Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living: Building a better future with Eric Kennedy

Globe and York branded box for the Microlecture Series launch

York University’s free Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living is an innovative, interdisciplinary and open access program that gives participants the opportunity to earn a first-of-its-kind digital badge in sustainable living. 

Throughout the Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living, six of York University’s world-renowned experts share research, thoughts and advice on a range of critical topics related to sustainability. Their leadership and expertise, however, extends beyond the six-minute presentations.

Over the next six weeks, YFile will present a six-part series featuring the professors’ work, their expert insights into York’s contributions to sustainability, and how accepting the responsibility of being a sustainable living ambassador can help right the future.

Part one features Associate Professor Eric Kennedy.
Eric Kennedy
Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is an associate professor in York University’s Disaster & Emergency Management program in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS). His research focuses on how to: improve decision-making in emergency contexts; enhance disaster training; create better policies for preventing and responding to emergencies; and improving research and evaluation methods in disaster contexts.

Kennedy runs the CEMPPR Lab (Collaboration on Emergency Management, Policy, and Preparedness Research), and is associate director of Y-EMERGE (York Emergency Mitigation, Engagement, Response and Governance Institute). He teaches classes on qualitative methods (including surveys, interviews and research design), science policy and science and society. Kennedy organizes and teaches an annual eight-day bootcamp for graduate students from across Canada (called Science Outside the Lab), which runs in Ottawa and Montréal each May.

Q: What does it mean to be a “sustainable living ambassador” and how does it foster positive change?   

A: We’re living in an era of dramatic environmental change and social fragmentation. We have significant opportunities to build a better world – one where everyone has access to abundant opportunity, health, travel, community, energy and happiness. But, we’re also reminded of the vulnerability of many of the things we hold dear: a healthy environment, a solidaristic society and trusted institutions. 

I think sustainability means facing these challenges head on. It means playing our part in building systems, infrastructures and communities that advance priorities of equity; creating a society that cares for faraway neighbours and future generations. It means finding ways to create equitable abundance and opportunity for all, human and non-human alike. It means preparing for the ways that our actions might come back to haunt us, whether in cataclysmic wildfires or zoonotic spillovers. And, it means seeing the big picture and fighting for collective, pro-social responses. 

Q: What would make you most proud for viewers to take away from your lecture, and the series as a whole?  

Eric Kennedy in front of a small controlled fire
Eric Kennedy

A: At its core, my lecture is about the difference between a hazard and a disaster. In the case of wildfires, which is a topic I spend a great deal of time working on, a hazard might be the “fuel” (trees, shrubs, debris, homes and other flammable materials) located in a forest. This is the potential for a forest fire. But, in many ecosystems, fires are natural and good. It’s only when they adversely affect the things we care about – a community or air quality, for example – that they become a “disaster.” And, disasters are amplified or mitigated by the choices we make as people: whether we invest in preparedness, whether we build for resilience, and whether we respond with compassion. 

As you watch these lectures, consider these human interconnections. It’s easy to think about “nature” or “the environment” as something out there, detached from us. But, humans and the environment are inseparable and deeply interconnected. There’s no cleanly drawn line between the two. Instead, we must learn to love this inexorable connection, and find ways to love and care for each other and this world. 

Q: Equity and equality are a common theme throughout these sustainability lectures. Why is that such a critical component of sustainability?   

A: Disasters provide a powerful window for revealing and amplifying inequalities. We’ve seen this in COVID: by and large, those with economic and social privilege had much more opportunity to protect themselves, shelter from exposure, and even benefit from the pandemic. Even in here in Toronto, the location of vaccine clinics and the ease of getting tested wasn’t equitably available, nor has it been equally easy for folks to access the best treatments and protective tools. Those of us with privilege were often more able to work from home – and even continue those arrangements in hybrid ways to this day. And, these effects are only amplified when you look at the benefits that have accrued to the richest of the rich. 

In other words, disasters often both show us how inequitable society and opportunity is… and often make those differences and outcomes even worse. The bidirectionality of these impacts is true of sustainability more generally too: it’s often elements of privilege that afford the ability to both protect oneself against adverse environmental impacts, as well as contribute to environmental protection. To understand and address disasters and sustainability means grappling with inequity in all we do. 

Q: Are there changes you’ve made in your work or daily life  that other York community members can learn from?    

