News

  • Green Infrastructure and Low Impact Development: Expert Perspectives

    Blog Contributor: Erica Harper

    On October 22nd, the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre hosted their second Sustainability Seminar Series event of the term. The event consisted of a panel discussion with three professionals in the green infrastructure and low impact design space with decades of rich experiences and knowledge bases. The panelists were: Safdar Abidi, Principal, Practice Leader at Perkins and Will, Dr. Janani Sivarajah, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, Brock University and Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, and Paul Leitch, Director, Environmental Sustainability Services at Blackstone Energy Services.

    The panel kicked off with an important question – “what do ‘low impact’ and ‘sustainability’ mean to you?”. This question allowed the panelists to provide the audience members with their perspective and lens when it comes to working in the low impact development and green infrastructure industry. The responses varied greatly, but one common theme was that sustainability and low impact design need to be synonymous with social, ecological, and economical resilience. Another key aspect of sustainability that Dr Sivarajah, Mr. Abidi, and Mr. Leitch pointed out was that buildings and designs must be “low impact” not only for humans, but animals, plants, and all other ecological systems for us all to thrive.

    The second questions asked panelists to identify challenges that they perceive as roadblocks to implementing low impact development and green infrastructure. Mr. Leitch highlighted that many facilities and organizations have conflicting priorities that get in the way of integrating green infrastructure and low impact development, but that we must properly communicate the benefits of sustainable design for it to be implemented “from the boiler room to the board room”. Additionally, Mr. Abidi stated that as long as we see sustainability as an optional choice instead of a priority, we will not be able to move forward in terms of green infrastructure and low impact development and we must debunk the myth that “climate change is a subjective issue”. Lastly, Dr. Sivarajah mentioned that sustainable design is often an afterthought and we try to fit it in after the “grey” infrastructure is set. Dr. Sivarajah also stated that we need to go back to our roots, making sure that low impact development and green infrastructure are planned from the onset of a development with transdisciplinary perspectives as stakeholders must work together to implement radical green infrastructure.

    The event’s last question allowed the audience to get a glimpse into how the experienced panelists view the future of low impact development and green infrastructure. To begin, Mr. Abidi explained that the pandemic has provided humans with a strong signal to take a step back and reflect on the value of being part of a community. For a thriving community, we must have the following: healthier and active lifestyles, equity in terms of access to public spaces, and community building. Dr. Sivarajah drove home the importance of planning urban spaces with intention and in a holistic manner that accounts for accessibility, equity, and sustainability for all living beings. Lastly, Mr. Leitch believes that although the transition towards prioritizing low impact development and green infrastructure will be a gradual one, as behavioural changes expand, green infrastructure and low impact development will become expected standards that offer great benefits tied to wellbeing.

    The panel discussion concluded with each professional’s closing statement for audience members. Mr. Leitch stated the importance of generating solutions for complex issues in a “people-oriented way” and to hold strong when it comes to our path with sustainability in school and in our careers. Additionally, Dr. Sivarajah told the students in the audience that they were the future of sustainability and that it is crucial to prioritize your values as they will guide you in the professional world. Lastly, Mr. Abidi left us with the fact that we are in a position of privilege to even have the knowledge to find solutions to climate change and reverse the damage that humans have done to our planet. Mr. Abidi also asked students to think of themselves as “healers of the Earth” as they go on to pursue different career paths in sustainability, low impact development, and green infrastructure.

    All in all, this was an inspiring event that helped students gain a deeper understanding of the major current challenges that professionals face in the space of green infrastructure and low impact design, while also being exposed to ways in which we can overcome them with transdisciplinary solutions.

    Categories: Blog, Experiential Education, Prudhommes Project, SSAS Program, SSAS Student Contributor, Sustainability at Brock, Town of Lincoln

  • Elizabeth Hendriks’ Presentation and an Introduction to our Next Speaker, Adam Shoalts

    Blog Contributor: Savannah Stuart

    The Niagara Parks Commission and Brock University’s ESRC were thrilled to have Elizabeth Hendriks join us on October 21st to discuss connecting the land and water to regional climate change impact. Elizabeth is the Vice President of the WWF Canada’s freshwater program and led the release of the 2017 Watershed Reports. These reports were the first national assessment of the health and stressors of Canada’s freshwater. During her talk, Elizabeth highlighted that the reports do not include 100% of our freshwater systems, as we do not have data to report on all our freshwater resources and there is still much to be investigated within our freshwater systems. You can view the Great Lakes watershed reports on the WWF website to check in with different watersheds’ health and threats. Lake Ontario and the Niagara Peninsula currently have “fair” health, but also have very high levels of threat.

    Overall, Elizabeth said the watershed reports gave evidence of moderately healthy systems. This can give us hope for the future, but she also stated that we need to do better. She encouraged us to become involved in local initiatives to protect our freshwater systems. With the dual crisis of climate and biodiversity loss, freshwater highly impacts life on land, above water, and below water. Freshwater systems do not have the same level of protection and conservation that some land masses do, which could be a prominent issue in ensuring their health in the future. Additionally, freshwater systems are inextricably connected with ecosystem health and the ecosystem services that the land graciously provides

    Our next speaker in the series will bring with him a great sense of adventure! Named one of the “greatest living explorers” by CBC and Canadian Geographic, Adam Shoalts will speak about incredible adventures in the great Canadian wilderness. A previous student at Brock University, Adam went on to complete his master’s and PhD at McMaster University, focusing on history, natural history, geography, and archeology. Adam is now an accomplished author with multiple books that have reached best-seller lists. Adam will share with us the value of the wild places he has explored and how important they are to our future. We hope you can join us on October 28th at 7pm for this online session.

    To learn more about this speaker series, and Brock’s partnership with the Niagara Parks Commission, please click here.

     

    Categories: Blog, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Event, Innovative Partnership, SSAS Student Contributor

  • Dr. Jessica Blythe’s presentation and an introduction to our next speaker, Elizabeth Hendriks

    Blog Contributor: Allison Clark 

    Niagara Parks and Brock University were delighted to have Dr. Jessica Blythe lead the second session of October’s Speaker Series. Dr. Blythe is an Assistant Professor at Brock University and her research is centered around transformations in sustainability, equitable ocean governance, and climate change adaptation. Dr. Blythe’s talk encouraged the audience to think critically about resilience and climate change at a local and global scale. Dr. Blythe explained that transformations towards a more sustainable future will require focus on both environmental systems and social systems. For example, the costs of environmental change are distributed unevenly across geographic location, race, income, class, and age. Therefore, resilience to climate change will require social and environmental action. 

    Dr. Blythe explained how transformation towards a more sustainable and equitable future occurs in three phases: diagnose, imagine, and action. The diagnose phase includes identifying the root causes of climate change, for example, increased greenhouse gas emissions. The imagine phase includes imagining a more just, fair, inclusive world, where people can work together towards an environmentally sustainable future. The action phase includes the actions needed to address climate change from a sustainable lens. Action will require people from every sector and every part of society and will involve both bottom up and top down interventions. The key take-away from Dr. Blythe’s talk was that a transformation – towards a more sustainable and equitable future – is already underway. Dr. Blythe concluded by stating that we each have a role to play in creating a more sustainable future and that while doing so, we must engage with compassion, care, and collaboration. 

    The next session in this speaker series will be led by Elizabeth Hendriks, and is titled: Connecting the Land, Water and Climate Impact to the Region. Ms. Hendriks is the Vice President of WWF Canada’s freshwater program, where she works in water policy. In 2017, Ms. Hendriks led the release of the Watershed Reports, which is a program assessing freshwater ecosystem health. Additionally, Ms. Hendrik’s leads Canada’s Freshwater team, working to address declines in freshwater ecosystems through innovative remediation techniques. In Ms. Hendrik’s talk, she will discuss impacts and threats to Canada’s freshwater resources. This talk will highlight some of the ways we, as citizens of Canada and the Niagara region, can help address and fight biodiversity loss and climate change across Canada, and in the Great Lakes. We hope you can join us on October 21st at 7pm for this online session. 

