Articles by author: Amanda Smits

  • Meet SSAS Alumnus: Nicholas Fischer

    Blog Contributor: Meredith DeCock

    For our first instalment of the ‘Meet SSAS Alumni’ series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicholas Fischer, a former Sustainability Science and Society (SSAS) master’s student who entered the program in September of 2016. As a current student in the program, it was a pleasure to hear about where he came from, his time in the program, and what he is up to now.

    Nick Fisher

    Photo: Nicholas Fisher, SSAS Alumnus who is now working as a Policy and Planning Officer for Conservation Ontario.

    Q1: What path did you take to end up in the Brock SSAS Master’s Program?

    I decided to attend Trent University for International Development Studies and Political Studies. I really wanted to take the opportunity to participate in an interdisciplinary field of education, which broadened my understanding of the social, economic, and political dynamics of our modern world. In my third year, I was given the opportunity to study abroad in Ecuador, and I jumped on it! While our first semester was regular classes, the second involved an intensive four-month placement with a local agency. Luckily, I was accepted to work with an incredible organization named Kallari (Kay-yar-ri) (best chocolate of my life, Google them!). Deep in the Amazon, I worked with local communities who participated in a cooperative-structured chocolate company and I received a great education in polyculture crops, community sustainability, effective resource management and overall respect for shared natural systems. Upon my return to Trent for my fourth year, I made sure to fill my timetable with as many environmental courses as I could to further develop my knowledge and passion for the sector. The SSAS program at Brock seemed like a natural next step to further develop my knowledge and passion for the environmental sector in an interdisciplinary setting.

    Q2: What stream of the SSAS program did you complete and what was the focus of your MRP or Thesis?

    I decided to enter the Co-op and Major Research Paper option at Brock. It is hard enough for a young graduate out of school to be competitive in the environmental field, so I knew I wanted to take advantage of the work experience during my education. As for my MRP, I was lucky enough to work with Dr. Tim Heinmiller and Dr. Marilyne Jollineau. With Dr. Heinmiller’s guidance, we settled on assessing the impacts of the Greenbelt Plan to the Niagara Region agricultural community and support network. I have always enjoyed local advocacy work and wanted my MRP to be reflective of my time in Niagara, hence focussing the impact assessment to the Region. I set out to identify key impacts or barriers posed to the agricultural community in Niagara as a result of the Greenbelt legislation and used my project as a means to identify potential areas of improvement to future iterations of the Plan to protect the agricultural industry, a cornerstone in many rural economies. Both Dr. Heinmiller and Dr. Jollineau were incredible mentors to me throughout the process. Both encouraged me to use completely new methods of analysis for my project and provided me with the resources I needed to succeed.

    Q3: How would you describe your overall experience in the SSAS Master’s Program at Brock? And is there a particular highlight that comes to mind during your time in the program?

    I would say my overall experience in the SSAS program at Brock was positive, although challenging at times. The incredible nature of an interdisciplinary program is that you are exposed to members of your cohort who come from vastly different educational backgrounds. This diverse mix allows you to have some really interesting conversations and address environmental issues from an array of angles, but also poses challenges when you are asked to work in a group setting. Of course, this is a mirror to the realities of the workforce, so I came to appreciate the practical application of this style of education. There were many highlights during my time with the SSAS program; however, the one in particular which stands out is being able to present my Three Minute Thesis in from of the staff and students of the ESRC. In the MRP stream, you don’t defend your final body of work, so the 3MT gave me a small taste of an academic defense. Don’t get me wrong, it was the most vulnerable I had felt during my whole time at Brock since I was putting my research out in the open for criticism and comments, but at the end I was so proud of how it went.

    Q4: What is your current job? Please provide a job description of what you get to do in your current role.

