Environmental research and a sustainable York Region

York’s environmental and sustainability research took centre stage at the second York Leadership Roundtable, held on May 29. Stan Shapson, York VP research & innovation, served as master of ceremonies for the event, which serves to connect business and community leaders within York Region with York University researchers, students and senior administrators. The roundtable provides a venue for participants to identify areas of mutual interest for future collaborations.

"Great communities use knowledge and work together to harness and build upon that energy," said Don Cousens (right), chair of the York Leadership Roundtable, former mayor of the City of Markham and a member of  the external advisory committee to York’s Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation. "The University wants to build upon the relationship between York and its community, and [the community] is asking how to become an innovative centre and seeking ways to reach out to the expertise around them."

More than 50 senior business executives attended the meeting to discuss opportunities and best practices for businesses – whether they are large, multinational organizations or locally-based small and medium enterprises – to drive build their scientific, environmental and social innovation through research partnerships with York University.

"In Canada and around the world, some of the most pressing challenges are environmental," said York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri. "York is increasingly the place to examine these challenges and to offer solutions. The research happening here is helping to shape our society and change the way we live, and the partnerships we form with business, industry and government in York Region are an important part of this work."

A short video highlighted York’s interdisciplinary strengths in environmental and sustainability research, with examples drawn from the research of Jack McConnell, professor in York’s Department of Earth and Space Science & Engineering and a member of the Centre for Research in Earth & Space Science (CRESS); Dawn Bazely, professor in York’s Department of Biology, who also directs the Institute for Research & Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS), and Professor Dirk Matten, who holds the Hewlett-Packard Chair in Corporate Social Responsibility at the Schulich School of Business. McConnell, Bazely and Matten, along with Barbara Rahder, dean of the Faculty of Environmental Studies, were present at the event to field questions from the researcher’s perspective.

"Pollsters and pundits tell us that the environment is a key political issue for Canadians. And if the environment is the day’s leading issue, then climate change is the environmental issue," said Karen Kraft Sloan, a former member of parliament for York Region, Canada’s former environment ambassador and special adviser on the environment for York’s Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation. “Canadians understand that climate change is real, that it is happening now and that it is urgent.”

Kraft Sloan cited York’s emerging partnership with the World Green Building Council and explorations underway to support regionally-based climate modeling as examples of the University’s growing environmental and sustainability expertise. She also stressed the importance of sharing this knowledge beyond the University, particularly with communities such as York Region that are developing reports and strategies to address climate change’s local impacts.

“One of the greatest challenges that we face in this new century is the nexus between science and policy-making,” said Kraft Sloan. “To get this relationship right, we must develop a disciplined approach to creating policies that are informed by both scientific research findings and community knowledge. Mobilizing knowledge created within the University to share in partnership across sectors and within communities is crucial to that process.”

Submitted to Y-File by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer.