Solutions that bloom

York University has proved that purple irises don’t require summer warmth to bloom. The University has established the Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS), aimed at seeking sustainable solutions to a broad array of political, economic, scientific, social and environmental challenges. On Friday, Nov. 26, Don Valley West MP John Godfrey, researchers from IRIS, members of the York community and students from Owen Public School gathered at the Seymour Schulich Building to celebrate the launch of the institute.

Godfrey was on hand to present a gift of 300 iris bulbs to students from Owen Public School on behalf of IRIS, to encourage the next generation to support sustainability. The school is located in north Toronto near Bayview Avenue and York Mills Road.

Right: Don Valley West MP John Godfrey

“Making our communities environmentally, economically, socially and culturally sustainable is the most direct way we have to improve the quality of life of Canadians,” said Godfrey. “My government is committed to do this through the New Deal for Cities and Communities – and the sustainability research announced today will provide invaluable assistance as we implement the New Deal. I hope these iris bulbs – which will bloom and multiply each and every spring – will remind students that our commitment to sustainability needs to grow and flourish.”

“IRIS is a very exciting model for what we are trying to achieve at York,” said Lorna Marsden, York’s president and vice-chancellor. “It is a University-wide interdisciplinary research institute that embraces the sustainability activities of all 10 faculties.” Marsden added that York has identified sustainability as one of its four strategic research priorities along with health, international studies, and culture and entertainment.

Left: Owen Public School students Rebecca, Natasha and Maaz with some of the 300 iris bulbs they received from MP John Godfrey on behalf of IRIS

In his address to the gathering, IRIS Director and York Professor David Wheeler said, “Sustainability is the defining challenge of this decade. What we do now, affects the future.

“IRIS builds on the historic strengths of the Faculty of Environmental Studies. We have added research in the sciences, law, business, education and urban studies to this strong foundation to create a collaborative and interdisciplinary research institute. Our goal is to transcend the cycle of hopelessness that exists around development these days and it is time for York to be part of the solution. Our duty is to do something.” 

IRIS has received pledges from Shell Canada and PetroCanada of more than $100,000 each to support research relating to business and sustainability. Shell Canada will become the IRIS “featured business sponsor” for 2004-2005 with PetroCanada featured for 2005-2006. In recent months IRIS has won research grants totalling over $200,000 from Environment Canada, the Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade, the National Round Table on the Environment & the Economy, the International Development Research Centre, the International Finance Corporation (World Bank) and the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada. 

Right: IRIS Director David Wheeler (at the podium) introduces some of the researchers associated with the new institute

Wheeler and Senior Research Fellow Zoë Wilson will go to Darfur in Sudan and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania in early December to explore opportunities for sustainable local enterprise in the region.