York University’s energy management program helps navigate hot weather sustainably

blue electric fan

In circumstances of extreme weather – such as heat warnings in summer due to soaring temperatures – Facilities Services works hard to ensure the York University community can continue to comfortably learn, teach and work on our campuses, while balancing the University’s commitment to sustainability in its operations.

Unseasonably high temperatures generate unprecedented demand on the provincial energy grid, leading to more energy use, higher emissions, inflated costs and strain on the grid. As a result, York U implemented a peak demand management program in the summer of 2023 – an effort to uphold its commitment to support a sustainable energy system in Ontario. This program, which has been implemented at universities across the province, requires York U to reduce its energy use in alignment with peak demand days to eliminate emissions, save costs and reduce strain on the grid.

Through participation in this program last summer, it is estimated that the University avoided 22,000 tonnes of carbon emissions and saved $3.8 million in energy costs by reducing its energy use by eight megawatts on peak days over the summer months. That is equivalent to taking 24,713 cars off the road or eliminating the consumption of over 34-million litres of gasoline.

“Global warming has forced us to think differently about how we heat and cool our buildings,” says Brad Parkes, assistant vice-president of Facilities Services. “In Facilities Services, we’re constantly looking at the data to see how we can optimize our systems, work with the provincial grid instead of against it and contribute to sustainability and cost savings goals through our operations. The concept of the peak demand management program is simple, but it has real impact that will continue to grow.”

To ensure comfort on York U’s campuses during the program, Facilities Services cools buildings to a lower temperature overnight, with the goal of retaining the cooler air throughout the day when the temperatures are elevated. Those efforts can be extended if community members keep exterior doors, windows and blinds closed to keep the cold air in. For those with workspaces adjacent to a space that has air conditioning, such as a hallway, keeping doors ajar to promote circulation might be helpful. Turning off lights not in use, or using natural light, is another way to help with unnecessary heat generation.

Facilities Services also references the classroom booking information from the Office of the University Registrar to strategically match air conditioning to buildings with occupancy and reduce air conditioning in buildings without occupancy. Special attention has also been given to buildings that require consistent cooling due to equipment, technology and ongoing research.

Community members with concerns or questions about the temperature in their space should get in touch with the Work Control Centre by emailing facilities@yorku.ca or calling 416-736-2100 ext. 22401. Managers should also refer to the Hybrid Work Policy and Hybrid Work Procedure regarding discretion and flexibility to adjust hybrid work agreements as necessary.

Living wall at Student Counselling, Health & Well-being office promotes tranquility

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A new automated biofilter living wall – comprised of 260 plants of varying species – has been installed in the Student Counselling, Health & Well-being (SCHW) office to promote tranquility, wellness and better air for visiting students and office staff.

As part of SCHW’s pivotal role in offering essential mental health and wellness resources to students, it has been undertaking projects that reflect its commitment to well-being in its physical environment.

“Pursuing projects that reflect the commitment to well-being in the physical environment has been an important effort for SCHW because we believe that a positive and welcoming atmosphere enhances the overall experience for both students and staff,” says Lori Walls, executive director of student counselling, health and well-being. “Investing in these initiatives reaffirms our commitment to creating spaces that promote well-being.”

Living wall at the Student Counselling, Health & Well-being office
Living wall at the Student Counselling, Health & Well-being office.

The nearly seven- by 10-foot living wall – made up of a range of species, including dracaena and ficus – is the latest example. Supported by a hydroponic system, a technique for growing plants using water-based nutrient solutions rather than soil, the installation features a 67-gallon irrigation setup that eliminates the need for soil, conserves water and maximizes growth.

While the wall has aesthetic benefits – notably, creating a tranquil environment for students and staff – it has other notable perks, too. Hydroponic systems facilitate microclimates by maintaining optimal humidity levels, fostering the growth of beneficial microbes that play a crucial role in breaking down pollutants and purifying the air indoors. In the process, it helps increase the overall air quality, which is known to improve cognitive function and health.

At the same time, SCHW hopes the new wall will realize its incorporation of biophilic design principles, a building concept that looks to increase the connection between people and the natural environment – in this case, by bringing the natural into SCHW. It aims to create spaces that are not only physically healthier but more emotionally supportive and invigorating.

In many ways, those hopes are already being fulfilled. “The living wall has made immediate impacts for the students visiting our centre. Both students and staff have shared positive feedback, noting that the plants create a welcoming atmosphere,” says Walls. “We recently conducted a survey to gather feedback on our space and I’m pleased to say the overall response was that our space is calming and tranquil.”

The living wall serves as a visible sign of Student Counselling, Health & Well-being’s commitment to the well-being of York University’s students, underlining the importance of a holistic approach to health that encompasses academic, emotional and environmental factors.

Lassonde researchers elevate critical mineral research and reusability

Iron pyrite

Canada is home to some of the world’s most sought-after critical minerals, like copper, nickel and lithium. These minerals are essential for building a green and sustainable economy in Canada, with direct applications ranging from electric vehicles to solar panels. This is why Pouya Rezai, an associate professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, is leading a project to optimize the rapid detection and extraction of these critical minerals – particularly lithium.

Lithium is a versatile mineral that is widely used to develop and improve innovative technologies like energy storage solutions, as well as metallurgic and automotive applications. Currently, the industrial processes used to detect and isolate lithium are challenging, time-consuming and often expensive. To improve the efficiency of lithium retention, the Lassonde researchers are exploring methods to reuse and recycle the critical mineral from various sources like electronic waste and electric vehicle (EV) batteries.

This $1.5-million project, funded by the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Alliance Mission Grant, addresses a nationwide call for critical minerals research, stemming from Canada’s Critical Mineral Strategy.

“Our project aims to enhance the entire supply chain of lithium production – from detection to mining and recycling to reuse,” says Rezai. “We are starting with developing technologies that can detect, quantify and isolate lithium from electronic waste materials like EV batteries.”

Other Lassonde researchers co-leading the project include Department of Mechanical Engineering professors Thomas Cooper, Cuiying Jian, Roger Kempers, Siu Ning (Sunny) Leung and Nima Tabatabaei, and Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science Professor Razieh (Neda) Salahandish.

Through the collaborative efforts of the Lassonde researchers and six industry partners, this project intends to uplift Canada’s green and digital economy by helping to increase the country’s supply of responsibly sourced lithium. Specifically, the researchers are engineering and testing lithium-imprinted polymers that are specially designed to isolate lithium from complex sources like electronic waste.

The team is also exploring and developing optical and electrochemical-integrated devices that can detect and quantify lithium amidst other materials, which would allow miners to detect the presence of lithium within hard rock ore. To ensure optimal performance and portability of the devices, the team is investigating the use of aerogels – an ultralight material with favourable properties and immense potential.

“We want this interdisciplinary project to demonstrate the Mechanical Engineering Department’s ability to work together and achieve a single goal,” says Rezai. “This is the first initiative that has brought together such a large group within our department. We are also hiring 28 student researchers across a spectrum of expertise to support the project and provide valuable learning opportunities. Our idea is to eventually expand the team and build more industry partnerships to achieve greater research and funding.”

According to the research team, this collaborative initiative is only the beginning of a much larger project. Through continued efforts, they hope to innovate the future of critical mineral supply chains and generate licensed, commercialized and patented technologies.

“If we can successfully detect lithium with our technology, we can do so much more,” says Leung. “We are working on a platform technology – the idea is to optimize the detection of one mineral and then work toward other applications. One day, we plan to expand our work to detect other materials, like biological contaminants or disease biomarkers.”

EUC provides opportunities to high-school students

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A recent initiative highlights how York University’s Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) is helping high-school students reach their potential as the next generation of sustainable changemakers.

With the ongoing climate challenges the world faces, the need for active citizenship and environmental stewardship has never been greater. It’s why EUC has made an ongoing effort to provide climate, sustainability and social justice education for the leaders of tomorrow.

The Faculty fulfills that goal with the students currently enrolled in its post-secondary programs, but it doesn’t want to stop there. Among its key objectives, EUC commits to frequently offering high-school outreach activities that provide resources, hands-on skill building opportunities and support to young people who want to make a difference in the world.

Big events, like February’s annual iteration of the Change Your Work conference – which welcomed 500 Ontario high-school students and their teachers to York U’s Keele Campus for a day of environmental education and inspiration – are part of those efforts. Smaller initiatives are part of them, too – like the recent Design Thinking Challenge event in May, attended by 60 students and teachers from several York Region schools.

The event offered local students two programming tracks. The first was a Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) ICE Challenge Case Competition, which tasked participating students to come up with a sustainable architectural solution for redesigning the front entrance and foyer of the Health, Nursing & Environmental Studies Building on York University’s Keele Campus.

The second track was a new extracurricular Urban Solutions program, where students presented their solutions to global challenges, ranging from language accessibility in the Toronto Transit Commission system to disaster relief in Haiti.

Once students worked through their projects, they had a chance to present their design proposals and get feedback from Abidin Kusno, EUC professor and undergraduate program co-ordinator; Teresa Abbruzzesse, EUC professor and Cities, Regions, Planning program co-ordinator; and Laura Taylor, co-author of the SHSM challenge, professor and master of environmental studies Planning program co-ordinator.

“The students came up with some ingenious solutions for the challenge that was presented to them,” said Philip Kelly, professor and interim dean of EUC.

One example was a student who presented a proposal to solve period poverty – the inability to afford feminine hygiene products – in Uganda, building upon her existing interest in gender equality. Her solution was a more sustainable, accessible, disposable pad that would be produced using locally sourced materials.

For students, EUC initiatives like this can provide experiential learning opportunities that are rewarding in more ways than one. In this case, the event featured several prizes: the Feasibility Laureate award for the most practical and easy-to-implement solution; the Empathy Emblem award for the solution that shows the deepest understanding of the users; and the Impact Pioneer Plaque award for the solution with the greatest potential for positive impact.

EUC hopes experiences like these – representative of the Faculty’s broader efforts with high-school students – are rewarding in other ways, too.

“The event offers students early exposure to higher educational environments, which can motivate students to pursue further education and set higher academic and career goals,” said Brittany Giglio, EUC recruitment and liaison officer. “These partnerships contribute significantly to the development of well-prepared, motivated and successful individuals.”

Bike Month kicks off with Transportation Services

Keele campus bikes trees Lassonde

Join York University’s Transportation Services Department to kick off Bike Month – a month-long celebration of cycling across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area – on June 5 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in front of Vari Hall (VH Plaza) on the Keele Campus. 

During the month of June, Transportation Services is partnering with Bike Share Toronto, Cycle York and Smart Commute to celebrate Bike Month by offering York University community members a range of bike-friendly resources, including Toronto cycling maps, quick bike repairs and safety handbooks. At the June 5 event, attendees can ask questions to event partners, compete for prizes, and learn about local cycling infrastructure, related services and the benefits of bikes as a form of sustainable travel.

The annual celebration of Bike Month at York University highlights the institution’s commitment to ensuring sustainable travel options are available across its multi-campus network.  

York University was the first institution in the Greater Toronto Area to partner with Bike Share Toronto in 2021, eventually leading to three Bike Share stations being established on the Keele and Glendon campuses. This strategic partnership helped strengthen the cycling culture across university campuses and helped promote sustainable transportation.

These efforts, among others, led York University to be named a Best University for Commuters – the first institution in Canada to receive this designation. Among many reasons for the recognition, the University’s cycling infrastructure and resources – including secured bike enclosures and four do-it-yourself repair stations – were an important factor, providing cyclists with peace of mind and flexibility while navigating York’s campuses on two wheels. The designation reflects York’s commitment to providing a variety of sustainable commuting options aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of students, faculty, instructors and staff.  

Over the years, the expansion of York University’s cycling infrastructure has been equally matched by community adoption, contributing to the University’s mission to reach its new accelerated target of net-zero emissions by 2040

For more information, visit the official Bike Month website or the Transportation Services website throughout the month of June.

Innovative feature highlights pollinator garden, York U’s sustainability efforts

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By Alexander Huls, deputy editor, YFile

A new augmented reality (AR) experience offered at the pollinator garden at York University looks to engage the community in the greening of campuses and serves as the latest example of York’s broader sustainability efforts and leadership.

York community members who decide to travel to visit the pollinator garden – designated as a haven for birds, bees and butterflies ­– on Chimneystack Road at the University’s Keele Campus will find an innovative surprise among the native plant and wildflower species.

Posted on new signs are QR codes that – when captured with smart phone or tablet – invite a special visitor to their screens: an augmented reality butterfly, eager to land on the user’s palm. The AR experience is meant to reward and delight those who visit the gardens, while fostering an awareness of the vital role pollinators – like butterflies, along with birds and bees – play in the world’s ecosystems.

“Through these gardens, we not only provide essential foraging and nesting sites for pollinators but also create green corridors that promote biodiversity and ecological connectivity,” says Stewart Dankner, director of property management, facilities services at York.

The garden is one of several naturalized spots strategically dispersed across University campuses – ranging from rooftop gardens to designated wildflower patches – that are designed to “green” the landscape and support diverse pollinator species. The pollinator garden has been recently seeded and is expected to grow and thrive over the coming years – in good part because of the creatures that will visit it.

In that way, the AR experience is designed to encourage community members to think about the importance of pollinators. In addition to butterflies, bees are a particular target of these gardens, as they are among nature’s most specialized and efficient insect pollinators – collecting pollen and nectar from flowers to feed themselves and their larvae – that contribute to one in every three bites of food we eat.

Bees are also an area of York leadership and study through experts in the field like Distinguished Research Professor Laurence Packer and the Centre for Bee Ecology, Evolution & Conservation (BEEc), which strives to advance research in the fields of bee ecology, evolution and conservation to increase the long-term sustainability of bees and the vital ecosystem services they provide.

Stewart Danker
Stewart Dankner

The gardens then are reflective of not just BEEc efforts but tied to broader ones around York looking to advance United Nations Sustainable Development Goals centred on contributing to protection, restoration and sustainable use of ecosystems to halt biodiversity loss.

“The collective effort to establish and maintain pollinator habitats aligns with broader sustainability goals, underscoring dedication to environmental stewardship and conservation,” says Dankner.

Those goals and efforts have led to the University being recognized as one of Canada’s Greenest Employers and the recent announcement that it would be aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040 – a decade sooner than its previous commitment.

The seeds for reaching that goal are being nurtured by initiatives like the new AR experience and the pollinator gardens, which students, faculty, staff and others are encouraged to enjoy – whether during a walk, a living lab supporting teaching and research, or more. Further information about the pollinator habitats can be found through the Office of Sustainability website.

York community at Keele and Glendon create greener campuses

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York University community members gathered at both the Glendon and Keele campuses in April for the annual tradition of planting trees in celebration of Earth Month.

Each year the event is organized to help drive positive change by creating a greener campus with restored ecosystems to help mitigate climate change.

Past events have seen hundreds of trees, of a variety of native species, planted. This year, over 100 participants planted a mini orchard with 18 larger fruit trees – including apple, pear, pawpaw and more – and over 100 shrubs to enhance and grow an edible opportunity for an edible campus.

Some of the plantings were targeted to particular locations as well, with the fruit-bearing trees finding their way into the Keele Campus Arboretum, and greenery being placed along the Glendon Campus ravine to help restore erosion around the riverbank.

The event was held in partnership with Regenesis and York’s Property Management Grounds, Facilities Services, with grant funding provided by the City of Toronto.

“It’s the perfect opportunity to come together to take action on our campus and in our everyday lives, as we continue to work on system-level change,” Mike Layton, York’s chief sustainability officer, has said of the occasion.

View a photo gallery of the tree planting events below.

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York U and Philippines advance emergency response leadership with MOU

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By Elaine Smith

Members of the York Emergency Mitigation, Engagement, Response, & Governance Institute (Y-EMERGE) have travelled to the Philippines to establish a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the country’s Civil Defense Training Institute (CDTI).

Earlier in 2024, Ali Asgary and Eric Kennedy, professors of disaster and emergency management and associate directors of Y-EMERGE – a York University Organized Research Unit dedicated to research and training in disaster risk reduction and emergency preparedness – were invited to Manila for the launch of CDTI and the MOU signing ceremony.

Eric Kennedy (far left) and Ali Asgary (far right) at the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding in Manila.
Eric Kennedy (far left) and Ali Asgary (far right) at the signing of the memorandum of understanding in Manila.

The partnership – and trip – grew out of an earlier visit to the Philippines by Provost and Vice-President Academic Lisa Phillips in November 2023 (as part of the Universities Canada Partnership Mission) where queries emerged about areas of specialization that York had in common with the country and its researchers.

Because the Philippines is ranked among the most disaster-prone countries in the world, and York’s Y-EMERGE is a national leader in emergency management, a natural fit was quickly found.

Asgary and Kennedy travelled to Manila in March for the official MOU signing, which also included a discussion about short-, medium- and long-term collaborations with York. CDTI was very interested in the work of York’s Advanced Disaster, Emergency and Rapid Response Simulation (ADERSIM) team – where Asgary is a core scientist – as well as the University’s technology and training.

Ali Asgary (right) giving a demonstration to a colleague
Ali Asgary (right) giving a demonstration to a colleague.

“We had great discussions with the senior people there,” Asgary says. “They are keen to collaborate, knowing that York has strong research and training expertise in disaster management. This formal collaboration initiative through the MOU makes it more impactful.”

The agreement is especially meaningful, since 2024 marks the 75th anniversary of Canada-Philippines diplomatic relations.

The professors also used the trip to further other York partnerships, collaborate and make new contacts. Asgary and Kennedy connected with CDTI personnel, and visited with disaster and emergency management experts at the University of the Philippines’ Resilience Institute. They also met with CIFAL Philippines, a sister organization to CIFAL York – both part of the United Nations Institute for Training & Research.

“We used this trip as a way to advance University partnerships in areas where York has exceptional strengths,” Kennedy says. “Building collaborative relationships with institutions in the Philippines is a natural connection point, given both sides have significant expertise in disaster and emergency management – and given the many hazards, including volcanoes, typhoons and earthquakes, faced in the Philippines.

Eric Kennedy during his visit
Eric Kennedy during his visit.

“The idea is to build mutual learning, collaboration and opportunities for exchange. Our new CDTI partners have an incredible amount of lived experience in managing a wide variety of hazards. Creating relationships and partnerships is so much more valuable than simply importing solutions. The best programs are born out of collaboration, so we are eager to work together to build resilience, conduct research and train the next generation of emergency leaders.”

The first product of the new partnership will be a monthly virtual speaker series about climate change displacement, an issue that is a focus for CIFAL Philippines, the Resilient Institute and the CDTI, which will begin in June as a way to share expertise and resources. It is a practical first step for the partners to undertake, but it promises to be the first of many, including research collaborations and potential student exchanges.

Asgary and Kennedy also met with numerous faculty members at the University of the Philippines for a presentation about some of their current projects and a tour of their various labs. They were able to assess where synergies exist and connect York colleagues with researchers who have similar interests.

In addition, Asgary, a specialist in volcanic emergencies and emergency simulations, and Kennedy, an expert in wildfire emergencies and decision-making during disasters, were each able to find commonalities with Filipino researchers and consider individual research collaborations.

Asgary also had the opportunity to visit two active volcanoes, as well as volcano observatories, facilitated by CDTI and their regional directors, and is already busy in working on simulations used for planning and training.

“We can now broker mutually beneficial connections and match up teams in both directions,” Kennedy says. “It was also a fruitful space to foster relationships beyond those with our three official partners. At the launch, we met representatives from a variety of organizations with overlapping interests, such as the World Food Programme and the International Organization for Migration.

“It is so important that York prioritizes this kind of in-person relationship building. There are a lot of ways to sustain relationships in the virtual world, but they are built on the foundation of in-person relationships. In-person connections are incredibly valuable.”

Vinitha Gengatharan, York’s assistant vice-president, global engagement, says Asgary and Kennedy are modelling the type of relationship the University is eager to create with its international partners.

