York University named a global leader in new Impact Rankings for the second consecutive year

THE Featured image for YFile
THE Featured image for YFile

This year’s Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings place York University as a global leader when measured against the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Overall, York placed 33rd out of 767 competing universities from around the world and achieved a top 100 spot in 15 of the 17 SDGs, a substantial gain over last year’s rankings.

The rankings look at how universities around the world make progress against each of the UN’s broad sustainability goals through research, stewardship, outreach and teaching.

This year’s Impact Rankings have expanded, not only in the number of participating universities, up from 450 last year to 767 this year, but also through the increased number of SDGs, up to 17 from the 11 measured last year. Both indicate growing recognition of the importance of the SDGs and the essential role of universities in society.

“York is one of Canada’s leading community-engaged universities, and our place in the Times Higher Education global rankings highlights the University’s commitment to creating positive change for our students, our communities and the world,” said York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton. “In the era of COVID-19, it is more important than ever for universities to work with government, industry and community organizations to tackle serious economic, social and health challenges. I am proud that York has embraced its role in driving collaborative and innovative solutions.”

Impact rankings reflect York’s values

York is a university committed to creating change that will help build stronger, more inclusive, equitable, resilient and sustainable communities. Through its collective efforts, the University rallies community engagement and partnerships to make the world a better place. This approach gives York University’s students, faculty, staff and alumni opportunities to contribute to solutions that will address the most pressing global challenges.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

For the second consecutive year, York excelled in several areas, with top rankings out of 767 universities:

  • SDG 6 “Clean Water and Sanitation” – fifth place
  • SDG 10 “Reduced Inequalities” – ninth place
  • SDG 11 “Sustainable Cities and Communities” – ninth place
  • SDG 5 “Gender Equality” – 10th place

To view the complete list of SDG rankings, visit https://about.yorku.ca/times-higher-education-ranking/.

Live Facebook film screening of Planetary Health Film Lab project marks Earth Week celebrations


The stories of seven environmental activists and emerging filmmakers from across the globe will be shared with the community in a live virtual screening on April 24 to commemorate York University’s Earth Week celebrations.

Running as a Live Facebook Watch Party at 11 a.m., the event will screen seven mini-documentaries on the subject of the impacts of climate change on six different countries and communities. The emerging filmmakers came to the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research at York University from Feb. 16 to 20 to participate in the inaugural cohort of the Planetary Health Film Lab, where they spent five days in an intensive process to create their films.

Mark Terry

The Planetary Health Film Lab is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)-funded workshop created by Mark Terry, a filmmaking instructor, documentarian and York University postdoctoral Fellow in Documentary Film and Global Health. Terry will be present during the live event for a Q-and-A.

The Winter 2020 group included environmental activists and emerging filmmakers: Thierry Toto (Italy), Karla Cajas (Ecuador), Ishika Mitra (India), Kai Millen (Australia), Monica Monrroy Botero (Colombia), Vivian Guido (Canada) and Jacquelin Montoya Hidalgo (Ecuador).

During the Planetary Health Film Lab program, participants produce documentary short films that will be featured on the websites of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research and the Youth Climate Report, influential platforms used as a resource by policy-makers. The films aim to directly contribute to progressive policy creation on a global scale.

The Live Facebook Watch Party is free and open to all. It can be accessed on the York University Facebook Channel.

Terry is the author of The Geo-Doc: Geomedia, Documentary Film, and Social Change, published by Palgrave Macmillan, which examines the history and theories surrounding mobilizing the documentary film as a communication tool between filmmakers and policymakers. “Ecocinema” and its semiotic storytelling techniques are also explored for their unique approaches to audience engagement. The proven methods identified throughout the book are combined with the spatial and temporal affordances provided by GIS technology to create the “Geo-Doc,” a new tool for the activist documentarian.

Conservation seminar series continues online

Monarch Butterfly
Monarch Butterfly

The Interdisciplinary Conservation in Canada Seminar Series is one of several York University-affiliated programs of events that are proceeding in a virtual format during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Organized by Sheila Colla, an assistant professor in York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES), with an interest in the conservation of smaller species such as bees, the series has examines how government, academia and ENGOs are addressing threats to wildlife and the climate from a variety of perspectives.

In support of efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the talks and increase their accessibility, the series’ first 10 in-person events of 2020 were made available through live streaming with captions on the series’ Facebook Page.

