Blog Posts

  • Brock-Lincoln Living Lab research project to examine Lake Ontario shoreline flooding

    The flooding of coastal communities along Lake Ontario last year caused major damage and made people realize that century floods aren’t nearly as rare as the name implies.

    A new research collaboration between Brock University and the Town of Lincoln is aimed at helping the community understand how to deal with the impacts of climate and environmental changes and examining potential avenues of solutions for future development along the shore. It’s the first externally funded project as part of the Brock-Lincoln Living Lab partnership announced in October 2017.

    Brock UNESCO Chair in Community Sustainability Liette Vasseur is leading the three-year research study for the Ontario component of a larger project by Université du Québec à Rimouski, which is examining how various coastal communities can deal with and share ideas on the impacts of climate and environmental changes.

    Brock UNESCO Chair in Community Sustainability Liette Vasseur

    “Communities are becoming more and more exposed to different hazards,” said Vasseur, who has been involved in similar research initiatives in other communities in Atlantic Canada and Ecuador. “With climate change, these types of events are coming faster and more often.”

    The project has received $280,000 in funding from the Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response Network (MEOPAR), with additional support from the Town of Lincoln and Brock. MEOPAR is an independent, not-for-profit organization funded by the federal government as a National Centre of Excellence that supports research and trains students in the area of marine risk and resilience.

    Lincoln suffered around $1 million in damage as a result of back-to-back spring storms in 2017 that caused massive flooding from Lake Ontario. The storms led to the Town’s first-ever voluntary evacuation notice for residents living near the Lake Ontario shoreline, and caused significant damage to Charles Daley Park and sewer systems in Jordan Station and Campden.

    Vasseur said climate change scenarios over the next decade are projecting continuous sea level rise and increases in extreme weather events. This will amplify the severity and frequency of flooding in coastal communities like Lincoln, which is continually growing with more people living near the Lake Ontario waterfront.

    “People were always talking about 100-year events. Now it’s more like one every five years,” she said. “It shows that we need to be more prepared. When we’re planning things like residential developments, we need to plan in a way that we’re going to survive with these types of events.”

    For the Town of Lincoln, the research will provide crucial information about current and future risks.

    “In 2017, Lincoln experienced the real and harsh effects of severe weather on critical infrastructure in our community,” said Lincoln CAO Mike Kirkopoulos. “As another benefit of the Brock-Lincoln Living Lab, this research is grassroots to our community, helping us better understand the conditions for collective ownership of adapting to climate change as an organization and community.”

    Vasseur said the research team will include a postdoctoral fellow and a master’s student, who will collect data in Lincoln, and share information and ideas with other researchers and communities along the St. Lawrence Seaway.

    “It will be a very good learning experience for the students, while helping the communities at the same time,” she said. “We’re hoping that by the end, the data we’re going to get can be used by communities all along the coastline.”

    Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton said municipalities like hers are learning that more frequent smaller floods — not just rare major flooding events — can have a big impact on resources.

    “Climate change and the impact on municipal infrastructure is top of mind for our council,” Easton said. “With the growing municipal infrastructure funding gap, municipalities have a responsibility for long-term planning and mitigation of the effects of climate change. This research is critical for council to understand how we can better identify actions toward climate change adaptation.”

    Story originally published in The Brock News.

  • Environmental sustainability is the theme as Brock teams up with Niagara Parks

    The longstanding relationship between Brock University and the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) has entered a new era after the two institutions inked an agreement to work more closely in developing knowledge and practices in protecting the environment.

    In a ceremony Friday (April 20) at the NPC’s School of Horticulture, Brock Provost and Vice-President Academic Tom Dunk joined Niagara Parks Chair Janice Thomson in signing a Memorandum of Understanding designed to enhance the conservation practices of both organizations, while creating educational and research opportunities for Brock students and faculty through their work with Niagara Parks staff.

    Addressing members of the Parks Commission, Dunk praised the agreement as a reassuring sign of two organizations sharing a commitment to benefit people in the surrounding region, and far beyond.

    “We are both significant Niagara institutions that share a responsibility to use our resources and abilities for the greater good of our own community, and indeed of the whole planet,” said Dunk.