    I currently work at Conservation Ontario as a Policy and Planning Officer, and I am absolutely loving it! I have been in my position for 8 months now and have learned so much along the way. Conservation Ontario is a not-for-profit environmental association which represents Ontario’s 36 Conservation Authorities. In my capacity, I am responsible for advocating on behalf of the Conservation Authorities on all applicable provincial proposals, such as those related to Climate Change, Development, Provincial Growth, Drinking Water, Great Lakes Protection, and Endangered Species and Fisheries. I work with Conservation Authorities to develop key messaging to the province to ensure that the core mandate (to ensure the conservation, restoration and responsible management of Ontario’s water, land and natural habitats) can be effectively achieved. In addition, I work with Conservation Authorities to address questions related to our Class Environmental Assessment process and represent Conservation Ontario at a number of conferences and on provincial working groups. The most interesting thing about my job is that I get to work alongside some of the brightest people in the environmental sector who are challenged with balancing population growth with protection for natural resources and drinking water across Ontario.

    Q5: How do you feel the SSAS program helped prepare you for this position?

    Aside from the interdisciplinary setting which I already spoke to, my co-op placement is most likely largely responsible for my success in this new role. I was fortunate enough to complete my work placement with the Ministry of Transportation’s Environmental Policy Office in St. Catharines. There, I worked on files related to Environmental Assessment reform, and assisted on a number of other projects and initiatives, such as the provincial biodiversity strategy and road ecology. Much like my team now, the team with the MTO needed to incorporate planning decisions into their policy work, which allowed me to gain an understanding of the interrelated nature of the two fields. I will always be thankful to the SSAS program for this opportunity because, not only was able to apply my education in a practical context, but I have maintained some amazing professional and personal relationships with the staff from my co-op placement.

     

    Categories: Blog, Co-Op, Experiential Education, SSAS Alumni Contributor, SSAS Student Contributor

  • Blue Flag eco-label demonstrates the holistic nature of sustainability science

    By: Kelsey Scarfone

    Kelsey is a Master of Sustainability alumna and the acting Water Programs Manager for Blue Flag Canada. Blue Flag is an international eco-label for beaches marinas and sustainable tourism boats, operated in Canada by Environmental Defence.

    One of the first things I learned in the Sustainability Science and Society (SSAS) graduate program was that true sustainability is holistic and multi-faceted, and calls on a wide range of disciplines. This could not be truer in practice.

    In my first career position after the Master of Sustainability program, the Blue Flageco-label has exemplified the concepts of sustainability learned through the graduate degree. Blue Flag began in Europe 30 years ago, created and fostered by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).  Today, 46 countries have adopted the Blue Flag program and there are over 4,000 beaches, marinas and sustainable tourism boats flying the prestigious flag. In Canada, there are 27 beaches and 8 marinas flying the flag, and the program is operated by Environmental Defence.

    In order to be awarded a Blue Flag, criteria in four main categories must be met. These categories are: environmental education, safety, water quality and environmental management. In the case of beaches, for example, there are 33 criteria in total that are evaluated first by a National Jury, then by an International Jury. This process re-occurs annually, meaning that even if a beach has been certified for 20 years they are still submitted to this rigorous and thorough evaluation. The process lends to the legitimacy of the Blue Flag certification.

    Imbedded into the Blue Flag award is the concept of sustainability science. If one of the four components are not being met to the highest standard, the beach, marina or sustainable tourism boat is failing not only to achieve Blue Flag, but also in the overarching goal of sustainable management. In order to operate to the highest environmental standard, Blue Flag sites need to have swimmable clean water, environmental education programs and management committees, lifeguards and/or safety equipment, and robust emergency response plans.

    In my position as the acting manager for this program, I’ve learned how to be agile between these core concepts of beach, marina and tourism sustainability. Of course, the environment is at the heart of my role, but I’ve also had to integrate the perspectives of public health, waterfront safety and rescue, and tourism development into my decision-making and program management. The SSAS program prepared me well for this and taught me how to bring these classically separate disciplines together in the goal of a truly sustainable tourism product.

