News

  • OSCIII Blog: Farming—an essential service

    Spring soil amendment application in a Niagara vineyard, May 2018 (Photo: Heather VanVolkenburg).


    The term “essential service” is one that most of us have become acutely aware of in the past few months. An essential service refers to an occupation that a government or governing body deems to be necessary for preserving life, health and basic societal functioning. These services are determined to be needed during an emergency as well as when job action is taken in a labour dispute (such as during strikes). Such services must maintain operations during a crisis in order to ensure that society can still function during and after that crisis. Services deemed essential usually include hospitals and healthcare, law enforcement, firefighting, garbage collection, utilities (i.e. water and electricity), and food services connected to the food supply chain.

    Determining what qualifies as an essential food service can be complicated. From a consumer’s perspective, we are often only concerned with the availability of food in the grocery store. Some may also think of food services as the prepared salad on the shelf at your local grocery store or a meal purchased from a fast food joint. While these businesses are indeed essential, there is one essential food service that is perhaps the most important: farming. Farming forms the foundation of all food services, providing us with the food and ingredients necessary to survive from day to day. Without farmers, the grocery store where you bought your salad or the fast food joint that served you a hamburger would not exist.

    So, before you finish unpacking those groceries or sitting down with that take-out container, take a moment to thank the farmers and those directly connected to agriculture. Also remember that thinking of terms like “farm” or “grocery store” is far too simplistic to truly understand the nature of being essential. Think not only of the farms, but also the workers, fuel providers, truckers, packaging suppliers, grocery clerks, and countless other people that have been involved in the food supply chain along the way. Without these essential food services, and the many intricate pieces involved, we would be a pretty hungry lot!

    This blog section will be ongoing throughout the duration of the project with bi-weekly updates provided by Liette Vasseur, Heather VanVolkenburg, Kasia Zgurzynski, Habib Ben Kalifa, and Diana Tosato (see research team). We will be providing research activity updates as well as informative pieces that delve into agricultural concepts and important global issues as they relate to agricultural sustainability and climate change. Stay tuned for regular updates!

    Categories: News

  • Vasseur publishes first position paper with Building Back Better Post COVID-19 Task Force

    Liette Vasseur, UNESCO Chair on Community Sustainability: From Local to Global, is part of a new task force that will publish a series of Policy Briefs focused on Ecosystems and Biodiversity, Green Infrastructure and Food Systems.

    Known as the Building Back Better Post COVID-19 Task Force, it brings together Canadian experts that are proposing economic recovery measures that would make our communities stronger in a post-COVID-19 world. It was established by the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and the UNESCO Chair on Food, Biodiversity, and Sustainability Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University.

    The first Position Paper published by the task force introduces the series of Policy Briefs focused on Ecosystems and Biodiversity, Green Infrastructure and Food Systems that will be released in the weeks to come.

    Along with Vasseur, other contributors include:

    Alison Blay-Palmer, UNESCO Chair in Food, Biodiversity and Sustainability Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University
    Sébastien Goupil, Secretary-General, Canadian Commission for UNESCO
    Debora Van Nijnatten, Professor, Political Science and North American Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University and Faculty Member, Balsillie School of International Affairs
    Eleanor Haine-Bennett, Natural Sciences Program Officer, Canadian Commission for UNESCO
    Harriet Friedmann, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto
    Liette Vasseur, UNESCO Chair on Community Sustainability: From Local to Global; Brock University
    Simon Dalby, Professor, Balsillie School of International AffairsWilfrid Laurier University
    Patricia Ballamingie, Associate Professor, Environmental Studies and Human Geography, Carleton University
    Amanda Di Battista, Project Coordinator, Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, Wilfrid Laurier University
    Heather Reid, Researcher, UNESCO Chair in Food, Biodiversity and Sustainability Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University
    Johanna Wilkes, PhD Candidate, Balsillie School of International Affairs
    David Zandvliet, Simon Fraser University, Professor, Faculty of Education; Director, Institute for Environmental Learning
    Heather Mcleod-Kilmurray, Professor, Centre for Environmental Law and Global Sustainability, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
    Wayne Roberts, Advisor, Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems

    Read the full policy brief.