    A central player in this rekindled relationship is Brock’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, whose Director, Ryan Plummer, was a key architect in developing the MOU and encouraging the collaboration behind it.

    The MOU calls for creating an Environmental Stewardship Initiative (EESI) that uses the expertise and resources of both organizations to increase environmental stewardship through public events and, in the case of students, through co-op education opportunities, course work and research.

    Plummer said an example of the potential for this MOU can be seen at the Niagara Glen Nature Area, where some 130,000 visitors a year hike down trails through the forested Niagara Gorge to the edge of the rushing Niagara River. Staff and researchers from both organizations can study public perceptions of the environment in a setting like that, to better understand which stewardship activities work best and which can be improved upon.

    “The MOU will advance the understanding and practice of environmental stewardship,” said Plummer. “Our partnership with the NPC addresses this two-fold challenge and does so in an iconic landscape. Engaging Brock faculty and students directly with staff from the NPC is sustainability science in action.”

    NPC Chair Thomson said the timing of the new agreement with is ideal.

    “This partnership reflects Niagara Parks’ steadfast commitment to the environment,” said Thomson, “and we look forward to continuing to work closely with Brock University and its team at the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre in further advancing and promoting our shared goals.”

    Brock’s ESRC, a part of the Faculty of Social Sciences, is one of Canada’s leading environmental research units, encouraging research excellence in environmental sustainability and engaging in knowledge mobilization that impacts the environment.

    Niagara Parks in an agency of the Ontario government, entrusted to preserve and protect the lands surrounding the Niagara River. Besides managing millions of visitors each year to its Niagara Falls attractions, the Commission operates a wide range of facilities along the Niagara River between Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake, including historic sites, golf courses, nature trails, restaurants and its renowned School of Horticulture.

    Story originally published in The Brock News.

  • Initiatives aim to grow a greener Brock

    The scourge of plastic pollution has gone from being an issue of awareness to one of alarm, as our roadsides, green fields and oceans are increasingly stricken with bags and bottles that will take centuries to break down.

    As more people become aware of the urgency to reduce global consumption, Brock University is constantly striving to do its part — one bottle at a time.

    Earth Day, coming up this Sunday, April 22, is an annual event, but some of Brock’s efforts are year-round initiatives as the University constantly reviews its conservation activities and sets its sights on future goals.

    For instance, when Brock began installing water filling stations in 2013 as a way to discourage use of disposable plastic bottles, there were only eight stations for people to find. Today, there are 44.

    In those four years, the program has kept the equivalent of more than 4.3 million bottles — or roughly 90 metric tonnes of plastic — out of landfills or ditches. This includes 930,343 bottles from the past year alone.

    Brock has introduced four new filling stations since April 2017, and plans to install more in the coming year in hopes of diverting a million bottles a year by Earth Day 2019.

    The sustainability efforts don’t end with water.

    On an institutional scale, Brock recently entered the second phase of a massive multi-year project to update its co-generating power system, replacing 25-year-old facilities with modern equipment to produce electricity, heat and cooling for the campus. When finished, the new system will consume 26 per cent less fuel and reduce annual nitrous oxide gas emissions from 55 tonnes to eight, and hydrocarbons from 15 tonnes to four.

    Other on-campus initiatives promote recycling, reusing or composting waste. Last year Brock diverted some 1,372 tonnes of waste from landfills, including 260 tonnes of organics, 414 tonnes of paper and nearly one tonne of disposable coffee cups.

    The on-campus sustainability initiatives are now being spearheaded by a recently formed partnership between Facilities Management and Environmental Sustainability Research Centre. The two Brock entities have come together in an effort to engage the school community in year-round activities meant to help reduce the University’s environmental impact.

    “We’ve done a lot and are committed to sustainability, but as a community we still have a lot to do,” said Scott Johnstone, Associate Vice-President, Facilities Management. “Every person on campus can be a part of it by making positive choices, whether that’s choosing the right bin for recycling, turning off a light when they leave an office or using the water filling stations instead of buying disposable bottles.”

    Johnstone said a new long-term sustainability plan for Brock should be completed by the fall, and will map out future projects and goals.