A: I’ve always tried to live out my personal sustainability values in my work life, such as in choosing to commute only by public transit or cycling from downtown. Another huge decision for sustainability has been living in an urban environment, which allows us to walk, cycle and use public transit for the vast majority of our mobility. (This is also a great example of the connections between inequalities, privilege, and sustainability – we need to make it far easier for everybody to have the opportunity to live in walkable, non-car-dependent communities, not only the most privileged.) 

That said, I also try to use my roles at York to focus on the collective and systematic. It is the systems-level changes that we make that will allow us to live sustainably: creating opportunities for people to choose more environmentally friendly modes of transportation or ways of living, for example. Focusing on individual, consumeristic changes can often obscure the much more critical system-level questions.

Q: How do you view collective responsibility vs. personal responsibility in creating a more sustainable future?   

A: Disasters are exceptional illustrations of why the individualization of responsibility is so problematic. Downloading responsibility to individuals is a common part of the consumeristic, neoliberal logics that pervade our modern life, but it’s a path to failure in disasters and sustainability alike.

COVID is a great example of this, of course: We know that individual behaviours, like wearing a mask, can be incredibly effective at protecting ourselves and others. We know that more people died of COVID in 2022 than either 2021 or 2020. And, we’ve learned more than ever about COVID’s long-term impacts on brains, lungs, hearts and immune systems, just to name a few.

But, you now see far fewer people wearing masks than in years before. And, it makes sense: we want to eat and drink indoors; we don’t think they’re super fashionable; they can feel stuffy and uncomfortable; and peer pressure can be a powerful beast. Trying to solve a collective problem through individualistic action is not just an uphill battle, but it also amplifies inequality (who can afford masks?) and can be borderline impossible (we want to share food and drink in close quarters). 

Instead, we need to reorient our problem-solving efforts. For example, how do we need to reengineer our spaces to allow us to safely eat at a common table without sharing our viruses? How do we need to change building codes to spaces safe for all? In other words, instead of downloading the problem to individuals, how do we need to come up with systemic solutions? 

Same goes with other topics in sustainability. For example, we want people to travel in environmentally friendly ways… but that requires infrastructure improvements like high-speed electrified rail, not just better personal choices.

Q: How is York leading the way towards a more sustainable future? 

A: I think most universities are helping us learn about human and environmental systems, create more sustainable technologies and sensitizing students to the importance of these challenges. But, I think York is especially well-positioned in contributing to the human and social dimensions of these challenges: developing the political dimensions, equality and justice, and collectivist and systemic responses. And, it’s home to some exceptional interdisciplinary collaborations, such as an exceptional program in Science and Technology Studies, which helps us avoid greenwashing and be more thoughtful in our development and adoption of technologies. Likewise, the new Y-EMERGE institute is home to interdisciplinary thinking that brings together social, legal, environmental, engineering and scientific dimensions of emergency management. 

And, I hope York can keep up its ongoing commitment to building more sustainable systems for our community, too, by making it easier for all of us to commute, travel, and live in sustainable ways. We’re well-positioned to keep contributing to these systems, innovations and transformations.

Visit the Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living to see Kennedy’s full lecture, as well as those by the other five experts, and earn your Sustainable Living Ambassador badge. Watch for part two of this series in an upcoming issue of YFile.

Risk and Insurance Studies Centre receives $11M grant

Wildfire in the forest

Contributed by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Alliance (NSERC), the funding will go towards developing better ways of managing risk and protecting Canadians from increasing threats, such as pandemics, climate catastrophes and financial crises.

Professor Edward Furman of the Faculty of Science at York University leads the team at the Risk and Insurance Studies Centre (RISC) that will use the grant over five years for a new program called New Order of Risk Management (NORM): Theory and Applications in the Era of Systemic Risk. NORM looks to address an acute need for a fundamental transformation in how people think about and manage that risk. 

Edward Furman

“Risk management is key to promoting economic growth and improving welfare in Canada and in other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) countries by taming conventional risks, but it has not had the desired results in today’s increasingly interconnected world. In fact, some call it a failure,” says Furman. “We hope to lead a paradigm shift around what constitutes best practices and regulation for systemic risk, one that has a broader view of what risk entails and that encompasses the complexity of its systemic nature.” 

Given recent socioeconomic, demographic, technological and environmental changes, the researchers say change is overdue. 

Systemic risks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the global financial crisis which started in 2007, often spill across socioeconomic boundaries, disproportionately impacting vulnerable populations and magnifying social inequities. The pandemic has already driven Canada’s annual deficit to $348 billion and its national debt is on target to hit $1.2 trillion, while the global financial crisis resulted in a severe recession with sharp declines in national gross domestic product. 

Climate change is creating multiple systemic risks as sea levels rise, wildfire season becomes longer with a greater potential for catastrophic fires and extreme weather events increase, such as flash flooding and storm surges, which can result in widespread devastation to coastal and inland communities in Canada and globally.  

A better understanding of systemic risk is needed, says the NORM team, which includes York Professors Jingyi Cao of the Faculty of Science, Ida Ferrara of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Dirk Matten of the Schulich School of Business and Shayna Rosenbaum of the Faculty of Health, as well as professors from University of British, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo and Western University. 

With their industrial collaborators, the NORM team will develop novel theories, operational tools and regulatory mechanisms to address the increasing systemic nature of risks, while also accounting for unequal susceptibility to systemic risk, pursuing equity and building resilience.  

“NORM’s impacts mean not only an academic breakthrough in how we conceptualize systemic risk, but also fundamental transformations in how we manage and govern this new type of risk more effectively through strategies that reflect and consider equity and vulnerability,” says Furman.

Systemic risk is a global threat. NORM brings exceptional depth and breadth of relevant scholarly expertise from actuarial mathematics, business, economics, psychology and statistics together with industry collaborators, including Sun Life Financial, Canada Life, CANNEX Financial Exchanges, Aviva Canada and Wawanesa Insurance, to tackles the issues. 

Learn more at News @ York.

Lassonde professor receives grant for 3D/4D printing in space

View of the Earth from space

George Zhu from York University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering received a $250,000 New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) grant to conduct innovative research that explores metal manufacturing for space equipment using 3D and 4D printing in space to satisfy the actual demands of materials needed.

Zheng Hong (George) Zhu
George Zhu

Spacecrafts are frequently manufactured with extra materials and spare parts to prepare for potential mission challenges and vicious movements during launch, making them overdesigned for the calm, vacuum, zero-gravity environment in space. When the excess materials aren’t used, they contribute to unnecessary waste, financial burdens and launch and process-related carbon dioxide emissions on Earth.

“Less than five percent of spare parts carried on space missions are actually used,” says Zhu. “If equipment was manufactured where it is needed, we could make space exploration more sustainable.”

Zhu’s work will involve collaboration with fellow Lassonde School of Engineering mechanical engineering professors Alidad Amirfazli, Cuiying Jian and Aleksander Czekanski, as well as taking full advantage of the diverse fields of mechanical engineering research at York, including space instrumentation and robotics, molecular dynamics, metals and alloy materials and fluid mechanics.

“Space has different conditions than Earth that will affect 3D printing, mainly zero-gravity and vacuum, so there will be a lot of exploratory work,” says Zhu. “When we use 3D printing on Earth, the gravity helps create strong bonds, but we don’t know what will happen in conditions without gravity. It is possible that the vacuum might cause molten metals to vaporize and disappear right in front of us.

“We want this to work but at this stage, we don’t know what will happen. We are actually the first to do this kind of research with metals,” he adds.

Using equipment obtained with substantial funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) in 2019, this project will simulate space-like conditions to determine the feasibility of, and potential practices for, metal 3D printing in space. 3D printing will be performed in a large vacuum chamber, while modelling zero-gravity by printing in a horizontal orientation rather than vertical – this helps avoid the direct pressure from gravity that supports the creation of strong bonds.

The newly funded research will also explore the use of 4D printing, a new method of 3D printing that incorporates the dimension of time and may be useful in the development of deployable spacecraft components, like solar panels. Using shape memory alloys (SMA), 4D printed materials can remember and revert to their original shape after being deformed by certain stimuli, presenting a potential application for spacecrafts that spend long periods of time in space and are vulnerable to damage from debris.

Contributing to sustainable spacefaring effort, this exploratory project will take the first steps towards using space as an on-demand manufacturing site for space equipment. This project will also explore new and exciting ideas that can change and improve the design of space equipment, including the recycling of materials from debris to repair and manufacture materials for space activites.