    Categories: News

  • MEOPAR BLOG: Sustainability Rating Systems/Certifications for Buildings

    The Ball’s Falls Conservation Centre in Lincoln, Niagara Region, ON is an example of a LEED ‘Gold’ Certified Building


    While we spend a majority of our time indoors, we might not consider the environmental impact and sustainability of the buildings where we are spending all of that time. In previous posts, we discussed the potential that green buildings and green infrastructure have to increase sustainability in the Niagara Region. In today’s post, we’ll explore several popular building sustainability certifications.

    LEED – ‘Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’

    LEED is internationally recognized and one of the most widely used building rating systems in the world. Here in Canada, it is administered by the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC). The LEED certification is holistic in nature and assesses the sustainability of buildings according to these criteria: water efficiency, energy efficiency, material selection, indoor environmental quality, innovation in design and sustainable site development.

    The Plaza Building at Brock University has been certified LEED Silver.

    Buildings are evaluated using a tiered point system to score green building design and construction out of 100 points. The more points awarded, the higher the level of certification. There are four levels of certification: Certified (40-49 points), Silver (50-59 points) , Gold (60-69 points) and Platinum (80-89 points).

    The LEED certification has been instrumental in creating cost efficient and environmentally sustainable buildings in communities worldwide. LEED-certified buildings have been proven to be healthier for people, and a range of buildings and projects—from local apartment buildings to university campuses—can become certified. The Rogers Place arena in Edmonton, for example, became the first National Hockey League (NHL) facility in Canada to achieve a LEED Silver certification.

    LBC – ‘Living Building Challenge’

    A living building is defined as a structure that can produce its own energy, capture and treat all of its own water and operate efficiently while being aesthetically appealing. LBC was conceptualized and launched by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), which was founded in Seattle, Washington in 2006. It is also regarded as one of the most advanced and comprehensive green building certifications in the world.

    LBC examines whether buildings can function like plants—maintaining self-sufficiency and giving more than they take. To complete the LBC certification process, a builder must meet standards in seven focus areas, called “petals”. These are: materials (regenerative and non-toxic), health (good interior air quality and natural light), a sense of place (develops a relationship with nature), water conservation, energy efficiency (produces 105% more energy than consumed), equity/accessibility and beauty.

    The Bill Fisch Forest Stewardship and Education Centre in Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ontario, is the first LBC certified building in Canada.

    Once builders achieve the standards in all seven petals (demonstrated through performance data over a period of 12 consecutive months), the ILFI awards a Full Living Building certification. An example is

    LEED and LBC rating systems have promising potential to contribute towards boosting Niagara’s local economy and lending momentum to climate change mitigation and adaptation programs in the future.

    The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt, and increase resilience, to these changes. Follow along with our blog every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur, Meredith DeCock, Bradley May, Pulkit Garg, Sam Gauthier and Jocelyn Baker) to learn more about the project and how you can get involved. You can also visit our website at brocku.ca/unesco-chair or email us at meopar-lincoln@brocku.ca

     

     

     

     

     

    Categories: News

  • MEOPAR BLOG: Green Infrastructure—An Effective Climate Change Adaptation Mechanism

    Green infrastructure offers promising potential for increasing the sustainability of our existing infrastructure in the Niagara Region. 


    Even if you haven’t heard of the term green infrastructure before, perhaps you have seen examples of it on a building around you. Ever noticed that a neighbour or local business has replaced traditional roofing with grass or living vegetation? That is just one of many great examples of green infrastructure at work.