“Knowledge sharing, respect and mutually enriching collaboration are vital ingredients for successful international partnerships,” Gengatharan says. “Ali and Eric set the standard for the type of relationships we continue to build worldwide.”

The seeds of this relationship may have just been planted, but they are already bearing fruit.

Students present sustainable solutions, enhance career-readiness at Spring Capstone Day

Photo by Singkham from Pexels

Five monetary awards were presented to teams of upper-year students at York University’s 2024 Spring Capstone Day, a public event hosted by the Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom (C4) in celebration of innovation, creativity, ambition and impact.

Held on April 26, this year’s Spring Capstone Day drew more than 350 members of the York community and external visitors to York’s Scott Library Collaboratory. There, attendees learned about the work of the 225 presenting students, whose capstone projects – finishing-year projects where student teams work with external clients to solve real-world problems – focused on innovative and sustainable design solutions, aiming to address societal issues, advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and create positive change. This biannual project showcase is an invaluable opportunity for students to share their experience and develop professional skills to enhance their career-readiness.

“For three hours, the entire Collaboratory was sparkling with conversations between project partners; York staff, professors and librarians; and students from every Faculty at York,” said Danielle Robinson, co-founder and co-lead of C4, a high-impact experiential education course intended to uniquely prepare students for the next phase of their career. “Our collective focus was on launching these students out into the world as the powerful changemakers they are ready to be.”

An important day for all participating students, Robinson described it as similar to a graduation or a professional debut, where students get dressed up and present their work to attendees and judges.

According to Mahogany Lopez, a Faculty of Science student whose team won the Sustainability Award, the day was bittersweet. “It marked the end of my journey with the C4 class, where I made new friends and had an amazing time,” she said. “However, I was happy to see our project well-received and to witness the impressive work of different groups. This experience emphasized the value of interdisciplinary learning and collaboration in solving real-world problems.”

Donna Nguyen, a student in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, whose team won the Community Impact Award, appreciated the event for shining a spotlight on student work: “This event and this win was important to me as a student because our hard work was acknowledged and it signified that our ideas genuinely made an impact on the community,” she said.

Faculty of Health Professor Asal Moghaddaszadeh, who acted as a project shepherd, guiding students through their project journey in the C4 class, believes the Capstone Day event is pivotal for the University.

“It’s about instilling teamwork, fostering community partnerships and preparing students to tackle workforce challenges boldly,” she said. “Additionally, by working in interdisciplinary teams, students learn the importance of collaboration across diverse Faculties, enriching their problem-solving skills.”

Lassonde School of Engineering student Mehrshad Farahbakhsh agreed, calling Capstone Day a “transformative experience.”

“It taught me the value of collaboration and how diverse perspectives can lead to innovative solutions,” said the international student, whose team won the Innovation Award for their project focused on making the automotive industry more sustainable. “Each member of our group brought a unique background and approach to the table, which allowed us to brainstorm innovative solutions.”

The awards students were competing for included the YSpace-sponsored Innovation Award, with a prize of $100 for the winning student team; and the GHD-sponsored Community Impact Award and Honda Canada Foundation-sponsored Sustainability Award, both offering prizes of $1,500 to the winning teams and $500 to the runners-up.

The day’s award winners were determined by a committee of 16 York University judges – from YSpace, Alumni Engagement and the Office of Sustainability. The full list of award winners and project titles are as follows:

  • Innovation Award winner: “Finding Our Way through Sustainable Choices (Weins Auto Group)” by Team BF;
  • Community Impact Award winner: “Fostering Food Sovereignty (HiGarden)” by Team BE;
  • Community Impact Award runner-up: “Policy Pal (Engage)” by Team AC;
  • Sustainability Award winner: “Reconstructing Education (Sensorium)” by Team AA; and
  • Sustainability Award runner-up: “Saving the Planet (Independent)” by Team BD.

For more information about these projects, the winners and the Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom, visit the C4 website or email c4class@yorku.ca.

