UBC Undergraduate Research

Zero Emissions Through Zero Waste : Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions at UBC Through Waste Reduction McIlwraith-Black, Aubrey


The purpose of this study was to quantify the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions associated with office furniture at UBC, in order to estimate the emissions savings achieved by diverting surplus products from the landfill. This paper is accompanied by an excel-based modelling tool in which GHG emissions calculations were carried out. This study was done to inform updates to the UBC Climate Action Plan and Zero Waste Action Plan. The long-term goal of UBC’s Climate Action Plan is to achieve net zero campus emissions by 2050, with a 67% emissions reduction by 2020 [1]. The current target of the Zero Waste Action Plan is to achieve 80% diversion of campus solid waste away from landfill by 2020 [2]. UBC is not on track to meet its current emissions target or waste diversion target. Additionally, UBC does not currently track or report on scope 3 emissions. The latest version of the UBC GHG inventory only reports on scope 1 emissions (direct emissions from owned/controlled resources), scope 2 emissions (indirect emissions from the production of purchased energy), and paper usage. Consequently, the current CAP only accounts for and aims to reduce scope 1, 2 and paper emissions. Emissions from furniture production and disposal fall into the category of scope 3 emissions – indirect emissions that occur in the value chain of a reporting company. If UBC wants to reach long term emissions and waste related goals, it must begin to account for scope 3 emissions. This study serves as a preliminary investigation into the impact of emissions from furniture production and waste management. The current annual furniture spending at UBC is estimated at $6 million, and a previous SEEDS study estimated that 400 tonnes of furniture was disposed of by the university in 2018 [3]. This is a substantial amount of furniture being manufactured, shipped to campus, and disposed of every year, and all of those processes in the lifecycle of a furniture item produce GHG emissions. Based on the modelling tool produced in this study, the lifecycle GHG emissions produced by the 400 tonnes of furniture disposed of in 2018 were equal to 1,718 tonnes of CO2e. If 100% of the $6 million worth of furniture purchased every year is eventually sent to landfill, it has an associated lifecycle GHG emission of 3,897 tonnes of CO2e. The 3,897 tonnes of CO2e produced over the lifecycle of campus furniture annually is greater than 10% of the current total campus emissions from scope 1 and 2 sources and paper [16]. This is quite a substantial amount of emissions coming from material production and waste management for campus furniture alone. The magnitude of this figure suggests that UBC scope 3 emissions are likely very high, and the university should take steps to track, report, and reduce these emissions. In the case of furniture, over half of the total lifecycle emissions associated with products being disposed of can be saved if furniture is reused on campus. This is because reusing furniture eliminates the need for manufacturing replacement products and does not produce any waste material that must be managed. Based on the findings of this study, it is recommended that UBC implement a furniture reuse program on campus, such as the one suggested by Carissa Kirk in a previous SEEDS study [3]. It is also recommended that UBC implement more sustainable furniture purchasing practices, and conduct a follow up study to this project to improve the accuracy of emissions data. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International