While the COVID-19 outbreak has led to the postponement and cancellation of many lectures and seminars, talks in this series – such as Brett Favaro’s March 23 presentation and Q-and-A concerning why climate scientists should embrace activism – are proceeding in an online format. Favaro’s presentation has already been viewed more than 600 times.

On March 30 at noon, Aerin Jacob from the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative will make a presentation about large landscape conservation. On April 8, Adam Ford from the University of British Columbia will lead a talk titled “Misplaced Conservation.”

Monarch Butterfly
Monarch Butterfly

Previous events in the series, which have included discussions about fish, cat, whale, butterfly, agricultural and floral conservation, some of which have seen more than 600 people watch via online streaming in addition to in-person attendees. The past talks can be viewed on the FES Facebook Page.

A calendar of events hosted by FES can be found on the Faculty website.

Those who would like to let the York University community know about events or series that are proceeding online should email YFile. The Zoom videoconferencing application has a captioning feature and options to stream directly to Facebook and Instagram.

Growing opportunities at the Maloca Community Garden

There are now more ways to get involved with the Maloca Community Garden at York University as interested individuals will have the opportunity to rent one of four newly vacant garden plots. Gardeners who commit to regularly maintaining their plots can rent the space for a $50 membership fee.

The Maloca Community Garden is designed to be a space for all members of the university community to experience, from growing their own food to utilizing the space for special outdoor events and enjoying a great setting for sustainable pedagogy. Additionally, the garden supports individuals who lack access to land, are hoping to build skills and knowledge in gardening, to raise awareness of food security or simply develop community connections.

Maloca Community Garden Members
Maloca Community Garden Members

The garden has a traditional private plot garden for members, an urban farm and a community plot where anyone can come and take produce. Those interested in applying to rent one of the garden’s four newly-available plots can apply online on a first-come-first-served basis. There is the possibility of expanding more plots for rent depending on demand. The garden provides water, soil, compost and other essential tools and gear that gardeners require. While gardeners are expected to purchase their own seeds and seedlings, the regular fee will be used to purchase materials and tools necessary for maintaining the community garden.

“My experience in Maloca has brought me life-long friendships, with a focus on the development of myself as an individual,” explained garden member and York University nursing student Gabriel Brome. “This brought to mind the importance of growing one’s own food and knowing where it comes from in regard to the promotion of food security. I really saw how important the garden could be to the community at large and even the homeless population to promote food sustainability, health and well-being.”

“I encourage everyone to get involved in the development and blossoming future of Maloca and purchase plots to grow their own foods, fight homeless and reap the benefits of this experience in relation to your health and well-being,” Brome added.

The Maloca Community Garden at York University was established in 1999 for the purpose of promoting and fostering the environmental, educational and social benefits of community gardening while creating a rare meditative space for the co-operative growing according to the principles of organic gardening. Since then, Maloca has provided students and faculty, neighbours and friends of the garden with a unique opportunity to grow and harvest food, while building relationships and learning in a community that cares about nature.

Membership to the garden is open to students, staff, faculty and members of the public by contacting Maloca organizers. Those wishing to volunteer with the garden can sign up online. Anyone interested in providing an experiential education activity or course for students at Maloca should reach out by email.

Seminar looks at the influences of human activities on mercury in aquatic ecosystems


The final event in the 2019-20 Aquatic Research Group (ARG) Seminar Series features McMaster University Professor Karen Kidd presenting a talk titled “Local through global influences of human activities on mercury in aquatic ecosystems.” It takes place on Wednesday, March 11 at 12:30 p.m. in room 111, McLaughlin College Building at the Keele Campus. The seminar will be followed by a free lunch at 1:30 p.m. All members of the York community are welcome to attend.

The pan-Faculty ARG Seminar Series, organized by biology Professor Sapna Sharma in York University’s Faculty of Science, has brought top ecologists from across the province to York to talk about their research in aquatic ecology and what’s causing stress in our waterways.

Karen Kidd
Karen Kidd

Kidd received her BSc in environmental toxicology from the University of Guelph (1991) and her PhD in biology from the University of Alberta (1996). As an ecotoxicologist, she studies how the health of aquatic organisms and food webs are affected by human activities and the fate of pollutants in freshwater ecosystems.

Kidd joined McMaster in 2017 as the Jarislowsky Chair in Environment and Health and has a joint appointment in the Department of Biology and the School of Geography & Earth Sciences. Before that, she worked in the Biology Department and the Canadian Rivers Institute at the University of New Brunswick Saint John, where she was a professor of biology and held a Canada Research Chair in Chemical Contamination of Food Webs (Tier II 2004-14; Tier I 2015-17).

Most of her lab’s research is multidisciplinary in nature – a combination of ecology, biogeochemistry, chemistry and toxicology – and is on lakes, rivers, wetlands and coastal zones spanning tropical through Arctic climates.

The ARG includes researchers who focus on aquatic science from the Faculties of Science, Engineering, Environmental Studies, and Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. The seminar series is designed to engage this multidisciplinary scientific community at all levels, including graduate and undergraduate students, both at York University and in the wider aquatic science community.

Online survey will help establish York University’s carbon emission reduction targets

glass planet in a forest with sunshine – Usa map

Carol McAulay, vice-president finance and administration, issues the following message to the University community:

In November 2017, York University released its institutional Sustainability Strategy with a purpose of communicating and implementing a shared vision. The Sustainability Strategy has been designed to inspire positive change, build capacity, empower people and harness innovation to foster a culture of sustainability within and beyond the University.

As part of the University’s continuing efforts to advance the strategy, a discussion paper has been written by the University. The paper is titled “Advancing York University’s Sustainability Strategy Through Goal PL5: A call for community collaboration in reducing York University’s carbon footprint.” The paper provides context for community discussion and participation in a collaborative process to help inform recommendations in setting carbon emissions targets for the University.

I am inviting you to participate in an online survey on setting carbon emission reduction targets for the University. The input received from the survey will be collated, synthesized and used to develop recommendations; the recommendations will then be compiled in a report to be delivered to President Lenton by the end of April 2020.

By working together, we can establish achievable targets that will support the University’s vision and align to the pillars of accessibility, connectedness, excellence and impact, as we continue to strive to create positive change as a leading post-secondary institution in sustainability.

To view the discussion paper and to provide your feedback and input, please visit the Sustainability website.

Call for nominations: President’s Sustainability Leadership Awards

Photo by Singkham from Pexels

Photo by Singkham from PexelsYork University President’s Sustainability Leadership Awards recognize students, faculty and staff who are contributing to making York a leading university in sustainability. The purpose of the awards are to raise awareness on the important work that sustainability champions are doing at York, to provide much deserved recognition of their work, and to encourage others to get involved in sustainability initiatives on the University’s campuses. Up to five (5) awards will be given out each year.

Eligibility Criteria: Anyone from the York University community can nominate any other individual or group for consideration. For the purposes of the award, the York University community is defined as students, faculty, and staff members. The geographic focus of the nominees sustainability work should be on one of York’s campuses or in the surrounding community.

Nomination Process: The nomination period for 2019-20 is now open. 
Please complete and submit the online Sustainability Leadership Award Form.

Deadline to submit a nomination: Friday, March 13.

Review Period: Applications will be reviewed at the beginning of March with final decisions on awards to be made by or before June 2020.

Review Committee: Applications will be reviewed by a committee of five, including two  students, one faculty member and two staff members.

Evaluation Criteria: Nominees will be considered for the Sustainability Leadership Awards based on their demonstrated leadership in sustainability, specifically through the following criteria:

  • The overall impact of the nominee’s contributions to sustainability, including the depth (how significant the contribution is) and breadth (how widespread, collaborative and/or replicable the contribution is).
  • The degree of innovation and originality and/or degree of enhancement (to existing initiatives).
  • How the individual or group went “over and above the call of duty” (additional time and resources committed that were not part of their job description or academic program).

Announcement of Awards: Award winners will be announced by or before June 2020.

Questions: If you have any questions or concerns, contact Nicole Arsenault, program director, Sustainability narsenau@yorku.ca or 416-736-5866.

Activists to discuss how alternative economic models can help achieve food, racial and climate justice

Organizer, educator and writer Kali Akuno will participate in a York University panel titled “Food Sovereignty, Climate Justice and Racial Justice: Making the Links” on Feb. 25. The free event, open to the public, will explore challenges and opportunities associated with alternative economic models that support food sovereignty, climate justice and racial justice. The panel will take place beginning at 2:30 p.m. in room 305 Founders College at the Keele Campus.