    Green infrastructure combines innovative green technology with natural vegetative systems, resulting in a wide array of social, economic and environmental benefits for the community. It includes both natural and engineered system solutions that promote healthy and rich ecosystems. Management practices that use a range of cost-effective measures to mimic the natural water cycle, manage stormwater and reduce flooding are examples of green infrastructure. Other examples include bioswales, green roofs, permeable pavement, rain gardens, rainwater harvesting and urban tree canopy.

    More affordable and reliable energy systems, energy savings through efficient fixtures and renovations, reduced flooding (by increasing ground permeability), more efficient stormwater management, lower runoff, improved water quality and quantity (replenished water tables) and lower soil erosion (with increased stability from planted vegetation) are but a few examples of the benefits green infrastructure provides. It also improves local biodiversity and reduces air temperature by providing shade, and, most importantly, leads to better community health, wellbeing and local aesthetics. By restoring natural flood defence systems, more resilient and reliable energy systems, reducing heat island in urban areas and implementing natural water retention mechanisms, green infrastructure serves as an effective climate change adaptation mechanism.

    Green infrastructure also creates jobs in many economic sectors including landscaping, engineering, plumbing, and design. Additionally, it lends support to various jobs associated with the manufacturing of materials such as roof membranes, rainwater harvesting systems, and permeable pavements. The  Green Infrastructure Ontario Coalition also reports that green infrastructure systems are 5 to 30 per cent cheaper to construct and about 25 per cent cheaper over its lifespan than conventional infrastructure of comparable performance.

    In 2018, the Governments of Canada and Ontario entered into an agreement to invest more than $2.2 billion in green infrastructure projects across Ontario over the next ten years. A similar trend is also being followed in other countries such as Germany, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand. It will be interesting to see the role investments in green infrastructure will play in Niagara’s transition into a more climate resilient economy.

    Be sure to read our article next week, where we will focus on the various certifications and standards that specify and measure the sustainability of our buildings.

    The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt, and increase resilience, to these changes. Follow along with our blog every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur, Meredith DeCock, Bradley May, Pulkit Garg, Sam Gauthier and Jocelyn Baker) to learn more about the project and how you can get involved. You can also visit our website at brocku.ca/unesco-chair or email us at meopar-lincoln@brocku.ca

     

     

     

    Categories: News

  • OSCIII Blog: What is the Organic Cluster project?

    Early spring in a Niagara, Ontario vineyard partnered with the Organic Cluster project, May 2019 (Photo: Heather VanVolkenburg).


    In 2019, Brock University initiated the new project: “Unique Cover Crops, Rootstocks, and Irrigation Techniques for Canadian Vineyards”. The project is funded through the Organic Science Cluster 3 (OSC3): Connecting Environmental Sustainability and the Science of Organic Production, managed by the Organic Federation of Canada (OFC) in collaboration with the Organic Agricultural Centre of Canada (OACC) at Dalhousie University. The OSC3 is also supported by the AgriScience Program under Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Canadian Agricultural Partnership (an investment by federal, provincial, and territorial governments). More than 70 partners from the agricultural community are also involved in these projects.

    Brock’s Dr. Liette Vasseur and Dr. Medhi Sharifi, research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Summerland, BC, are the two principal investigators on this OSC3 grant. Heather VanVolkenburg, a recent graduate student of Dr. Vasseur, is supporting and contributes to the research as a Scientific Project Manager. Together, they are leading the project with several undergraduate and graduate students, with the long-term goal of developing and testing combined cover crop, rootstock, and irrigation strategies that support vineyard soil health. The research is being conducted at vineyards located in two major wine growing regions of Canada.

    Bi-weekly research activity updates will be provided in on-going blog posts. These will be written by Vasseur and the research team, including Heather VanVolkenburg, Kasia Zgurzynski, Habib Ben Kalifa, and Diana Tosato. The team will also write informative pieces delving into agricultural concepts and important global issues as they relate to agricultural sustainability and climate change.

    Stay tuned for regular updates!