“We have plans and ideas for applications, but this research is very new,” says Zhu. “I’m excited to learn as we go and discover the unknown. If this is successful, it will change the future of space exploration.”

Centre for Bee Ecology, Evolution and Conservation hosts garden party for World Bee Day

Macro photo of green metallic sweat bee perched on a yellow flower

The Centre for Bee Ecology, Evolution and Conservation (BEEc) will once again mark the annual United Nations World Bee Day with new events designed to promote the health of local pollinators.

This year, for the first time, BEEc and the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) welcome all members of the University community to the EUC Native Plant Garden party on May 16 from 2:30 to 5 p.m.

World Bee Day, led internationally by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), is dedicated to acknowledging and spreading awareness of the plethora of vital environmental processes that depend on the often underappreciated work of Earth’s busy bees.

“Bees are one of the most important groups of pollinators in the world, yet most people are unaware that we have at least 350 species in the GTA alone,” explains BEEc Coordinator Victoria MacPhail. “The EUC Native Plant Garden is an oasis for them on a campus full of concrete and buildings, providing food, shelter and nesting sites throughout the year.”

Observed around the world on Saturday, May 20, this year World Bee Day will arrive early at York in order to allow for the participation of as many interested community members as possible.

“We’re excited to celebrate World Bee Day a few days early with the whole York University community, to take this opportunity to share our love and knowledge of bees with others,” MacPhail says. “We have a wealth of free resources and are happy to chat with people about what they can do to help pollinators, from planting native flowers to advocating for increased protections.”

A lush planter box full of a variety of species of wild flowers
One of the EUC native species planter boxes to be maintained for World Bee Day

The featured garden party event is sponsored in part by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada and is open to all staff, students and faculty, as well as members of the public from outside of the University. Attendees will learn from York’s expert mellitologists, as well as free handouts, pinned insect displays, example bee nests and more, about the highly diverse bee species indigenous to Toronto and Southern Ontario at large, as well as the local flora that they depend on for sustenance. As a part of this hands-on learning experience, guests will be able to contribute to the University’s floral biodiversity by planting new native species in the EUC garden and removing invasive species that are less conducive to the health of local pollinators.

“We’re so thrilled to invigorate our relationship and stewardship of this wonderful garden started by [Professors] Gerde Werkerle and Leesa Fawcett, among others, with the partnership of BEEc. Hundreds of students pass by or attend summer classes in this rooftop garden sitting atop lecture halls and we want them to come to know this lively oasis of over 40 species – some of them edible. May 16 will be a great start to what we anticipate will be an amazing season,” says Phyllis Novak, director of the EUC Maloca Community and Native Plant Gardens.

York community members who intend to join in the gardening are asked to RSVP here by Friday, May 12. Members of the public are encouraged to drop in to this event and are not required to register. No prior experience or personal equipment is required to join in the gardening. Participants are encouraged to dress for the elements as this event will run rain or shine.

MacPhail says gardening volunteers can expect to “see examples of bee species – from tiny, smooth, black solitary bees that are only a few millimeters long and can be mistaken for flies or ants, to the large, fuzzy bumblebees that can be up to a couple centimeters in size, and whose queens are easily seen this time of year.

“Toronto’s official bee, the green metallic sweat bee – or Agapostemon virescens – has already been seen nesting in the garden, and we are confident that the upcoming garden party will help to improve the habitat for it and many other wildlife species,” she adds.

Additional BEEc-hosted events will run following the garden party and in the lead up to the official World Bee Day, including a cocktail fundraiser to help endow a fund for EUC graduate students studying bees on May 17 in Markham, as well as a Scholars’ Hub virtual seminar on May 18 detailing the leading-edge research on bees being carried out at York.

For more information on these supplemental Bee Day events, contact beec@yorku.ca or see the BEEc news and social media page.

Student-led waste diversion project celebrates first compost harvest

Hands holding seeds and soil

By Alexander Huls, deputy editor, YFile

The Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom (C4) student-led project to create a full-cycle composing system at York University will soon distribute a metric ton of compost across the Keele campus, fulfilling its goal to divert organic waste from selected vendors at York.

The project creates a closed-loop system by turning the waste that would otherwise go to landfill into useful compost that can be used on campus.