Kali Akuno
Kali Akuno

Akuno is a co-founder and co-director of Cooperation Jackson, an emerging network of worker cooperatives and supporting institutions in Jackson, Mississippi. He has also served as the co-director of the US Human Rights Network, as the executive director of the Peoples’ Hurricane Relief Fund after Hurricane Katrina and co-founded the School of Social Justice and Community Development, a public school serving the academic needs of low-income African American and Latino communities in Oakland, California.

In his panel presentation, Akuno will share his experiences leading Cooperation Jackson as the organization works to advance the development of economic democracy by building a solidarity economy anchored by a network of cooperatives and other types of worker-owned and democratically self-managed enterprises. Akuno’s presentation will be followed by conversations with local voices including Leticia Deawuo of Black Creek Community Farm and Adabu Brownhill Jefwa with the National Farmers Union.

Many argue that while the industrial model of growing and consuming food is contributing to both climate change and social inequity, alternative economies – including alternative food networks – continue to benefit white, middle-class populations while further marginalizing lower-income groups and communities of colour. This panel will explore to what extent alternative economic can models work for everyone, what models can be pointed to and how they can more meaningfully prioritize racially and economically marginalized communities.

Students, faculty, staff and members of the public interested in attending the panel are asked to RSVP on the event’s website.

New Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change created to address world’s most pressing issues

Image shows a hand holding a pine cone against a lush backdrop of greenery
Image shows a hand holding a pine cone against a lush backdrop of greenery

Environmental change and urbanization represent two of the most critical challenges facing people and the planet. The world’s awareness of the need to develop sustainable solutions is vividly illustrated by the massive global Climate Day of Action protests that took place in September 2019 ahead of the United Nations Climate Action Summit. The climate action saw youth take to the streets to raise their concerns about environmental degradation, the injustices facing humanity, and the uncertainty of their future.

Universities are uniquely positioned to advance knowledge of and solutions to the issues posed by the climate crisis, degradation of nature and the rapid growth of cities. In response, York University is taking a leadership role to advance teaching and learning, research and scholarship, and multisectoral engagement in environmental and urban realms by bringing together the expertise housed in the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) and the Geography program in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies to create a new Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change.

Envisioned to be an international leader in critical and innovative urban, environmental and geographical knowledges and skills, the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change will focus on advancing sustainability and justice. In 2019, both the Board of Governors and the Senate of York University approved the proposal for the new faculty, which will formally come into existence on Sept. 1, 2020 with new curricular offerings planned for Sept. 1, 2021.

Rhonda L. Lenton

“Students today are simultaneously faced with a competitive and dynamic global knowledge economy and a series of existential social and environmental challenges. The Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change combines the historical excellence of our environmental studies and geography programs with a renewed commitment to innovative teaching, scholarship and experiential learning. This interdisciplinary and collaborative approach will help society tackle its most complex challenges while training the leaders who will put solutions into practice,” said President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton.

Current and future students will have unprecedented opportunities to explore and learn from global thought leaders in geography, urban and environmental studies within a new faculty that fosters interdisciplinary approaches spanning and connecting biophysical sciences, social sciences, and the arts

Alice Hovorka

“The Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change will champion interdisciplinarity through curricular programs and scholarship,” said its inaugural Dean Alice Hovorka. “The new faculty will draw together scholars from geography and environmental studies as well as from across York University, building on existing synergies and encouraging collaboration in teaching, research and engagement activities.”

Field-based and experiential learning opportunities will further enhance students’ understanding of biophysical processes and social issues. Undergraduate students will have opportunities to pursue majors and minors in new programs that include bachelor’s degrees in global geography, urban studies, environmental science, sustainable environmental management, and environmental arts and justice. Masters and PhD programs in Geography and Environmental Studies will offer advanced study and application in these topical areas. Programs will feature hands-on, community-engaged learning locally, for example at York’s Maloca Garden and woodlot sites, regionally through field courses at Bruce Peninsula and within the Greater Toronto Area, and internationally at the York University Las Nubes EcoCampus in Costa Rica. Programs will also highlight work- and research-based placements connecting students with non-governmental organizations, industry, and government partner to help guide their career paths.