    Categories: News

  • MEOPAR Blog: Green Buildings For Sustainable Living

    Greg Redden, Principal Architect at Macdonald Zuberec Ensslen Architects Inc, stands in the DSBN Walkers Living Classroom, in the Woodend Conservation Area. His firm designed this green space, or living classroom, to engage all senses in the learning environment while also utilizing natural light and space so that no utilities are used and energy costs are reduced.


    With the warm weather finally here, many of us are thinking about new home projects. But how often do we think about projects that can reduce our ecological footprint and increase the health of our community, or the impact of the materials we use when we build?

    We can contribute to a global effort to increase the number of green buildings in our communities. A green building refers to one constructed by using any method that will minimize or eliminate adverse impacts on human health and the environment. Multiple ideas can apply to green buildings, ranging from the use of solar panels as a way to increase energy efficiency to the installation of a simple rain barrel to reduce city water consumption. The concept of a green building encompasses the analysis of how materials we use in our projects will have an impact on the environment over their lifetime. This means looking at them from the planning and design stage through to the construction, operation, maintenance, and demolition of the project.

    The green building concept has gained traction because conventional buildings have massive ecological impacts throughout their life cycle. For example, buildings account for one quarter of global carbon emissions and more than 10 per cent of global water consumption every year. By incorporating several measures to reduce our footprint, we can conserve precious natural resources. The green building concept is not only for houses or apartment buildings, you can also apply it to your garden or backyard, such as in the construction of a small greenhouse or a plant wall made of recycled materials.

    Green building projects can include issues such as water resource consumption (efficient management and recycling), energy efficiency, material efficiency (by using sustainable, non-toxic and locally sourced building materials), health and well-being of occupants (better ventilation, natural light, improved indoor air quality), and waste reduction (reduce, reuse and recycle).

    Green buildings offer a multitude of benefits for the environment including the preservation of natural resources, enhanced ecosystem health and biodiversity and lower waste generation. Green buildings also provide economic advantages, such as lower operation and maintenance costs that mean savings on water and energy bills due to increased efficiencies.

    In the Niagara Region, green buildings have a high potential to address many long-term sustainability targets while simultaneously providing solutions to pressing economic development concerns such as resilient infrastructure. In upcoming articles, the MEOPAR team will focus on some aspects of green infrastructure and the various certifications that exist to certify buildings as sustainable.

    The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt, and increase resilience, to these changes. Follow along with our blog every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur, Meredith DeCock, Bradley May, Pulkit Garg, Sam Gauthier and Jocelyn Baker) to learn more about the project and how you can get involved. You can also visit our website at brocku.ca/unesco-chair or email us at meopar-lincoln@brocku.ca

    Categories: News

  • Transformation: The Next Level of Climate Change Adaptation

    We talk a lot in the academic world about transformation—climate change adaptation on steroids! But what does it mean and how would we go about it? At its most basic level, transformation is thinking about how we move from where we are now, toward a more sustainable future. It is not so much about reacting to changes as they happen (reactive adaptation) but rather about thinking of adaptation and resilience-building as a proactive and long-term planning process. The movie “The Current War” (about Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla’s race to bring convenient and easy access to power and light to the masses), is a great example of the technological, societal and behavioural changes needed for large scale transformation.

    Transformation means that we may have to do things in fundamentally different ways. Transformation, or transformative adaptation, as some people call it, may need to occur when gradual or incremental adaptation may not be enough. For instance, rebuilding infrastructure year after year after extreme weather events is considered adaptation. But what if that becomes too cost-prohibitive and more innovative solutions are needed? Transformation often happens when changes take place faster than expected. Transformation requires a long-term vision of what is more sustainable, while, at the same, also time planning for short-term gains. When we look at a community, it also means ensuring strong engagement and communication among partners and stakeholders, and removing barriers to change by empowering citizens and communities to take action. It may sound like a tall order, but think what things would be like if we began to use a transformation mindset.