    Meantime, a new display in the Thistle corridor just outside the Matheson Learning Commons illustrates how garbage is impacting our planet, and how we can make a difference by disposing of it properly.

    The show includes poetry, drawings and art made from litter found in the nearby woodlands — created in part by a group of children from the Forest School on campus. The display is based on a three-year study on the implementation of the school, which sees preschool-aged children immersed in nature by spending two mornings each week in an outdoor classroom. Led by Debra Harwood, an associate professor in the Faculty of Education, the research examines the experiences of children and educators in an outdoor learning and teaching environment.

    The public display examines the ways in which “children’s immersion in nature provokes opportunities for thinking, learning and acting for sustainability,” Harwood said.

    On display until mid-May outside of the Matheson Learning Commons is a showcase of environmental artwork created by children from the Forest School on campus. Debra Harwood, an associate professor in the Faculty of Education, helped to put the project together.

    Story originally published in The Brock News.

  • Green thumbs needed to grow Brock Community Garden

    In addition to plants, the University is hopeful interest will grow in the Brock Community Garden.

    Brock’s grounds crew is busy tilling the soil, creating new grass aisles and enlarging the 12 garden plots located beside the entrance of the Zone 2 parking lot near Theal House.

    University staff, faculty and students looking to cultivate their green thumb are invited to use one of several free garden plots, assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.

    Six plots are available, with six already claimed. The Rosalind Blauer Centre for Child Care will use two plots for experiential learning; Biological Sciences Professor Liette Vasseur’s research team will use three plots to test different cover crops — plants grown for the protection and enrichment of the soil; and Brock employee Alison Innes (MA ’13) plans to tend one plot for her personal vegetable garden.

    Before learning about the community plots last year, Innes, the social media co-ordinator for the Faculty of Humanities, considered herself a ‘gardener without a garden’ and often resorted to container gardening in her apartment complex.

    “It’s just wonderful to have space to grow things,” she said of the University’s communal greenspace. “It’s easy to stop by the plot at the end of the day and pick some fresh veggies to take home for supper.”

    Last year, Innes grew radishes, lettuce, carrots, chard, cucumber, zucchini, onions, beans and garlic. This year, she looks forward to adding potatoes and trying some heirloom varieties of vegetables such as purple beans. She also has an assortment of herbs and pollinator plants.

    Unfortunately, butterflies and bees aren’t the only animals the plants attract.

    “I joke that the deer and bunnies on campus are really well fed,” she said. “They got all my sunflowers and most of my beans last year. It takes a little creativity to discourage them from munching, but that’s the case wherever you garden.”

    Garden plots are expected to be ready for use after Tuesday, May 22. Water will be available near the garden as well as some tools for sharing. Pesticides are not permitted and annual and non-invasive plants are preferred.

    “I can’t wait to get started,” said Innes. “I find working in the garden really calming and meditative. I like to garden in the evening when it’s a bit cooler and will sometimes see wildlife and birds.”

    Innes encourages first-time gardeners to consider getting a plot.

    “Try it. It’s not as difficult as it might seem, although your garden will need regular care like weeding and watering,” she said. “There are lots of easy-to-grow vegetable like potatoes, beans or summer squash, and lots of great online resources on how to layout your garden. Growing plants from seeds keeps costs down, too.”

    Staff, faculty and students interested in claiming a garden plot are asked to contact Grounds Manager John Dick at

    Story originally published in The Brock News.

  • $7.9 million in provincial funding means green light for Brock’s green energy project

    The second phase of a massive project to upgrade Brock University’s co-generation power facility is moving forward after an Ontario government funding announcement made Tuesday, March 27 in Toronto.

    The Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (MAESD) announced $85.2 million in funding for eight Ontario universities through its Greenhouse Gas Campus Retrofits Program (GGCRP) Innovation Grant Fund. The GGCRP is designed to help post-secondary institutions reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency.

    Brock will receive $7.9 million to complete Phase 2 of its District Energy Efficiency Project (DEEP), which will upgrade and modernize the University’s co-generation facility, a reliable and energy-efficient source of electricity, cooling and heating on campus.

    The first, $10.8-million phase of the DEEP project started 18 months ago and is replacing half of the existing natural gas-powered co-gen engines with state-of-the-art, high efficiency, electronically controlled units. That project is expected to be completed this summer.

    DEEP Phase 2, which is being funded entirely through the Ontario government’s $7.9-million investment, will replace the remaining co-gen engines and install a new high-efficiency electric chiller unit. Work got started earlier this month and will be wrapped up by March 2019. No power interruptions are anticipated on campus as a result of the work.

    “Phase 2 is fully focused on carbon reduction and efficiency,” said Scott Johnstone, Associate Vice-President of Facilities Management. “The existing plant is about 25 years old. We’re replacing it with the latest technology that will make the entire co-gen facility more efficient.”

    The completed DEEP project will result in Brock’s annual NOx (nitrogen oxide) gas emissions dropping from 55 tonnes to just 8 tonnes and non-methane hydrocarbons reducing from 15 tonnes to four. The new co-generation engines will also consume 26 per cent less fuel and result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in utility cost saving each year.

    “This project isn’t just about saving money, it’s about making Brock University more environmentally friendly and reducing our carbon footprint,” said Johnstone.

    St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley said the province and Brock University share a common goal of significant carbon reduction.

    “This investment by the Ontario government reaffirms its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions on university campuses. This will allow the province of Ontario and its post-secondary institutions to lead by example when it comes to being energy efficient,” said Bradley.

    Brian Hutchings, Brock’s Vice-President, Administration, said the government’s investment in the co-generation facility will have a positive effect elsewhere in the University.

    “What’s unprecedented for Brock with this project is that it’s 100 per cent funded by the province,” Hutchings said. “The upgrades will result in significant utility cost savings, which will allow us to keep those costs flat during a period of inflation.”

    With the completion of the second phase of the DEEP project, all of the equipment in the co-generation facility will be new, which Johnstone said “will set the University up for another 25 or 30 years of service.”

    Story originally published in The Brock News

  • Brock unveils a new showcase and a new era for environmental sustainability

    It was built nearly two centuries ago, but the oldest structure on Brock’s campus has been given new life and a new purpose as a focal point for the University’s sustainability efforts.

    Theal House, an original farm cottage that dates to 1837, has been transformed into the home of Brock’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC), which produces world-class research and educates students in topics relating to environmental sustainability.

    Unveiled during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, Feb. 28, the revamped space features sustainable flooring and furniture, as well as an integrated system that controls heating, cooling and lighting, and monitors real-time energy use for the entire campus.

    Environmental Sustainability Research Centre Director Ryan Plummer, left, reads over a new project charter with Tom Dunk, Interim Provost and Vice-President, Academic, and Brian Hutchings, Vice-President, Administration. The agreement will see the ESRC work with Brock’s Facilities Management team on upcoming sustainability initiatives.

    LED lighting has also been installed throughout the heritage building, with dimmer and daylight harvesting switches in place to reduce energy consumption.

    In addition to highlighting the space, Wednesday’s ceremony was an opportunity to solidify a new collaboration between the ESRC and Brock’s Facilities Management team. The collaboration is enshrined in a formal charter that brings together the academic and operations units on various sustainability initiatives on campus. It is also an important step forward for Brock’s new integrative approach to environmental sustainability, and deepens the University’s commitment to sustainability — one of the seven core values listed within its strategic plan.

    Also announced Wednesday was $5,000 in new scholarship funding provided by Toromont CAT that will support students studying sustainability.

    Professor and ESRC Director Ryan Plummer said the partnership signals a new era in the University’s journey to be a national leader in sustainability.

    “The charter enables rich opportunities for experiential education relating to environmental sustainability, and the scholarships recognize as well as support excellence in this area of study,” said Plummer. “They will have a profound and positive impact by enhancing student experience, promoting innovative approaches for learning excellence and furthering engagement with sustainability.”

    Brock has been dedicated to improving energy and operational efficiency on campus with dozens of energy projects and green initiatives completed over the years, said Scott Johnstone, the University’s Associate Vice-President, Facilities Management.

    “Moving forward, we want to further our partnership with staff, students, faculty members and the larger Brock community to enhance, challenge and maintain a campus culture of sustainability.”

