Communities and the value of research

One of the biggest topics around the province these days is the shortage of skilled labour. It seems to be the most-talked-about issue in the provincial election campaign and is generally understood to be the greatest constraint on economic development in northern BC. The issue is complex, for sure, and is intertwined with data related to demographic change (and an overall decline in working-age people in many parts of the province), individual aspirations for careers, and the availability of accessible and affordable educational programs. The topic of “research” is rarely mentioned in the same breath as skilled labour shortages, but I’ve recently been reminded about its importance to the North, regional communities, and economic development.

Last week, I was in Quesnel for the annual replica hermes belt meeting of the North Central Local Government Association, which attracts mayors, councilors, regional district directors, and senior city administrators to discuss issues of concern around the region. They have a long history with UNBC. In fact, the idea of UNBC was first endorsed by this group in the late 1980s and they were also the first government organization to support the establishment of the Northern Medical Program.

I facilitated hermes h belts a session on the environmental effects of resource development during the annual NCLGA convention in Quesnel. Photo by Teann Ingram.

In Quesnel, a key topic was how communities could prosper in the new resource economy. I was part of a small group that organized a workshop on day 1 of the convention to explore how communities could find balance when weighing the risks and benefits associated with resource development. The session was set up in “world café” style, where participants moved from table to table, contributing their ideas on how increased resource development would affect the environment and the social, cultural, and economic sustainability of their communities. I facilitated the discussion related to impacts on the environment and aimed to gather ideas from these local government officials about how communities could be part of ensuring environmental sustainability while they pursued economic development opportunities related to resource projects. Simply, they responded with one word: science. From table to table, they were consistent in their belief that good science from strong researchers would provide the basis for sound, local decision-making based hermes belt size chart men
on evidence, not anecdotes. Interestingly, when all of the facilitators got together to compare notes, this need for long-term planning informed by local knowledge (generally obtained through good research) was a theme that emerged over and over again.

Screen capture from the Global TV broadcast. Click here to watch the story.

One example of this was highlighted by Global TV when it broadcasted its News Hour from UNBC earlier this week. Their story on UNBC included a depiction of the Bioenergy Plant that really focused on how the research associated with it – covering such topics as emissions and the use of ash – is directly relevant to local forestry, agriculture, and mining industries. Ultimately, it would be the communities relying on these sectors that would also benefit.

As UNBC aims to expand hermes outlet its experience with local, renewable energy to be of greater value to northern, rural, and remote communities, research will play a critical role in both advancing technologies and translating their application to communities. And as we continue to work to address the skills shortage, it’s our region’s ability to innovate through research that will make our communities and industries more competitive, attractive, and resilient.



Green Day 2013

The snow that fell throughout the day today gave a decidedly white look to UNBC’s annual Green Day. But inside the Canfor Winter Garden, various activities and displays provided opportunities for members of the UNBC community to get ideas for reducing their personal environmental impact while also hearing of UNBC’s plans related to renewable energy and community sustainability.

President Iwama leads a discussion in the Canfor Winter Garden

UNBC President George Iwama used Green Day to host a conversation about the next phase of UNBC’s energy project. He described how UNBC’s existing bioenergy facilities – the wood pellet system at the I.K. Barber Enhanced Forestry Lab and the Bioenergy Plant that provides heat to the campus – can be connected to the residences and the campus daycare, providing a new platform for education and research on how to implement local energy systems in rural and northern communities. The idea is that this new energy network will provide the foundation for adding additional energy technologies, on-campus food production, and future housing to model sustainable communities. The opportunities for teaching, research, and public education would be unparalleled in Canada.

Green Day was created for conversations like these.

Some of the UNBC students who organized the first Green Day, in 2008.

As UNBC traditions go, Green Day has some history. The first one occurred six years ago, in 2008, less than a year after UNBC trademarked “Canada’s Green University” and only a few weeks after the Government of BC announced its first bioenergy strategy.  Two UNBC professors – Art Fredeen and Ken Wilkening – were the ones who made that first Green Day a reality. They converted a third-year Environmental Studies course that semester into a planning committee, mobilizing students who had a passion for the environment and sustainability. They put together a variety of displays and presentations ranging from air quality and an audit of UNBC’s trash, to local environmental science fair projects and the options for bioenergy in northern BC. Most importantly, they established Green Day as something engaging, informative, and participatory. Every year since 2008, Green Day has been the result of faculty, students, and staff working together. The intent has always been to mobilize the UNBC community around the “Canada’s Green University” trademark; to make it an active part of the UNBC experience.

UNBC has come a long way in the last 6 years and there continues to be discussion of what the green initiative means for UNBC. For me, it starts with where we are: at the centre of a region both incredibly beautiful and incredibly rich in natural resources. So much of UNBC’s programs and research – even the look of the campus – were developed in recognition of our natural environment and the diverse peoples and communities of this place. It extends to more social aspects, including our love of the outdoors for exercise or even to nourish our spirit. So much of the UNBC experience is captured in the green initiative; even UNBC’s official colour is green.