    For example, think about a field of vacant land in your neighbourhood. What is its history? Who owns it? Why does it exist the way it does and Is it okay the way it is? Does someone have future plans for it and, if so, what are they and what could they use the land for? All of these great questions lead us to envision the many positive uses for this land: greenspace, a playground, community garden, or organic farm, for example.

    Now think even bigger. Increase the scale from one vacant lot to an entire waterfront where flooding is occurring more frequently with increased storms. As the size of the area changes, so does the complexity, but the questions remain the same. In previous blog posts we have focused on a number of ideas, such as the global sustainability goals, tree planting, biodiversity protection, swales, agricultural ditches, greenspace, and shoreline protection. All of these areas could be used as a focus for transformation. Innovation and innovative thinking are key ingredients for transformation to happen. So ask yourself this: Are you an innovator?

    The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt, and increase resilience, to these changes. Follow along with our blog every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur, Meredith DeCock, Bradley May, Pulkit Garg and Sam Gauthier) to learn more about the project and how you can get involved. You can also visit our website at brocku.ca/unesco-chair or email us at meopar-lincoln@brocku.ca

    Categories: News

  • Rooftop Solar: A Ray Of Hope For Canada’s Environmental Sustainability

    Investment in rooftop solar systems might be an attractive proposition to meet our energy demands in the future


    Have you ever noticed solar panels mounted on buildings of neighbours’ houses and wondered how they work? Or have you considered installing them at your own home?

    Rooftop solar systems are composed of a few parts. The main component is the solar panel or a series of solar panels. The panels convert the rays from the sun into electricity, which can be stored in batteries or be used directly in the house for things like heating water in the boiler. Interestingly, in the summer, the same rooftop solar panels can also reflect some of the rays of the sun, cooling down the house an average of 2o C.

    There has been an increase in uptake in many countries, and that increase in demand has driven the cost of these systems down and made them more affordable. This growing solar energy industry is also generating new employment opportunities in Canada, with the potential to generate employment for 65,000 people annually in the manufacturing, operation, and maintenance of solar panels.

    In Canada, solar energy currently represents one per cent of the country’s total energy production. However, it is still significant as it removes approx. 1.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per year from the atmosphere (the equivalent of removing 250,000 cars and trucks off the road each year).

    Canada’s latitude and climatic conditions can pose some challenges to solar power generation in northern regions where there is less solar potential. The farther north you go, the sharper the angle the sun’s rays hit the panels, so the system can’t utilize the sun’s full potential. Canada also does not have a solar energy policy at the federal level which means that prices vary significantly among provinces and territories. Challenges aside, solar panels can represent a sustainable renewable source of energy in the years to come, especially for us in the Niagara region. They show promising potential as an effective climate change mitigation and adaptation plan when utilized for homes and industry.

    The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt, and increase resilience, to these changes. Follow along with our blog every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur, Meredith DeCock, Bradley May, Pulkit Garg and Sam Gauthier) to learn more about the project and how you can get involved. You can also visit our website at brocku.ca/unesco-chair or email us at meopar-lincoln@brocku.ca

     

    Categories: News

  • Creative kitchens: helping meet global sustainability goals

    Day three of romaine lettuce grown in a windowsill.


    With the arrival of spring, many of us are spring cleaning, planning our gardens, and starting our seeds. But what about those of us who don’t have a backyard, live in an apartment without a balcony or patio, or don’t have the physical ability to be on our hands and knees gardening all day? The good news is that there are many fun and creative ways to grow and prepare food.

    Did you know that you can re-grow lettuce you bought in a grocery store? All you need to do is to save the bottom 2.5 to 3.5 cm of the lettuce stem and place it in a small dish of water! Remember to replace the water every day or two, and about two weeks later, you will have the perfect sandwich-sized helping of new lettuce. You will not have an unlimited supply with this method but seeing how much you can get from one stem can be a fun experiment, especially with children. You can also try this same method with celery or green onions. For green onions, you simply plant the white bulb and roots in a small pot with potting soil and you will soon have a never-ending supply! You can simply cut off what you need, and the plant will continue producing. This cuts down on food waste for those who struggle to use all of their store-bought green onions before they expire!