    To learn more about this speaker series, and Brock’s partnership with the Niagara Parks Commission, please click here 

    Categories: Blog, Collaborations, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Innovative Partnership, SSAS Student Contributor

  • Congratulations to our Fall 2020 Graduates!

    The ESRC is proud to announce that three students have officially completed the SSAS program and are graduating on October 16th, 2020! Emma Baker, Meredith Caspell, and Seyi Obasi made important contributions to the field of sustainability science through their research projects while also engaging in other scholarly activities during their time in the SSAS program. We are very proud of them; it’s been an honour to be a part of their academic journey.

    Emma Baker joined the SSAS program in 2018 after receiving an Honours BA in Environmental Governance and Geography from the University of Guelph. Her research project, entitled “Resilience in the City: An Analysis of Urban Water Resilience in Strategic Documents for Toronto, Canada” was supervised by Dr. Julia Baird. In addition to this research work, Emma also completed a co-op position as a Camp Director at the Royal Botanical Gardens Discovery Camp in Hamilton. In this position, Emma helped to emphasize experiential, outdoor learning and write programs to focus on various elements of environmental education. Emma was also recently featured on CHCH News for her work at Royal Botanical Gardens!

    Meredith Caspell joined the SSAS program in 2018 from Pincher Creek, Alberta. Meredith’s thesis project, titled “Visualizing climatic and non-climatic drivers of coastline change in the Town of Lincoln, Ontario, Canada” was supervised by Dr. Liette Vasseur, and successfully defended by Meredith on June 9th, 2020. Meredith has presented her research at numerous conferences throughout her time in the program, including the CatIQ Connect 2020 conference, for which she was one of only three Canadian graduate students chosen to present. Meredith was recently named recipient of the Esri Canada GIS Scholarship for an interactive ArcGIS StoryMap she created as part of her thesis research. She has also been named recipient of the 2020 Fall Distinguished Graduate Student Award.

    Seyi Obasi travelled all the way from Lagos, Nigeria, to join the SSAS program in 2018. Along with fellow graduate Emma Baker, she joined Dr. Julia Baird’s Water Resilience Lab and began her thesis research. She successfully defended her thesis, titled “Determining Individual Endorsement Levels for Water Resilience Principles – A Case Study of the Town of Lincoln, Ontario” on May 26th, 2020. In addition to her work in the SSAS program as a student and a research assistant, Seyi was also very active with Brock International and the Brock University Graduate Student Association (GSA). She was also a recipient of the International Student Ambassador scholarship for the 2019-20 academic year.

    In addition to these three SSAS graduates, we would also like to acknowledge two undergraduate students, Ekamjot Dhillon and Jessica Marlow, who will be graduating with the Minor in Environmental Sustainability. All five of our graduates have worked exceedingly hard to reach this important academic milestone, and we hope you’ll join us in expressing our heartfelt congratulations!

    Categories: Blog, Event, SSAS Program

  • NPC Stewardship Series: Teachings from Brian Kon, and an Introduction to Dr. Jessica Blythe

    Blog Contributor: Savannah Stuart

    Jessica Blythe

    The Environmental Sustainability Research Centre was thrilled to have our fall speaker series commence with Brian Kon, the chair of the Niagara Region Métis Council, renowned artist, and storyteller, among many other things. Brian offered the audience a change to engage with a different perspective of understanding and knowing the earth. He shared teachings and stories from his culture and explained how the translation of many words within the Métis language beautifully illustrate a deep connection with the earth. For example, “dancing” could be translated to “the Northern Lights”. 

    Brian also reminded us of the recent history of residential schools within Canada, the last one closing in 1996. He shared some of his journey in reconnecting with his culture- one that was taken away from many. Brian highlighted that it is important to educate on this history, as we can learn from the past to ensure a better future. Resources to further educate yourself on the discussed history include “Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Issues in Canada” by Chelsea Vowel and the “Indigenous Canada”- a free course available through the University of Alberta.  

    The evening ended with a call to action right in our very own backyards and neighbourhoods. Brian introduced us to different plants that are commonly found in our region and invited us to research further into the uses and characteristics of these plants. Having an awareness and understanding of the different organisms around us can have an impact on the way we relate to place and further, care for it.  

    The next speaker in the series is Dr. Jessica Blythe, a professor and researcher here at Brock University in the ESRC. Her background spans through disciplines as she connects social and ecological issues within her work. She is interested in resilience within communities and how resilience may relate to adaptation and transformation. Pulling from the grassroots film “Resilience: transforming our community”, Dr. Blythe will discuss resilience and climate change here in the Niagara Region.  Click here to register for the event!  

    Categories: Blog, Collaborations, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Innovative Partnership, SSAS Student Contributor

  • Introduction to the NPC Stewardship Speaker Series

    Blog Contributor: Allison Clark

      Brock University and the Niagara Parks Commission are pleased to announce the upcoming Environmental Speaker Series, happening this October. This series will be entirely free and will take place online, every Wednesday at 7pm. Throughout this series, four speakers will discuss topics such as: traditional ecological knowledge, sustainability, climate change, and anthropogenic impacts on the natural environment. To register, please click here. You will be taken to the Niagara Parks Speaker Series website, where you can enter your name and email to receive your weekly links for the live stream sessions. 

    The first speaker of this series will be Brian Kon. Mr. Kon is a leader within the Indigenous Community, acting as the Chair of the Niagara Region Métis Council and sitting on the Niagara Indigenous Community Advisory Board, focused on reducing homelessness of Indigenous people. Mr. Kon is an ambassador for the St. Catharines annual Celebration of Nations and is the owner of a diversity management consulting company (Sterling Frazer Associates), dedicated to helping organizations better understand disabled and minority populations. Currently, Mr. Kon is a member of the organizing committee for the Landscape of Nations, dedicated to re-writing the history of the War of 1812 through an Indigenous lens to be incorporated in Canadian school curriculums. Furthermore, Mr. Kon volunteers his time in local schools, helping to educate students and staff on Métis culture and heritage. Mr. Kon is also a visual artist, internationally recognized for his Dot Art, which is a modern version of traditional  artwork created by Métis people. 

    On Wednesday, October 7th, Mr. Kon will lead his talk titled: Mother Earth – We Need Her, She Doesn’t Need Us. Here, Mr. Kon will explain how, for thousands of years, the Indigenous people of Turtle Island followed the notion of respecting and caring for Mother Earth. As modern day people grow aware of environmental and climatic changes, many are looking back on traditional knowledge and ways of life. We hope you can join Mr. Kon as he discusses this topic next week. 

    To learn more about the partnership with the Niagara Parks Commission, please click here 

    Categories: Blog, Collaborations, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Innovative Partnership, SSAS Student Contributor

  • Meet the Post-Docs: Janani Sivarajah

    Janani Sivarajah

    Dr. Janani Sivarajah joined the ESRC in July as a post-doctoral fellow with the Prudhommes Project working with Dr. Ryan Plummer. Janani’s transdisciplinary research explores the ecosystem services of urban trees and public green spaces, and finds greening solutions to improve the socio-ecological resilience of cities.

    What are your research areas of focus, and what was your journey like in getting to that area of focus?

    My research focus is based on urban ecology and finding greening solutions to improve the socio-ecological resilience of cities. I am particularly interested in building multifunctional landscapes and proposing nature-based solutions to global environmental and urban challenges. My journey here is a long road.  I started in Forestry and completed my Master of Forest Conservation at UofT and then went on to do a Ph.D. in Forestry at UofT.  My Ph. D. dissertation paved my way into transdisciplinary research to understand urban trees’ environmental services for human well-being.  While completing my Ph.D., I worked in non-profits and urban forest consulting, and these experiences further shaped my research focus. 

    As a sustainability scientist, how do you view the world?

    As a sustainability scientist, I believe we have a unique ability to use a transdisciplinary lens to see the future and find solutions to evolving and challenging problems.  We also have a responsibility to communicate science with the broader community and work together with other stakeholders to solve problems.

    What excites you the most about working with the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre?

    The most exciting aspect is the people at ESRC.  Even during unprecedented times, I felt welcomed and greeted warmly by all faculty and staff. I am excited to build friendships, foster a supportive environment, and collaborate on exciting projects. They are all superstars in their fields, and I’m eager to learn from their expertise and share my experiences.

    Categories: Applied Research, Blog, Innovative Partnership

  • Meet the Post-Docs: Jennifer Holzer

    Dr. Jennifer Holzer joined the ESRC in February 2020 as a post-doctoral fellow in the Water Resilience Lab working with Dr. Julia Baird and has recently been appointed as an Adjunct Professor in the ESRC. Jen’s doctoral work evaluated the research-implementation gap in social-ecological research in Europe using case studies in Spain, Scotland, and Romania, and provided recommendations that fed directly into enhancing European research infrastructures.

    What are your research areas of focus, and what was your journey like in getting to that area of focus?

     In my current position, I am developing the following areas of focus:

    • Developing and applying a decision support framework for ecosystem services governance at the landscape level
    • Designing effective participatory processes for environmental governance
    • Using social network analysis to understand knowledge flows, decision-making processes, and power dynamics of environmental governance
    • Using agent-based modeling to uncover links between attitudes about resilience and pro-environmental behaviors
    • Developing a tool to assess ‘sense of place’ globally

    My previous (and ongoing) research focused on:

    • Evaluation of transdisciplinary environmental research
    • Bridging the gap between environmental / sustainability science and policy
    • Integration of social sciences with natural science research

    It’s been a winding road from being a teenage environmental activist to where I am today. After some years as an environmental project manager, I returned to academia for a PhD that I hoped would bring me closer to conservation. As a project manager, I had become focused on energy efficiency, which is a crucial aspect of climate work, but I wanted my focus to be closer to the natural world.

    My PhD project was linked to a four-year EU grant to audit social-ecological research platforms in Europe. So the project was an interesting confluence of social ecology, conservation, sustainability, and science and technology studies. I had the opportunity to work with scientists from the European Long-Term Ecological Research network, and to be hosted by some of these colleagues for field research in Europe. It was fascinating, and I was hooked! I also learned a lot about what it means to manage an international environmental research network, so when the opportunity came up to work within a similar research network in Canada (ResNet) – in its startup phase — I jumped at the opportunity.

    As a sustainability scientist, how do you view the world?

     Everything is connected. A person’s mood or outlook can influence whether they decide to spend time in nature, and whether they spend time in nature can influence whether they want to help protect nature. Also, I’m a book person and I love learning for the sake of learning, but it’s important to me that what we learn be applied in the real world. The gap between science and practice is a deep concern, especially in these strange times where there is a strong anti-science movement.

    I also worry about whether taking care of the environment is a luxury. We are human first, paying bills, taking care of our families, and safety and security will always come first. Sometimes I lament that as long as we don’t feel completely reliant upon and intertwined with the natural world, we’ll never be able to prioritize taking care of it.

    Perhaps most importantly, I think optimism is a prerequisite to being a sustainability scientist. The bad news about environmental degradation and predictions about the future can be overwhelming. So, there is a moral aspect to a sustainability view of the world. I do believe that we, as humans, are obligated to care for our planet, both as a collective and as individuals. What this looks like is going to be different for everyone, depending on where and how you live and the resources available to you.

    What excites you the most about working with the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre at Brock University?

    I am excited about working in a context where ideas like sustainability and resilience are the starting point! And I’m excited about working with such great people — both in terms of their scholarship and being enjoyable to work with. Everyone seems to have their own quirky sense of humor!

    This is my first time working at a dedicated centre for environmental sustainability, so there are built-in applications to our research. The ESRC has made great efforts to build partnerships with local governments and environmental organizations. I’m looking forward to having results from my first studies and figuring out if we can take it a step further and find a way to apply our findings in the real world. Finally, it’s fascinating for me to work in Canada. From an environmental perspective, the Middle East (where I did my PhD) is a place of scarcity when it comes to water and other key natural resources, and Canada is so rich in natural resources that it’s bound to imbue me with quite a different perspective.