Danielle Robinson
Danielle Robinson

The upcoming harvest, which began with the 2019 revitalization of the decaying three-tier composting systems in the Maloca Community Garden, is the result of woodchips received from the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design, fruit and food from Grocery Checkout in York Lanes, as well as coffee grounds and more from the two Starbucks locations on campus. Partnerships with the businesses, and transportation of the waste to the Maloca composting system with a push cart, was all hands-on experience initiated by the students themselves – a significant objective for C4.

“Our approach to experiential education keeps students in the driver’s seat,” says Danielle Robinson, co-lead of C4. “The more that we let them take the lead, the more it shows them that we believe in them, that we think they have valuable skills and knowledges, and that they can do things in the world that matter.”

Ronan Smith
Ronan Smith

Changing the world, and righting the future, is especially important to the C4 initiative, which aligns its offerings with York’s dedication to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). “We organize all of our projects by SDGs at C4 because it helps students channel their efforts directly towards specific kinds of impacts outside the classroom,” says Robinson.

The C4 students’ composting system will also have a significant impact on campus. “Our whole idea is to keep this closed loop system where we’re getting our waste from campus and then we’re giving it back to campus in one way or another,” says Ronan Smith, a student who has been with the project since it started. Once the compost from the harvest is tested to see how nutrient rich it is, it will be distributed to several nearby recipients such as the community farmers at Maloca Community Gardens and Many Green Hand, a student club. Smith also hopes to have a seed a drive to get interested students set up with pots, plants and soil. Anything left over, would be distributed to different grounds across York, such as garden beds like those outside the Health, Nursing and Environmental Studies building.

From there, the group’s ambitions turn towards the future, Smith says. They want to scale up by exploring row composting or worm bins to create a greater diversity of compost sources, as well as processing more waste with composting hubs around the University in high density spots – like Central Square – to streamline the process. Generating more awareness will also be a goal, not only to draw in new students and volunteers, but illustrate the composting system’s success. “Our goal is showing that this can work, like how in just under a year we can process over a metric ton of waste,” Smith says.

They don’t need to show it can work to Robinson, however, who has been impressed by the efforts of Smith and his fellow compost collaborators. “I am constantly blown away by what our students can do, what they dream up, and the drive they have to create change in the world,” she says.

Experts discuss climate change, occupational health and safety

Featured image for stories related to sustainability

Discussions on the impact climate change poses on occupational health and safety will continue with CIFAL York‘s speaker series events running through May.

The Climate Change and Global Occupational Health and Safety speaker series, co-sponsored by York University’s Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research, will present “Climate Change and Impacts on Mental Health in Occupational Settings” on May 10 and “Climate Governance Through Global Health Diplomacy & Climate Diplomacy” on May 24.

The series, which launched with two events in April, aims to encourage dialogue and knowledge exchange on the concepts of global occupational health and safety in addressing the threats imposed by climate change. There are six webinars in total, with two more planned for June. All events are scheduled for noon to 1 p.m.

Climate change and its related mobility responses can have adverse, and sometimes beneficial, effects on health and health systems. The webinar series will explore how climate threats may also push those with the poorest health to places with fragmented access to health care, exacerbating their health needs. Health services can struggle to ensure adequate and equitable access to care for those affected, and to meet the changing needs of dynamic populations.

According to researchers, the number of both indoor and outdoor worker populations may be particularly vulnerable to climate variations (emergency responders, health care workers, fire fighters, utility workers, farmers, manufacturing workers and transportation workers). Climate conditions can amplify existing health and safety issues and could lead to new unanticipated hazards including high temperatures, air pollution, extreme weather and natural disasters, and biological hazards.

This series aims to examine the extent of the impact of climate change (e.g., climate-sensitive hazards) on human health. To address these challenges warrants an extensive, transdisciplinary approach including health, industry and government partners, say the event organizers.

“Climate Change and Impacts on Mental Health in Occupational Settings” on May 10 will feature speaker Behdin Nowrouzi-Kia, assistant professor, Department of Occupational Therapy and Occupational Science, University of Toronto; founder, Infinity Health Consulting Group; and founder, OT Services North. It will be moderated by York University Assistant Professor Godfred Boateng. Register here for this event.