    There are lots of other ways to be more creative in the kitchen while also minimizing waste. Many of our fridge contents have plenty of unexpected uses! Take leftover pickle juice, for example, which is actually a great meat tenderizer! The brine can also be used as a vinegar substitute for salads and dips, or to extend the life of vegetables that are about to go bad in your fridge. Adding some sliced-up beets to pickle brine and storing them in the fridge makes for an easy and colorful addition to salads and sandwiches.  It’s important to note that you should never reuse pickle brine to make new pickles that you intend to can and store in a pantry, however, and to always keep it in the fridge. The diluted brine also won’t last forever and can only be safely reused a limited number of times — so plan on using it sooner than later.

    We have talked about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, or the SDGs, in many of our blog posts. Although they may seem intimidating or too globally spread for any one individual to do anything to help, when you get into the nitty-gritty of each of the 17 goals, they are actually broken down into many small, measurable goals that are easy for individuals to contribute to. By being creative in our kitchens, minimizing food waste, and doing things like re-growing our lettuce and celery, we are actually contributing to not only one, but several of the SDGs!

    Helping meet the global goals can be fun if you are using your innovative spirit, and we encourage you to try out some fun, new kitchen adventures of your own!

     

     

    Categories: News

  • How practicing mindfulness can create a more sustainable future

    Practicing mindfulness, such as yoga, is a great way to add a sense of calm and peace to our daily routines.


    Being present and finding joy in small things is known to be good for our mental and physical
    health.

    One of the best ways to calm our minds and enjoy the present is by practicing mindfulness: focusing our attention on the present moment — exactly what is happening right now — and accepting it without judgment. This includes paying attention to our thoughts and feelings while we are experiencing them.

    Mindfulness can help us better handle the uncertainty of the future and reduce anxiety, as
    practicing mindfulness exercises can help direct attention away from negative or stressful
    thoughts. It can also train your brain to be more alert (as long, deep breaths bring more oxygen to the brain), lower stress levels, increase happiness, lower blood pressure, and improve sleep.

    What does mindfulness look like? Exercising mindfulness can be as simple as taking time to
    pause and breathe when the phone rings, instead of rushing to answer it. Another good
    practice is to notice sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches while doing daily tasks;
    experiencing the moment fully with no urgency to move to the next task. Mindfulness can also
    be very helpful while waiting in long lines at the grocery store — especially in these stressful
    times when grocery shopping can be somewhat daunting. Instead of worrying about rushing
    through the line at the checkout (or to get into the store in the first place), take the time to feel
    gratitude that you have food to stock your cupboards and were able to make it to the grocery
    store that day.

    Another form of mindfulness is meditation. Being still with your eyes closed, either repeating a
    phrase or mantra or focusing your attention on your breathing, is one form of mediation. This
    method encourages you to let your thoughts to come and go, without being bothered by them,
    and to focus on being present in the current moment and space. Yoga is another excellent way
    to practice meditation as the movements in a yoga sequence focus on breathing and being
    present in each pose, with no urgency to move on to the next.

    Mindfulness is also a great way to engage with the natural world around us and can even help us shift to a more sustainable society. Mindfulness can even influence how we respond to the
    climate change crisis because it allows us to change the way we process information and can
    even help increase our motivation. When we practice mindfulness, we can gain a better
    appreciation for both people and nature and become more compassionate towards each other—helping to build a more sustainable future as a result.

    The researchers involved with the MEOPAR project are working to raise awareness about the
    impacts of climate change and how communities can effectively adapt, and increase resilience, to these changes. Follow along with our blog every week (written by researchers Liette Vasseur,
    Meredith DeCock, Bradley May, Pulkit Garg, and Sam Gauthier). Visit our website
    at brocku.ca/unesco-chair or email meopar-lincoln@brocku.ca.

     

    Categories: News