    Sean Goodman and Ron Cocking, of Toromont CAT, presented Scott Johnstone, Brock’s Associate Vice-President, Facilities Management, and Ingrid Makus, interim Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, with $5,000 to support students in sustainability programming at Brock.

    Hands-on experiential learning opportunities that contribute to sustainability at the University will be made available to students through co-op placements, research assistant opportunities, independent research and course-based projects.

    This week’s announcements reinforce the University’s values around sustainability, while also taking into consideration Brock’s role in a global context, said President Gervan Fearon. “We’re part of the broader ecosystem and as such, we need to think about the impact our footprint has and what our actions in support of sustainability mean.”

    Brock recognizes its distinction as one of only a few universities within a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and intends to continue pushing forward with its environmental sustainability initiatives, he said.

    Brock’s programs concentrating on sustainability are growing quickly. The Master of Sustainability program was introduced in 2014 and continues to receive considerable uptake from across Canada and around the world. In 2017, the ESRC launched the Minor in Environmental Sustainability and early signs suggest it is following a similar positive trajectory.

    Theal House is now the home of Brock’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre.

    Story originally published in The Brock News

  • A greener Brock taking shape

    You may have noticed them buzzing about campus over the past few months.

    Two new Brock-branded electric Smart cars have been added to the Facilities Management fleet, contributing to the University’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

    Brock has a number of initiatives on the go as work continues to achieve a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 20 per cent between 2013 and 2023.

    Scott Johnstone

    Scott Johnstone, Interim Associate Vice-President of Facilities Management, stands in front of Brock’s cooling system.







    The Smart cars replaced supervisor vehicles — one van and one SUV — previously driven around campus. The two-year-old electric cars, each with minimal kilometres, were purchased for $10,000 each. In comparison, vans previously added to the fleet were each more than double that cost.

    “We get about a week and a half on one charge just moving around campus, avoiding fill-ups at the gas pumps,” said Scott Johnstone, Interim Associate Vice-President of Facilities Management.

    “It means significant carbon savings.”

    The University sought out green options when replacing the fleet vehicles and the cars have proven to be a benefit since their introduction two months ago.

    “Our goal is to work toward carbon neutrality over time,” Johnstone said, calling the Smart vehicles a step in the right direction. “We’re trying to cut down on burning fossil fuels as much as we can.”

    The University is also midway through its $10.8-million District Energy Efficiency Project (DEEP), which is scheduled for completion by the end of April 2018.

    The project is funded by the federal and provincial governments, through the Strategic Investment Fund and Facilities Renewal Program respectively.

    The DEEP project includes an upgrade to Brock’s co-generation plant and satellite utility areas that will allow the University to reduce its carbon emissions by 15 per cent. The plant produces electricity, heating and cooling for main campus research laboratories, teaching spaces and supporting infrastructure.

    That reduction is a “huge step” toward Brock’s 20 per cent reduction goal, Johnstone said.

    The DEEP project will replace more than 50 per cent of the natural gas power co-generation engines and controls with state-of-the-art, high efficiency, electronically controlled units.

    Also replaced with a high-efficiency model will be the University’s 25-year-old absorption chiller, which will increase cooling capacity and save more energy.

    The new technology will significantly reduce Brock’s greenhouse gas emissions, while saving utility costs and reducing maintenance costs.

    It’s also expected to free up funds that can be put toward other energy saving initiatives and deferred maintenance projects.

    Brock is currently exploring solar and wind power options for the future.

    Story from The Brock News

  • Grand opening set for new cycling path near Brock

    Travelling to Brock by bike or on foot just got a bit easier — and a lot safer.

    Work on the new Decew and Merrittville multi-use pathway has been completed, providing a safe route to get to the University from one of the most popular off-campus residential neighbourhoods.

    Last year, the Government of Ontario, City of Thorold, Niagara Region and Brock University announced a partnership to build a network of bike lanes and paths that would stretch from the Confederation Heights neighbourhood to the Brock campus.

    The announcement followed lobbying efforts by the Brock University Students’ Union for improved cycling infrastructure near campus.

    The first phase of the project began in 2016 with Decew Road reconstructed from Richmond Street to Merrittville Highway. Work continued this past April with a multi-use path and improved lighting installed on the highway between Decew Road and Sir Isaac Brock Way.

    An officially opening for the new pathway will be held Wednesday, July 19 at 3 p.m. outside of Niagara Region headquarters — on the southeast corner of Sir Isaac Brock Way and Merrittville Highway. The ceremony will be followed by a bike ride for cyclists of all ages. All are welcome to attend.

    Active transportation, such as walking or cycling, is a healthy way for the large population of Brock students and employees living in Thorold to commute to campus, said Elizabeth Yates, a liaison librarian at Brock, who is also a member of the Thorold Active Transportation Advisory Committeethat advocated for the path project.

    “Before this pathway was built, walking or riding along Decew and Merrittville felt unsafe due to large volumes of traffic, with vehicles sometimes travelling over the speed limits,” she said. “Poor nighttime lighting was another concern.”

    As a cyclist and advocate for active transportation in the community, Yates was impressed to see so many partners come together to show their support for an initiative that “promotes healthy commuting and makes our area safer for everyone.”

    Story from The Brock News

  • Brock launches Green 2 Go re-usable container program

    Brock Hospitality Services is, quite literally, going green.

    A new program aimed at diverting waste and making the food services at Brock more environmentally friendly launched Monday.

    Through the new Green 2 Go program, anyone purchasing food from Guernsey Market, The Hungry Badger in Walker Complex or either the DeCew or Lowenberger residence dining halls will have the option of using a re-usable plastic container.

    Initially, customers will have the option of having food servers put their food into one of the green 6”x9” containers. When they go to a cashier to pay, they’ll be charged an extra $5 fee for the container, which can then be taken anywhere by the customer. When they’re finished with it, the container can be returned dirty to any of the four participating dining areas, where they’ll receive a Green-2-Go card, which can be handed to a food server to get a new container.

    “In the past, we couldn’t do this because people had to clean the containers themselves,” said Iain Glass, Director of Hospitality Services. “Now, we can put these containers into our industrial dishwashers to be cleaned an sanitized.”

    The containers seal tightly so they won’t spill, and they keep food warm longer than a typical take-out container.

    Glass said they can be washed about 800 times before needing to be recycled and replaced with a new one.

    For now, only one type of container is being offered, but a screw-top soup container is also being developed and will be added if the program takes off.

    For more information on Brock’s sustainability initiatives or the Green 2 Go program, visit

    Story from The Brock News

  • Keeping Brock green makes for a busy tree planting program

    From The Brock News

    It was hard not to notice the row of honey locust trees in front of Taro Hall being removed in October to make way for the $24-million expansion of Brock’s Goodman School of Business.

    Less obvious, however, is the plan that had long been in place to replace them with even more new trees around campus.

    In the past two years about 155 new trees have been planted by the Brock grounds crew, an initiative that can be traced to the construction of the Cairns Family Health and Biosciences Complex, said John Dick, Manager, Ground Services.

    “When Cairns came along, we had to remove trees, but we planted way more trees than we removed,” said Dick. “They haven’t necessarily gone back in the same spot, but we’re planting mostly native trees and placing them in locations where they will thrive well into the future.”

    One of the challenges for Grounds Services is finding appropriate spots that will allow the trees to mature properly. Many areas have pipes and other obstructions that complicate the issue of digging and planting.

    “Sometimes you wonder why there’s a spot that doesn’t have trees, but there are a lot of underground services that prevent them being planted there,” said Dick, who added that maintaining a balance with wide open areas on campus is also important.

    Another issue crews have been dealing with for the past year or more is removal of dead or dying ash trees, as the relentless emerald ash borer insect continues to devastate those native hardwoods.

    “All of Niagara is affected. There are some treatments but they’ll only work for the short term. Most of (Brock’s ash trees) are showing signs of having the insect. There are a number of young trees that haven’t been affected yet, so the hope is they may outlive the insect,” said Dick, adding that most of Brock’s ash trees were fortunately not of significant size or age.

    As ash trees are removed, they’re replaced with a wider variety of species.

    “We try to add tree species to keep our diversity going,” said Dick, “so that we don’t have the same problem in the future.”