“Climate Governance Through Global Health Diplomacy & Climate Diplomacy” on May 24 will feature speaker Vijay Kumar Chattu, postdoctoral fellow, ReSTORE Lab, Temerty Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto; adjunct professor, School of Public Health, University of Alberta; visiting research Fellow, United Nations University (UNU-CRIS), Bruges Belgium; and founder and CEO, Global Health Research and Innovations Canada Inc. (GHRIC), Toronto. Register here for this event.

Homelessness Learning Hub continues improving lives, training

Hand reaching out for help

By Alexander Huls, deputy editor, YFile

Four years after its launch, the Homelessness Learning Hub (HLHub) is evolving to continue becoming an essential resource across Canada to the homeless-serving sector.

When the HLHub launched in 2019, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) at York University had a clear vision of what it wanted the site to be.

“We’ve always been aware that the sector is quite cash strapped and often doesn’t have resources to send their staff for training,” says Stephanie Vasko, senior director of communications at COH. Because organizations often have time and money for mandatory training (such as first aid or crisis intervention), but not any additional professional development, COH wanted to create a free, self-directed online platform that brings together promising practices and training in the form of practical tools and resources.

Stephanie Vasko
Stephanie Vasko

With funding provided by the Community Capacity and Innovation funding stream of Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy, the HLHub dedicated its first two years with a clear strategy on how it would build a strong training curriculum aimed at service providers, researchers and policymakers. “We committed to developing five original self-paced trainings, or collections of resources, every year,” explains Karen Bosworth, senior instructional design specialist for the COH. “That would allow us to focus on building high-quality materials for the website, while also allowing us time to curate additional, relevant resources for the website’s library.”

The HLHub saw encouraging success out of the gate, but the team wasn’t content to rest on their laurels. Because the homeless-serving sector has frequently evolving training needs, in 2020, COH decided to assess their progress by soliciting and reviewing feedback from participants. “We felt it was an opportune time to understand what functionality on the website was working and wasn’t working. The best way to do that was listen to those who were using it.”

In doing so, it proved to direct not just the future of the site, but boost its success.

Among the surprises feedback revealed was that individuals in administrative, supervisor or human resource positions with no frontline experience were using HLHub to better understand what their staff were doing. There was another unexpected audience, too. “We learned that about half of the participants were coming from colleges. Students were being assigned our trainings as part of their coursework, which is a completely unintended audience,” says Vasko. It was a welcome sign, indicating that HLHub was helping to right the future, with students becoming equipped with the training before they enter careers in the sector.

Karen Bosworth
Karen Bosworth

Inspired by these discoveries and others, COH upgraded the HLHub website in 2021. “We really made it more true to an e-learning platform,” explains Vasko. Adds Bosworth, “We were able to create learning pathways for people, whereas before it was a lot of independent resources loosely gathered in collections.”

They integrated one click enrolment, saving of favourite resources, and progress tracking. “Another important feature – one that our audience asked for – was the ability for participants to earn certificates upon completing training. Certificates keep people motivated to complete courses,” says Bosworth.

A separate survey assessing the state of the sector, conducted by the COH research team in 2021, also highlighted an urgent need for self-care resources to address high rates of turnover and burnout in the sector. Training materials created to promote self-care are something Bosworth is especially proud of, as she ensured they would be personal and empathetic in their promotion of basic self-care (sleep, nutrition, relaxation and more) as well as tools to support emotional well-being, including lessons and activities about personal boundaries, nurturing self-compassion and deepening resilience.

The cumulative effect of these changes in 2021, as well as ongoing growth in awareness, has been significant. “Once we introduced those features, the enrolment in our trainings started to increase. We went from about 1,000 members in 2021 to now over 9,000,” says Vasko.

In 2022, HLHub also saw another form of encouraging success when it was awarded an additional $443,518 from Reaching Home, who is a partner on the project and has been using COH resources within its own community efforts. The team isn’t just grateful for the sign of continued support, but Reaching Home shares an understanding that HLHub is a long-term project.

“It’s gratifying to know that they appreciate it takes time to develop what we’re trying to do,” says Bosworth. “Now that we have a good base, we have to keep it going.”

With considerable success already achieved in its first four years, where does HLHub hope to be in the next few years? There are plans of launching a targeted digital marketing strategy, they also have high hopes for further driving awareness of HLHub’s training.