York University brings emergency management journal in-house

By Alexander Huls, deputy editor, YFile

The Canadian Journal of Emergency Management (CJEM), once published independently, has migrated to York Digital Journals (YDJ) – along with its back catalogue – to pursue a shared goal of providing practitioners and academics a resource to advance their efforts to manage disasters and save lives.

CJEM was launched in 2020 to promote awareness, knowledge and best practices of emergency management in Canada. That goal was one reason that, two years later, it formed a partnership with the York Emergency Mitigation, Engagement, Response, & Governance Institute (Y-EMERGE), the largest and strongest emergency management initiative of its kind Canada, to become its official journal.

Eric Kennedy
Eric Kennedy

When CJEM joined Y-EMERGE, it gained a new editor-in-chief in Professor Eric Kennedy, a leader in the field who is also associate director of Y-EMERGE and one of six speakers in York’s award-winning Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living. One of Kennedy’s goals to open up the journal – to other fields and contributors – was to build on something CJEM had already established: being open access.

“We’re wanting to do this in the right way and make it accessible to different audiences, including those who can’t pay for a journal subscription or might not have it in their budget to afford to buy an article,” says Kennedy, who stresses that – given the often life-saving value of the latest knowledge in the field of emergency management – it’s essential to remove as many access barriers as possible.

To keep doing so, Kennedy had the idea to approach a potential key partner: York Digital Journals.

An electronic journal-hosting service run through the York University Libraries, YDJ looks to help community members create new journals or migrate existing ones online through a platform called Open Journal Systems, which can streamline submissions, peer review, editing and publishing.

After some conversations, Kennedy asked if YDJ could help do just that for CJEM. “I thought it would be a great opportunity,” says Tomasz Mrozewski, a digital publishing librarian in the Department of Digital Scholarship Infrastructure, who wanted to bring to Kennedy and the journal what they’ve done for many others at York. “What we’re really doing is helping enable certain services and certain processes,” he says.

YDJ now provides CJEM with assistance in publishing content, navigating copyright agreements with authors and promoting articles within the scholarly communications ecosystem – all while ensuring the journal is free to read and publish. In adopting more of the logistical side of publishing, YDJ aims to provide help that can have a significant impact on the future of the journal. “By taking on some of the burden of managing that infrastructure, it allows CJEM to reinvest their energy into the more specialized and demanding areas that they’re experts in,” says Mrozewski.  

Among the areas Kennedy and CJEM are reinvesting their energies is dedicating time to publish and mentor early career researchers and non-academic voices. The editorial team is guided by questions like, “How do we provide coaching and support for practitioners writing for a journal for the first time? What does it look like to provide constructive and coaching peer reviews for early career researchers, and helping practitioners get their feet under them when it comes to rigorously documenting their lived experiences and lessons learned from real-life disasters?”

The goal is to get new voices into the field of emergency management and knowledge production to ensure there is a representative cross-section of perspectives not limited by experience, background or academic record.

What we’re really excited to see is people using this knowledge and breaking down those walls between academic knowledge production and how people actually do practise in this field,” Kennedy says. “We think of our readership as being not just academics but also practitioners – fire managers, paramedics, emergency managers, and other professionals and community beyond the academy. The journal is trying to advance knowledge, but also trying to do so in a way that is relevant to the people who are at the frontlines of the climate crisis.”

To aid real-world applications, where knowledge is often time-critical and life-saving, the journal is also leveraging YDJ’s help to shift from publishing once or twice a year on a fixed timeline and moving to continually open submission calls and publication of articles. That way, the journal can publish case studies, reports or timely studies quickly – and, often, in response to an ongoing or emergent disaster – in the aim to provide help as much as it can.

“The journal can play a role in helping to avoid injuries and loss of life and the impact to communities by sharing what we’re learning about how to build resilience and how to manage disasters,” says Kennedy. “We want to be able to say, ‘The research we’re doing and mobilizing is helping to avoid adverse impacts that would be happening if we weren’t here.’ That’s the gold standard.”

For Mrozewski, that is what he hopes YDJ can help facilitate, too. “I would love to see the journal flourish with a minimal of worrying about the basics,” he says. With the future direction of the journal – and YDJ’s help – that gold standard looks very achievable.