    Blue Flag beaches and marinas are among some of the most popular in the world. However, due to the strict and holistic criteria of the program, these tourism destinations are protected against overuse, misuse and environmental degradation. The success of this program lends itself to the same view of sustainability that the ESRC and SSAS hold: that it will take all disciplines and a multitude of approaches in order to achieve sustainable societies. The opportunity to apply this approach and see it mirrored in international environmental programming is a testament to the SSAS program and its ability to prepare students for the sustainability science field in practice.

    Photo of Blue Flag

    Photo by: Environmental Defence Canada

    Photo of Blue Flag

    Photo by: Environmental Defence Canada

    Categories: Blog, SSAS Alumna Contributor, SSAS Program

  • USC-Brock PhD Sustainability Scholarship awarded to Lisa McIlwain

    PhD student Lisa McIlwain has been awarded the University of the Sunshine Coast- Brock University PhD scholarship in Sustainability for 2019. This is the 2nd offering of this prestigious scholarship, which developed from ongoing collaboration between the Sustainability Research Centre (SRC) at the University of the Sunshine Coast (Australia) and the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) at Brock University, and was developed to enable research on sustainability issues affecting both the northern and southern hemispheres.

    Lisa’s research will explore opportunities to strengthen social-ecological resilience as a strategy of climate change adaptation, under a supervisory panel of Dr Claudia Baldwin from SRC, and Drs Gary Pickering and Julia Baird from ESRC. Originally from Belzig, Germany, Lisa is relocating to the Sunshine Coast (SRC) from New South Wales in Australia, where she has been living and working recently. This is not Lisa’s first academic experience in Australia. During her Bachelor studies in Geographical Science at the Freie University Berlin, she completed a CSIRO traineeship at the eco-science precinct in Brisbane, and returned to Brisbane in 2016 for an exchange semester at the University of Queensland during her Masters studies in Environmental Policy and Planning. Her PhD research will focus on social change as a vehicle to build adaptive capacity in all sectors of society and aims to identify ways to reduce vulnerability without compromising sustainable transition. 

    University of Sunshine Coast Sustainability Research Centre Newsletter – Summer 2018

    Categories: Blog

  • Environmental buzzwords at centre of public discussion

    “Sustainability” and “stewardship” are among the many environmental buzzwords that have become a part of everyday life.

    But what exactly do those words mean?

    Researchers from Brock’s Posthumanism Research Institute (PRI) and Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) will delve deep into the meaning of these and other terms during an upcoming discussion held on campus Wednesday, Jan. 16.

    Brief presentations will be given on the environmental concepts of sustainability, stewardship, transformation, resilience and consumerism, followed by an open discussion with the audience.

    The event features guest speakers Julia Baird, Assistant Professor in Brock’s ESRC and the Department of Geography and Tourism Studies; Jessica Blythe, Assistant Professor in the ESRC; Christine Daigle, PRI Director and Professor of Philosophy; Trevor Norris, Associate Professor, Department of Educational Studies; and Ryan Plummer, Professor and ESRC Director.

    The event, held from 1 to 3 p.m. in Plaza 600F, will be hosted by David Fancy, PRI member and Associate Professor, Dramatic Arts.

    All are welcome to attend.

    Categories: Event

  • BLYTHE, DAIGLE AND BAIRD: The meaning of environmental words matters in the age of ‘fake news’

    Jessica Blythe, Assistant Professor in Brock’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, Christine Daigle, Professor of Philosophy, and Julia Baird, Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair in Human Dimensions of Water Resources and Water Resilience, co-wrote a piece recently published in the National Post about the misuse and misinterpretation of environmental words.

    Blythe, Daigle and Baird write:

    This week, U.S. President Donald Trump gave a live address on prime-time television where he repeatedly used the words “violent,” “illegal aliens” and “crisis” to arouse public fear. While Trump’s speech was based largely on fallacies, his fear-mongering shapes the national tone and can generate real-world impacts.

    Words matter because they wield power. Words shape our thinking about the world and, in turn, the actions we take. The meaning of words has never been more relevant than now — in the era of “fake news” — when so-called alternative facts abound.

    Environmental words can also be misinterpreted or misused. In the most sinister cases, language can be put to work to promote particular agendas and silence others.

    Remember “beautiful clean coal?” The Trump administration used the term as the backbone for the continued development of the fossil fuel industry. At the same time, it systematically removed the words “climate change” from federal websites, a measure aimed at undermining climate action.

    Power can be expressed through environmental buzzwords. They are used to influence policy direction, funding and produce norms that become entrenched in their meaning around the world. Motivated by this idea, our recent research explores the meaning of three environmental buzzwords — resilience, sustainability and transformation. Meaning influences the way we understand environmental problems and shapes the solutions we prioritize — or don’t.

    Continue reading the full article here.

    Article originally published in The Brock News

  • Thinking Sustainably is Thinking Strategically

    Blog Contributor: Connor Thompson

    Brock Strategic Plan 2018 to 2025

    Brock University closed out 2018 by unveiling a new Strategic Plan titled “Brock University: Niagara Roots – Global Reach”. Meant to serve as a guide to planning and decision-making processes through 2025, you should not be surprised to see environmental sustainability as a focal point of the Plan!

    “Sustainable, accountable, transparent stewardship” is listed as the eighth and final guiding value that the University is committing to over the next seven years. Brock recognizes its position as a steward of public and private resources, which is especially important as the school exists within a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) Biosphere Reserve on the Niagara Escarpment. Understanding how the institution operates and the effect it has on human, financial, and environmental resources will be critical to achieving sustainable outcomes across all three categories.

    Additional focus is given to environmental sustainability in regard to meeting societal expectations and demands. As Brock is a publicly-supported institution, the University is obligated to meet and ideally exceed all legislative requirements including those pertaining to environmental protection and sustainability. The University is in a prime position to serve as a benchmark for other institutions to try and meet, and this new Strategic Plan affirms a willingness and desire to improve our sustainability efforts across campus and into the greater community.

    You can read through the entirety of Brock’s new Strategic Plan: “Niagara Roots – Global Reach: Brock University Institutional Strategic Plan 2018-2025”

    Categories: Blog, Innovative Partnership, SSAS Student Contributor, Sustainability at Brock

  • Life in the Master of Sustainability Program – First Semester

    Blog Contributor: Connor Thompson

    While trying to write the opening to this post on a snow-covered December morning, Dr. Jessica Blythe visited our space on the second floor of Theal House to say hello. After a brief chat on how things were going that week, she shared the following:

    “I realized I was working from four different to-do lists and I needed to amalgamate them.”

    That sentence accurately depicts life in the program. I can confirm that scheduling is a juggling act, the readings are complex, assignments are intense, and new tasks fall in your lap just as you become comfortable with your impending deadlines.

    I would also wager that any grad student on campus can relate.

    The Master of Sustainability program will challenge you, but you can handle it if you keep your head down and an agenda in your bag at all times. With the first semester in the books, here is a quick recap of the courses I took within the co-op stream:

    SSAS 5P01 – Foundations of Sustainability Science and Society

    Dr. Plummer’s course set the tone for the program by broadening our understanding of sustainability science through interesting readings, thought-provoking discussion, and an extraordinarily demanding research paper. 5P01 also had an experiential education component that helped connect our research to real-world outcomes.

    SSAS 5P02 – Methods for Environmental Inquiry

    The focus of Dr. Baird’s course was a multi-submission group research project that cumulated in the individual writing of a research note. Building a strong group dynamic was a critical part of the class, and I particularly liked how well my group and I got to know each other over the semester.