“Right now, our model is to be an open learning site so people can dip in and out wherever they find an interest or depending on their need,” says Bosworth. “We would like to create core foundational content for new hires, or different cohorts, along with a micro-credential that they could achieve. That’s where I see it going,” Vasko adds.

What’s most important, however, is the content and its audience. “Our focus on creating consistent, high-quality, free content in response to the homeless-serving sectors needs will be integral to continuing to build the reputation and awareness of the HLHub,” says Bosworth.

“Listening to our audience and their needs and developing materials in response to support them will be key to building this momentum. We have to stay current and relevant,” adds Vasko.

Lassonde professors working toward healthier planet

View of the Earth from space

Researchers from across Lassonde departments are demonstrating collective research efforts aimed towards creating a healthier planet across areas including smart materials, renewable energy, climate change, and water and sustainability.

Kamelia Atefi-Monfared, assistant professor – Department of Civil Engineering

Focusing on geomechanics, Atefi-Monfared is working to improve understanding of coupled processes in porous media, such as soils and geological reservoirs, including geothermal reservoirs. Her research establishes fundamental knowledge used to tackle global challenges involving energy, water and climate change through various projects.

Kamelia Atefi-Monfared

Specifically, Atefi-Monfared is applying her research to the advanced development and design of models for environmentally friendly ground improvement techniques, resilient infrastructure and sustainable production/storage of energy and water. One of her current projects involves the development of a novel framework to stabilize mine tailings and gravel roads using microbial-induced carbonate precipitation (MICP) – an eco-friendly technique for ground improvement that uses bacteria to produce bio-cement.

This work helps solve the problem of chemical and cement-based grouting materials that emit carbon dioxide and contaminate soil and groundwater.

Paul O’Brien, associate professor – Department of Mechanical Engineering

O’Brien leads research on the design, fabrication and application of materials that control, absorb and harvest electromagnetic radiation. These materials are used to develop and advance sustainable technologies, such as solar energy storage systems for the electrification of buildings.

Paul O’Brien

Through the development and improvement of sustainable technologies, O’Brien aims to contribute to the decarbonization of the building sector, which accounts for one-third of global energy consumption and almost 40 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions. Through assessment and evaluation, his work also explores how energy systems and processes can be used to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

O’Brien’s research team is currently working on numerous projects, including the development of optical cavities to improve the performance of thermophotovoltaic systems, which convert radiant energy from heat sources to electric power.

Hany E. F. Farag, associate professor – Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

As a visionary leader in smart and sustainable energy, Farag has worked on countless projects that address Canada’s urgent need for clean and sustainable energy and transportation systems. Specifically, Farag develops modelling and control techniques to support the integration of low-carbon solutions into energy and transportation sectors.

Hany E. F. Farag

These low-carbon solutions include the production of renewable hydrogen, electrification of transportation and improvement of distributed energy resource (DER) capacity.

In a notable partnership with Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), Alectra inc., Metrolinx and the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium (CURTIC), Farag was the first researcher to investigate the integration of electrified bus fleets into power grids in Canada, resulting in research findings that influenced company policies and provided planning tools.

Mark Gordon, associate professor – Department of Earth and Space Science and Engineering

Gordon focuses his research on understanding what happens to pollutants after they are released into the atmosphere from different emission sources. This research produces information about the activity of pollutants, which can be used in climate and air quality models to improve the representation of real-world environments.

Mark Gordon

These models help stakeholder companies make informed decisions about the environment, such as implementing design strategies to reduce air pollution from a newly built highway.

Examples of Gordon’s research include the investigation and measurement of greenhouse gas emissions from traffic in urban areas, as well as the deposition rate of pollutants from oil sands and production facilities to the Boreal Forest in Northern Alberta.

EUC empowers students as future leaders for green labour shift 

Earth at night was holding in human hands. Earth day. Energy saving concept, Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) Dean Alice Hovorka talks about creating opportunities for students to become changemakers as the future of work evolves to focus on “green” jobs.

When it comes to future job opportunities for students, GREEN is the new black.

Alice Hovorka
Alice Hovorka

Climate action commitments by national governments and international organizations come with increased investments to achieve climate resiliency and demand for millions of new jobs over the next decade.  

Openings for ”green jobs” related to the environment will increase by 17 per cent over the next three years according to labour market research from Environmental Careers Organization (ECO) Canada. Globally, the shift to a greener economy could create 24 million new jobs around the world by 2030 according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). The push for net zero transitions has ignited dedicated sustainability and ESG streams in public, private, not-for-profit and civil society sectors; new jobs are emerging in sectors not traditionally thought of as “green.” Notably, equity-based solutions and “just climate resilience” are important parts of these trends.  

According to Smart Prosperity Institute’s 2022 report on Job and Skills in the Transition to a Net-Zero Economy, Canada’s workforce lacks knowledge and skills vital to sustainable and just transitions. Training and capacity building is urgently needed. Specifically, economic transformation, creation of sustainable cities and providing clean energy solutions, for example, require changing technology or processes to meet environmentally focused market or policy-driven changes. They also require visioning, leading and managing the transition with jobs found more in policy, decision-making and planning realms.  

As the future of work evolves through a greener economy and societal commitments to justice and sustainability, EUC is empowering students as changemakers and future leaders for this labour shift.  

We are doing so by offering professional development and career readiness opportunities – fully informed by our commitments to equity, diversity and inclusion – within our academic programs and through extra-curricular career pathway initiatives.  

Our EUC undergraduate and graduate programs are preparing students with the knowledge and skills needed to fully embrace the “green jobs” coming our way. We are training students who can understand, analyze and implement climate policies, who have geographical and ecological expertise, who are well versed in monitoring and assessing environmental and urbanization trends, who are authentically attending to issues of diversity, equity and inclusivity, and who excel in critical thinking, consensus building, leadership and communication skills needed for shaping a more just and sustainable future.  

And as you will read within this issue of Innovatus, EUC is preparing students directly for the increasingly green job market through innovative initiatives such as the Dean Changemaker Placements in EUC living labs, Lunch n’ Learn career seminars, an upcoming Black Mentorship Program linking students and alumni, and immersive outside classrooms that bring students into the community.

Alice Hovorka
Dean, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change

Congress 2023 sustainable decision to create memories without swag

Arial view of Kaneff

Among the many sights for Congress 2023 attendees to enjoy at York next month, four Swag Stages will host pop-up dance and musical performances.

Located in high-traffic outdoor locations on York’s Keele Campus, the community can enjoy various artistic performances selected by Congress 2023 organizers in lieu of the swag that conference attendees often receive as souvenirs.

“I discovered that only 21 per cent of branded items are kept for any length of time,” says Liz McMahan, director of Congress 2023. “Promotional items definitely have their time and place, but with such a diverse group of over 8,000 people, it would be difficult to find something useful for everyone.”

Swag Stage performer and Arts, Media, Performance & Design PhD candidate Collette Murray will perform with the Coco Collective
Swag Stage performer and Arts, Media, Performance & Design PhD candidate Collette Murray will perform with the Coco Collective, an organization of which she is the artistic director

Collette Murray, a York PhD student in dance studies, and the Coco Collective are among the dozen or more acts who will bring joy and relaxation to campus during an event that focuses heavily on papers, posters and panel discussions.

“I appreciate that the Congress organizers are expanding the conference’s reach to include additional ways that intellects engage in research, and performance is one of them,” says Murray, who will also be presenting a performance art discourse on Afro-diasporic dances practices as freedom at a Black Canadian Studies Association session.

McMahan also says that, “Given Congress 2023’s theme ‘Reckonings and Re-Imaginings’ and York’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we thought about our responsibility and how to make Congress 2023 a more sustainable experience. We wondered about what we could give them that wouldn’t end up in landfill and decided on pop-up performances to surprise and delight people.”

Congress 2023 academic convenor Andrea Davis, Joel Ong, an associate professor from the School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design and McMahan collaborated to create a list of York-related performers who were interested in participating. Each performer will commit to a morning or afternoon performance and will circulate among the four stages to give more attendees an opportunity to enjoy their work.

“I hope that in addition to their morning coffee, the performances help people wake up and give them a way to de-stress after presenting papers and attending conferences all day,” McMahan says. “The entire York community is also welcome to experience these performances and I hope will seek them out.”

York University and the Federation for Humanities and Social Sciences will host Congress 2023 from May 27 to June 2. Register here to attend. Term dates have been adjusted to align with timelines for this year’s event.