     

     

    Categories: Applied Research, Blog, Faculty Contributor

  • Congratulations to our Spring 2020 Graduates!

    The ESRC is very proud to announce that three students have officially completed the SSAS program and are graduating on June 19th, 2020. Jocelyn Baker, Qurat Shahzad, and Connor Thompson have all worked exceedingly hard throughout their time in the program, and we are so proud to have been a part of each of their academic journeys.

    Jocelyn Baker joined the SSAS program in 2018 and brought with her a number of previous degrees and certifications, including a BA in Geography and Fine Art (Guelph University), a certificate in Terrain and Water Resources (Sir Sanford Fleming College), and a certified Project Management Professional. Jocelyn’s research was supervised by Dr. Liette Vasseur and investigated Management in Canadian Ramsar sites and sustainability through adaptive governance. Jocelyn’s interest in Canadian Ramsar sites was also reflected in her co-op placement, where she worked as a Project Manager, Niagara River Ramsar Designation for the Niagara Restoration Council.

    Qurat Shahzad travelled to St. Catharines all the way from Dubai, UAE to join the SSAS program in 2017. Her research was supervised by Dr. Marcel Oestreich and built on the knowledge she had through her Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science from the American University of Sharjah, UAE. Qurat’s final research investigated the dynamics between the current economic system and sustainability goals.

    Connor Thompson joined the SSAS program in 2018 with an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Political Science (Western University). His research interests aligned with those of Dr. Todd Green, who supervised Connor’s MRP research about the attitude/behaviour gap in low-impact housing development. In addition to his work on his MRP research project and as a research assistant on the ESRC’s Charter with Facilities Management partnership, Connor spent his co-op placement working as an Educator with the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.

    In addition to these three SSAS graduates, we would also like to congratulate our 10 undergraduate students who have completed the Minor in Sustainability. All 13 of our graduates have worked extremely hard to reach this important academic milestone, and we hope you’ll join us in expressing our heartfelt congratulations!

    Categories: Blog, Minor in Sustainability, SSAS Program

  • Student Research Highlight: Transdisciplinary Research in Action

    Blog Contributor: Bridget McGlynn

    Bridget McGlynn

    Sustainability science has three defining characteristics: it recognizes the interconnectedness of human and ecological systems, it asks solution-oriented questions, and uses a transdisciplinary approach. In reflecting on my research, I must say it is an absolute joy and a privilege to be a master’s student in a research centre that emphasis all three components of sustainability science, as it has allowed me to directly engage with all aspects for my thesis research 

    I am a student in the Advancing Environmental Stewardship research group working under the supervision of Dr. Ryan Plummer and Dr. Julia Baird and my thesis research is embedded in the Partnership for Freshwater Resilience to address climate change resilience and governance in the St. John River watershed in New Brunswick. My portion of the project is investigating the current collaborative governance arrangement at two geographic scales with the goal of forwarding system understanding and flood governance in the region. Since I began working within this research project, the entire process has been transdisciplinary. From Brock researchers attending flooding resilience and climate workshops in the St John River watershed to our WWF partners joining the discussion for my proposal presentation, joint goals have been prioritized.  

    As a master’s student preparing a thesis, there is an expectation my research will address a gap in the academic literature, and this gap provides the academic rationale and guides the research questions for the project. During my proposal presentation, I was asked to describe the tangible and practical contributions of my project. My response to this question was based within my perspective that after months of literature review and proposal writing has been heavily fixated on that research gap. While I spoke to the tangible outcomes and value of the proposed data collection, I only articulated a fraction of the value of the project. Following my response, our WWF partners elaborated and described how the entire research process, not only the end data collected or workshop, is providing great value to their colleagues. Simon Mitchell’s description of why this project is important on various levels reaffirmed the usefulness and importance of good sustainability science. Having the opportunity to participate in transdisciplinary research projects as a student is an invaluable experience that has already provided many lessons and I imagine will provide many more before I finish. 

    Categories: Blog, Innovative Partnership, SSAS Student Contributor, Student Contributor