    SSAS 5P04 – Transdisciplinary Seminar

    5P04 brought researchers and professionals in to speak with us from across disciplines, which was incredibly useful in bridging sustainability research, policy, and practice. These events are open to the public and you can see past seminars here:

    https://brocku.ca/esrc/transdisciplinary-seminars/

    SSAS 5P11 – Water Resource Economics, Management and Governance

    Dr. May’s lectures drew on his vast career experience and were supplemented with presentations from outside experts, which made for an interesting class every week. Students were also given the opportunity to facilitate a seminar and discussion during the semester. The class had five total students, so calling it intimate would be an understatement.

     SSAS 5N90 – Co-op Education Professional Preparation Course

    As a co-op student I also took 5N90, which was a refresher course on the entire process of seeking employment. I can honestly say that my interviewing skills and resume have never looked better, and I have this course to thank.

    As much as I am enjoying the holiday break, I cannot wait to get back on campus and dig into my research. How many students can say that and mean it?

    For more information about the Master of Sustainability program here at Brock, please visit:

    https://brocku.ca/esrc/ssas/

    Categories: Blog, SSAS Program, SSAS Student Contributor

  • New plan enhances Brock’s environmental focus

    When it comes to environmental sustainability, Brock University wants to lead by example.

    While its students and researchers can often be found working with local communities to develop environmental initiatives, the University recognizes that in many cases, change begins at home.

    With that mantra in mind, Brock has been working toward reducing its carbon footprint and increasing sustainability on its campuses. Building on the momentum of several initiatives already underway, the University has created an Environmental Sustainability Plan (ESP) to map its existing efforts and provide guidance into the future. The document aims to identify strategies, objectives and actions that will allow Brock to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2023 (based on 2013 levels).

    A requirement of the $7.9 million in provincial government funding received by Brock through the Greenhouse Gas Campus Retrofits Program (GGCRP) in March, the plan covers the University’s environmental performance in energy conservation and greenhouse gas emissions reduction, environmental sustainability management and education for sustainability.

    The document was informed by the Brock University Sustainability Committee, which  oversees implementation, and is the result of efforts by students, staff, faculty and senior administration. It is one of the first major deliverables of the Brock University Charter, an agreement formed between Facilities Management and the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC).

    The Charter agreement is an “innovative mechanism to advance sustainability at Brock in an integrated fashion,” said Ryan Plummer, Professor and Director of the ESRC. “The plan is the first comprehensive overview of sustainability activities at Brock University and will provide an essential basis as the University continues to move forward with our collective core value of sustainability and becoming a pillar for sustainability in the Niagara region.”

    Through the Charter, the University successfully applied for Canada Summer Jobs funding and hired three student interns to assist with sustainability at Brock.

    Guided by staff from the ESRC and Facilities Management, the trio of fourth-year Business Administration student Shanen D’Souza, fourth-year Public Health student Kaitlin James, who is also minoring in sustainability and Master of Sustainability candidate, Shelby McFadden, spent much of their time from May to August focused on the ESP.

    “Environmental sustainability is fundamental to everything we do at Brock,” said University President Gervan Fearon. “This plan conveys our achievements regarding environmental sustainability and our balanced approach to supporting Ontario’s future. Brock University is making the decisions today for a sustainable and vibrant future tomorrow.”

    The University, he said, “looks forward to building upon our current efforts.”

    “In moving forward, we will broadly engage the Brock community and thereby advance environmental sustainability across our functions in innovative and exciting ways.”

    Funds received through the GGCRP are being used to complete Phase 2 of Brock’s District Energy Efficiency Project (DEEP), upgrading and modernizing the University’s co-generation facility, which is a reliable and energy-efficient source of electricity, cooling and heating on campus.

    The plant has “enabled research to continue and grow without interruption, even in the face of adverse weather events, such as the 2003 Northeast Blackout,” said Scott Johnstone, Associate Vice-President, Facilities Management.

    “However, ranging from 22 to more than 50 years old, some of the equipment was at its end of life.”

