Interactive Sustainability Centre opens in basement of Life Building following budget concerns last year

The AMS Interactive Sustainability Centre (ISC) officially opened on February 14. The ISC is a meeting room located in LIFE0017, intended to serve as a hub for sustainability student groups on campus.

The ISC has been in progress since February 2021, when the AMS narrowly approved a $26,000 budget for the project. The proposal was opposed by several AMS student representatives, including former Allard councillor Sebastian Cooper and former Vancouver School of Economics councillor Ryan Wong, due to the high cost of the project.

Renovating a storage room in the Life Building into the ISC cost approximately $24,300, according to Jason Pang, associate vice-president, sustainability.

“We’re actually under budget for this project, which is great,” said Pang. They saved money by using extra AMS desks, rather than buying new ones. Questions remain about how the remaining $1,830 will be used and how students will engage with the space.

The ISC features a dashboard TV which displays the AMS’s environmental impact metrics and a selection of sustainability-related books. According to Pang, most of the ISC budget went toward furnishing the room — a choice which drew criticism from some AMS representatives.

“It seems like you’re just making a wall look pretty. I’m confused how this is benefiting the UBC community,” said engineering representative Alex Gonzalez in the February 2021 AMS Council meeting.

The AMS purchased shelves and benches for $6,500 from ChopValue, a UBC alumnus’ business, which makes furniture out of recycled chopsticks.

“Although the furniture is more expensive than your average furniture, we wanted to represent to students that we’re here to support your projects,” said Pang.

AMS VP Administration Lauren Benson added that by reusing chopsticks recycled from Honour Roll, the furniture promotes circularity and reduces waste within the UBC community.

The room seats approximately ten people, which AMS representatives initially criticised. However, Pang and Benson maintained that the ISC serves an important purpose for student sustainability groups that need a reliable place to meet, and to access education about sustainability efforts at UBC.

“It could be bigger, yes, but we also have the Great Hall if needed,” said Pang. “The smaller the group, the more intimate personal connection you’re able to achieve in workshops.”

The AMS intends to spend the remaining budget based on what priorities emerge as more student groups start to use the space.

Geography Student Association VP Sustainability Jack Scher said the ISC could be a useful meeting place.

“So many clubs, from commerce to French, could benefit from incorporating sustainability-related events and activities, and the ISC could be a place to do that,” said Scher.

However, he also questioned the $26,000 price tag, wondering, “Where did the money go?”

Scher suggested that the ISC could use the excess budget to host workshops and to expand their selection of environmental books to serve as a broader educational resource hub.

The ISC is free to book and Pang said that groups including Sustainability Ambassadors, Zero Waste Squad and Vegans at UBC have already made appointments.

“Hopefully when things get back to normal, we’ll see more traffic in this space,” said Benson. “We want to give the space that the students who are making our campus more sustainable really deserve.”