: the circular economy through sectors like fashion and manufacturing; new types of urban planning and architecture needed for climate-positive neighbourhoods and communities; and energy, transportation and food security.

For urban planning, BSI plans to create new subdivision designs that are climate positive. They will be built for pedestrians with shared or mixed uses, and smaller home sizes that are more sustainable and energy efficient.

Urban agriculture is being explored, using automation and robots to boost food security in cities.

BSI is already at work, with Ferrara naming a sustainable fashion brand called For Tomorrow. For Tomorrow is intended to close the fashion loop with financial incentives and a digital platform. It is collaborating with partners on an aluminum air battery and a hydrogen-cooled supply chain solutions for trucks.

“We’re working across different sectors, with different partners, established companies, startups, as well as companies with emerging technologies to help them move their ideas and products forward by bringing in resources of our students, our graduates and our network of scholars and innovators that we’ve assembled that are associated with the BSI,” Ferrara said.

The inauguration of BSI coincides with a report published in collaboration with the Royal Bank of Canada Climate Action Institute titled, High Rise, Low Carbon: Canada's $40 Billion Net Zero Building Challenge.

Working with other educational institutes

Being embedded within a college, BSI aims to facilitate sustainability synergy with like-minded educational institutes.

“We’re deeply collaborating with innovators and scholars that we have from around the world,” Ferrara said.

Ferrara hopes BSI will collaborate with colleagues at the University of Toronto, Ontario College of Arts & Design University and York University on research papers and projects.

Plans are also in place to work with international institutions such as the Polytechnic University of Milan and the Polytechnic University of Turin.

Housed in the sustainable Limberlost Place

To add credence to BSI’s sustainability, George Brown College notes its future placement within Limberlost Place.

The a 10-storey mass timber building is scheduled to open to students in January 2025, and emphasizes green building practices.

Being made from mass timber, it will sequester carbon and reduce waste from construction. The college says its design will feature “a 40 per cent window-to-wall ratio” and “outfitted with smart daylight sensors and dimming controls.”

Limberlost Place will have no fuel-fired systems as it will run on electricity. A roof-mounted solar array will generate 24 per cent of its energy consumption.

Ferrara mentioned its other sustainable design features like sensors, solar chimneys, mechanical systems and an insulated façade that will regulate temperatures with less energy use.

Limberlost Place, Ferrara said, is “moving the dial on how we can build sustainability, demonstrating the practices, making the proof of concept that will lead to the regulatory changes that we need to keep us moving toward a direction to net-zero and to a climate-positive world . . . It’s almost a culmination of the intention and ideas that the institute hopes to bring to the world.”

Editor's note: The BSI has corrected a previous statement it will be on the 10th floor of the Limberlost Place. Instead, it will likely be on the eighth floor.

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