    Provincially-funded upgrades to the co-generation plant include replacing eight engines with four new high-efficiency models as well as the installation of a new lithium-bromide absorption chiller and new magnetic-bearing electric chiller.

    The new engines are roughly 20 per cent more fuel efficient than their older counterparts, and will consume roughly two million cubic metres less fuel to power the campus. The reduction is the equivalent of removing 720 small passenger cars from the road.

    Brock’s Environmental Sustainability Plan is available online.

    Scott Johnstone, Associate Vice-President, Facilities Management, gives students Kaitlin James, Shanen D’Souza and Shelby McFadden a tour of the University’s Central Utilities Building.


    Story originally published in The Brock News.
    Categories: Innovative Partnership, Sustainability at Brock

  • We Can All Be Washroom Warriors

    Blog Contributor: Shelby McFadden

    Dual Flush Toilet Handle

    We all visit the washrooms while on campus, but how often do we pay attention to the environmental impact we’re having during these short visits? In 2016’s waste audit, washrooms were the fifth largest generator of solid waste on campus. Paper towel made up most of the waste, and while Brock has reduced this impact by removing paper towels from many of the washrooms, there are a few washrooms where they still remain. Instead of using paper towel or toilet paper to dry your hands, take a few extra seconds to take advantage of the hand dryers.

    A lot of organics are also thrown out in the washrooms, which is an issue we still need to work on. Rather than putting all your waste in a single garbage bin, make your way out of the washrooms to an area on campus that provides bins for recyclables and organics.

    Another common wasted resource in the washrooms is water. While water use is inevitable, we should all do our part to minimize the amount of water we use. This can be as simple as making sure to turn taps off all the way after washing your hands. Many of the toilets and urinals on campus now have low flow flushers, where you can either push the switch up or pull it down depending on how much water you need. This technology can help save water, but only if we take the time to use it properly. Take an extra second to read the instructions before flushing in order to reduce your footprint.

    These actions may seem small, but small actions can create big change. Let’s be creative and proactive, and do what we can in all areas of campus to be more sustainable.

    Categories: Blog, Innovative Partnership, SSAS Student Contributor, Sustainability at Brock, Uncategorised

  • Brock researchers to introduce coastal research project to Lincoln residents and stakeholders

    A research project examining how coastal communities can deal with the impacts of climate change will formally launch in the Town of Lincoln this week.

    The town suffered around $1 million in damage as a result of back-to-back spring storms in 2017 that caused massive flooding from Lake Ontario. Announced in May, Brock University Professor and UNESCO Chair in Community Sustainability Liette Vasseur is leading a three-year research study that will focus on Lincoln as the Ontario component of a wider project by Université du Québec à Rimouski.

    The Town of Lincoln sustained nearly $1 million in damage from spring storms in 2017.

    The local research is being funded through a $280,000 grant from the Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response Network (MEOPAR) with additional support from the Town of Lincoln and Brock.

    The Lincoln research will officially be launched on Thursday, Nov. 29 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the Fleming Centre in Beamsville. Interested residents and landowners will be able to meet Vasseur and her research team and learn more about how they can participate in the project. There will also be a short discussion to learn more about the experiences of those in attendance around climate change and extreme weather events in the town.

    “Our strong partnership with Brock enables these types of on-the-ground research opportunities, informing and providing evidence-based decisions for our community,” said Town of Lincoln CAO Michael Kirkopoulos.

    Vasseur said she hopes the end result of the research will be sustainable options for the future such as how to help slow down and prevent shoreline erosion or any other impacts on the town.

    “With this project, we want to help the community and the town contribute to solutions and strategies to adapt to climate change,” she said.

    What: MEOPAR Town of Lincoln Research Project Launch

    When: Thursday, Nov. 29, 6:30 to 8 p.m.

    Where: Fleming Centre, Room A, 5020 Serena Dr., Beamsville

    Who: Open to all

     

    Story originally published in The Brock News.