One thing it isn’t, is simple.

That was one lesson learned in the lead-up to the first Green Day, six years ago. “It was a blast,” recalls Art, “but Ken and I had to throw away our carefully crafted syllabus for the course. We ended up delighted with the results and no tears were shed for the syllabus.”

Green lesson #1: there’s no manual for this. Be flexible. Be progressive.

Who knows what could happen before Green Day 2014.


Talking about Rural Communities in Downtown Vancouver

A few weeks ago, BC Hydro made news when it was revealed that thousands of trees cut down to make way for a power line extension along Highway 37 in northwestern BC were being burned in slash piles. Critics argued that the timber could’ve been used in mills or pellet plants, but Hydro countered that it just wasn’t economical to transport the logs – enough to fill 16,000 logging trucks! – hundreds of kilometres away. That may be true, but what was most interesting to me was that none of the experts interviewed by the provincial media on this story suggested that community-based bioenergy systems could have used at least some of this wood….if only these local systems existed.

The CanBio conference in Vancouver

I was in Vancouver yesterday for the Canadian Bioenergy Association (CanBio) conference, which wrapped up today. I moderated a session on Energy Independence for Rural and Remote Communities, which attracted 9 presentations from Finland and across Canada. In fact, not a single session attracted more presentations. For good reason. Prior to the start of the rural session, BC’s Chief Forester outlined the fibre story in the province. Dave Peterson suggested there is a significant volume of underutilized biomass in BC largely because the majority of the province’s timber resource – like those trees along highway 37 – lies beyond the economical reach of existing forest products facilities (sawmills, pulp mills, pellet plants, etc.). The Ministry of Forests pegs that boundary to be a radius of 120 kilometres around a facility. Despite decades of effort to locate mills around the province – and support the jobs that come with them – most of BC’s 7.2 billion cubic metres of timber older than 60 years lies outside of those “haul” zones. Amazing.

Generating value from those forests is not an easy thing to do, but community-based bioenergy systems, especially in communities that are off electrical grids or natural gas pipelines, are one solution. If we do nothing, those communities will continue to burn diesel or propane, which happens in at least 25 communities in BC and more than 150 elsewhere in Canada. In encouraging this transformation, presenters at the CanBio conference talked about everything from business cases and effectively handling biomass fuel, to involving local citizens and using biomass energy systems to support local food production. Ultimately, education and local champions were seen to be the two critical factors that would lead to more local bioenergy systems in rural and remote communities. If only some of them existed in northwestern BC before the Highway 37 project.


Prince George: Closer to Home

My most recent regional district presentation was in Prince George. As in other communities, the stories of alumni – and the success northern BC is having in retaining them – were perhaps the highlight of the presentation. Providing information to people about UNBC close to home is both easier and more difficult: on one hand, there’s solid knowledge of UNBC informed by a near-constant presence of the University; this is also the crowd, however, for which UNBC is part of everyday life and there are high expectations for continued growth, success, and progress.

It was the same earlier in the day on campus. I was leading a presentation in a small room packed with about 20 faculty and students eager to learn more about UNBC’s efforts to integrate on-campus energy production with housing and food. This was a group for whom local food has become a passion. Maybe an obsession. The group included the student and faculty leaders of the university farmers’ market, the student champion of a new geodesic-dome greenhouse on campus, a grad who has become the local expert on the regional agricultural industry and its marketing and distribution channels, the former Dean spearheading efforts to have a professional agrologist’s certification offered at UNBC, and a student who came from Kenya and now speaks across Canada on local food systems. Not one student in this room was coasting through university. Like the regional district presentation that would follow later in the day, this group had a very thorough understanding of UNBC and its purpose, and the expectations were high as a result. Throughout the conversation, as various ideas were both considered and suggested, a theme emerged: closer to home. For these students and faculty, it was about enhancing the university experience for all students and employees through the ability to grow food right on campus and develop housing that would provide enhanced social experiences in an actual community, as well as teaching and research opportunities.

It was the same at the regional district. They saw UNBC as being close to their home, and this geographic proximity is at the foundation of support for the university and aspirations related to new programs, applied research, or new ways of demonstrating energy production and sustainability. No one really thinks that things will happen at UNBC and stay there. Everyone expects the benefits to flow to the communities and businesses that are close by.

Coincidentally, these two presentations sandwiched an event on campus that was held to mark National Philanthropy Day. You can be excused if you’ve never heard of it, but I think it’s a good thing to celebrate the countless acts of generosity that are at the foundation of so many organizations across Canada. UNBC is one of those organizations and the National Philanthropy Day event provided an opportunity for members of the UNBC community to “vote” for how funds raised at UNBC should be spent. Students, faculty, and staff people used dots to select among green initiatives, student awards, athletics, and experiential learning opportunities. All are worthy of support. All serve to strengthen the potential for UNBC to have impact “closer to home.”