Demand for career professionals in environmental and urban realms has outpaced that of the rest of the workforce. Governments around the world are now placing an emphasis on regulation and public policies focused on sustainability and smart cities, requiring that organizations rethink their practices. New positions for environmental, urban planning and sustainability experts are needed, and the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change will be uniquely positioned to meet this increased global demand for trained professionals. According to a 2018 Eco Canada Job Posting Trends Report, anticipated job growth leading into 2025 will be seen in careers in natural resource management (15 per cent increase), waste management (15 per cent increase), urban planning and development (13 per cent increase), energy management (12 per cent increase) and environmental health & safety and water quality (seven per cent increase).

Some of the potential career positions available to the inaugural graduating class of 2025 include chief sustainability officers, regulators and analysts; energy entrepreneurs, auditors and consultants; environmental lawyers, advocates and diversity educators; environmental scientists, geoscientists, technicians and specialists; and, urban planners, social service administrators and infrastructure directors.

To learn more, visit https://newfaculty.info.yorku.ca/.

Watch wildfires and wading waiters at Planetary Health Film Lab premiere

Mark Terry

From raging wildfires devastating the Australian wilderness to Venetian waiters in rubber boots serving customers packed into flooding restaurants, the real-time impacts of climate change, told by the people living through them, will be on display at the public screening of documentaries produced as part of the Planetary Health Film Lab at York University.

The free event will take place at 5 p.m. on Feb. 21 at the Global Strategy Lab, room 2120 Dahdaleh Building at the Keele Campus, and will showcase the work of six young, emerging international filmmakers completing an intensive, five-day pilot documentary film course at York University. The screening will include an open discussion with the filmmakers and organizers.

The Planetary Health Film Lab course, taught by York Postdoctoral Fellow in Documentary Film and Global Health Mark Terry, will empower students to effectively tell stories that communicate data, research and life experiences related to global and planetary health through specific theories, techniques and modes of social issue filmmaking, providing hands-on experience with new digital technologies and platforms. This first iteration of the course, taught during winter reading week, will include students from Ecuador, Colombia, Italy, India and Australia. Each student will be tasked with producing a three-minute film that tells a story about the impacts of climate change in their respective countries and communities, which will be premiered at the public screening and included in the United Nations’ Youth Climate Report.

Mark Terry
Mark Terry

Terry has personally witnessed how much short documentary films have influenced climate policy creation on a global scale, having launched the Youth Climate Report, a series of nearly 300 videos on global climate research produced by young people situated on an interactive digital map, at the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2017. He helped to conceive the project after having been invited to produce yearly hour-long compilations of short youth-produced films for COPs beginning in 2011. The United Nations now holds an annual Global Youth Video Challenge for young people around the world to document climate change and their actions to combat it, with winning entries being showcased on the Youth Climate Report map.

Not just a form of entertainment, short documentary film has become an effective visual medium for delivering information to COP delegates and policy makers inundated with complex scientific research. “I’ve seen them with their laptops at a negotiation session and we talk about Tanzania and they’ll open up the map and watch the video from Tanzania to get this visual context,” Terry explains. “It’s very exciting.”

Equally exciting for Terry are the prospects for knowledge mobilization with projects like the film lab, with students enabled to take their skills and theories back to their respective countries and share them with their peers. Committed to giving a voice to young people, he notes a mobilization of youth activists like Greta Thunberg around the world leading the charge against climate change as an influence in his teaching and film making work. “They’re the next generation that’s not only going to be affected by the impacts of climate change, but they’re the ones who are going to be in power,” says Terry.

Although young people are speaking louder and in greater numbers about climate change, Terry admits that while those in power today might be starting to listen, they are yet to begin changing their behaviour. “When the new generation of young people who were brought up with this activism and this desire and desperation to do something about climate change, added to the frustration of our generation not doing anything about it, I think we’re going to get a more idealistic politician,” said Terry.

Terry’s latest book, The Geo-Doc: Geomedia, Documentary Film, and Social Change, was released on Feb. 4. His upcoming documentary, The Changing Face of Iceland, will complete a film trilogy comprised of his works on the impacts of climate change along with The Antarctica Challenge: A Global Warning and The Polar Explorer.

Partners for the Planetary Health Film Lab include the Young Lives Research Lab in the Faculty of Education and the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research at York University, as well as the Youth Climate Report. The project is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.