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TEDxSFU Duane Elvarum December 21, 2011

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Professor Duane Elvarum of Emily Carr University speaks about a new initiative to help students, universities and government institutions in Vancouver work together to make it one of the greenest cities in the world.


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So, I’ve been teaching on universities for about sixteen years now and I’ve been at Emily Carr University for eight teaching design studio. I also co-teach with Janet Moore; she’s an academic researcher teaching dialogue at SFU and I’m a designer teaching sustainability at Emily Carr. But we both share a commitment to the planet through our students and through our work. This is going to be an important point that has to do with a story that I’m going to tell you about city studio.

We also are continuing the work of our mentors - 20 years ago our mentors introduced us to the possibility of engaging ourselves in the world through our learning and through our education, and these are people like Mora Quayle and Bill Rees and John Robinson and Mark Winston. So as a way to kind of talk about engagement I’m going to ask you all a question today. The question is – and the one that we’re most interested in - is when did you have your most engaged and memorable experience? We’re asking when were you most engaged in your life and whether it was inside or out school it doesn't matter. So just take a couple seconds to reflect on when that – when that time in your life was.

So if you’re like most of us and most people we ask that question to, it turns out that most of us were using our mind and body together when we had our most engaged experience. Most of us were probably outdoors; we were sharing a struggle, we were working with others; sometimes we were doing things together in a kind of group way; usually there was risk and usually our actions had consequences. And we’re wondering if university education could be like this. And we’re often asked why it matters; why does this kind of matter that we need to be outdoors, that we need to share a struggle, and it comes from the reality that every time we ask this question no one ever says that they had their most engaged experience in a lecture theatre; no one ever says they had their most engaged experience sitting in front of a computer, and in fact most people never say they even had their most engaged experience on a campus.

So I’m going to talk to you a little bit about some absurdity and how to get engaged. I don’t know how many of you have done a Google search for lawn painting companies, but if you do, you will find that it will return 70 million hits. We think being outside in the world is where the action is. We think that’s where people get engaged and we think that's where our students want to be. So when we tell our students that lawn painting companies get 70 million hits they want to figure that out. What kind of conditions brought this together in such a way that drought is being rebranded as a start-up opportunity. We think that’s a pretty interesting place to be.

So as long as we’re on the outside world now, you may have noticed that we also fly our planes around inside planes. As part of the A380 – uh, Airbus’ A380 most of the pieces were flown around to be assembled. When you start pulling on that thread of these weird conditions that bring these kind of absurd things together, then your whole world starts to begin to unravel, and it’s during this experience which is kind of messy that people often have their most engaged memories trying to figure it out with groups and in trying to solve the problems. Were trying to navigate, understand and change the world together with our students and when we’re on the outside looking at these problems we often have our most engaged experiences, especially were trying to create change.

And in the meantime we’re on the outside there's more. Environment Canada has also done some rebranding lately. They’ve rebranded climate change as a weather story. That’s the story we hear in our lectures and that’s the story we hear in the media and on TV, but it's not the story that’s actually happening. We want to bring our students into the parts of the world where we can look at this problem more seriously. And of course in other news, unfortunately, recently Canada was ranked 2nd to last in a study by the OECD of 29 countries across 25 indicators on environmental performance. It’s depressing and sobering to realize that we have one of the worst environmental records in the world of all industrialized countries which means we probably have the worst environmental record of all countries.

There are many, many reasons for this, but one of the things we do in our research is we try to understand how universities are implicated. We think universities bear a great deal of the responsibility because that's where all of our leaders are created. It’s where all of our politicians and managers and policymakers; it’s where all of our designers and teachers and cultural creatives are trained. They all come from a system that we know is doing considerable harm on the outside. And that's where we want to be. And we know that the training continues and we know that there's a kind of urgency and there’s so many problems. There’s so much of a deep challenge to work on, but as I say to my students – ‘isn't this exciting?’ This is the most exciting place to be this where all the action is; this is where all the work is.’

So when we asked them to get involved almost none of the them said ‘no’, they almost all said ‘yes.’ And there are a lot of them. Most of the 150,000 graduates in BC - even though there's a lot of impressive work going on in research and teaching and learning on campuses, most of our graduates - undergraduates rather - they can't get access to this kind of work. The graduation requirement forms – and I’m sure you’re familiar with this story – your graduation requirement forms limit your capacity to move in and between disciplines; limit your capacity to get experience learning experience in the outside world. And every one of them wants to make a difference in the world. Every one of our students is passionate and they’re creative and they’re ambitious, and they want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Not just for a job or a career, but because they see this as their future. This is their world they’re going to live into. And they want to change the cities and they’re even willing to change themselves.

So we feel that we need to help our students do this. We want to help them to have successful careers, but we also want to help them live passionately and engaged personal lives in the world. And if you look closely this opportunity is immense.

On one hand were the most successful at educating people in the world – we’re in the top 3 actually. 50% of our working age population has a degree or diploma, so that puts us right at the top in terms of success in education. But at the same time were one of the worst environmental performers in the world, so there’s this huge gap in our success in education and the rate at which the planet is benefiting. And at the same time student engagement on campuses in North America is at an all-time low. This great book by [James Cote and Anton Allahar] out of University of Manitoba called Ivory Tower Blues tells us that student engagement on campuses is plummeting. They find it difficult to get excited about their learning; they are really bored of lectures and seminars; they’re bored of competing for top grades; they don't feel connected to the world through their learning.

And most of them are struggling with this in what turns out to be quite deeply emotional ways; they want to work in the communities, they want to help communities and really want help the planet and they keep asking ‘how can we earn a living and help the planet?’ They don’t see that as being compatible necessarily and most of them are struggling with this in deep ways - and it is probably a familiar experience that you are having yourself in school for those of you who are students.

So something needs to change and in 2009 something did change and it was quite big. Mayor Gregor Robertson in Vancouver proposed one of the most ambitious environmental stewardship programs in the world. Vancouver aims to make themselves the greenest city in the world by 2020 and they asked the city and the citizens for ideas on how this could happen. So over coffee one day Janet and I we began to think what could we do as teachers and educators and researchers that might make the biggest contribution to the Greenest City goals and to our students lives. And the answer turned out to be quite simple. We thought that given the opportunity that we would try to mobilize students and colleagues from all of our universities to work together in the city to work toward our biggest challenges for credit. And that’s the kicker. Why couldn't we unite learning with action for credit on a large scale?

So we posted this idea on their website and the results were pretty interesting. I should say that we actually posted it at a Vancouver design nerd jam., which is an acive-collective – we have a nerd in the audience, we do…go nerds – it’s an active collective of very creative people who come together and have these very social events - design jams around solving problems and acting on creativity, and they work out of the Hive in Vancouver.

So we pitched the idea there and we posted it online that evening. Within one week of the posting the idea moved into the top 10 of hundreds of hundreds of ideas – 700 or 800+ ideas now, and within 10 days it moved into the top 3. And then City Hall called. They had noticed a spike in their data; that something had happened with this idea - thanks largely to hundreds of hundreds of our students they saw this as an opportunity - a unique opportunity to get involved in action and learning in the city to work on something that they are passionate about, but they didn’t quite feel that University was providing them all the opportunities that they wanted. Of course I’m not talking about all undergraduates but I’m talking about some of them but it's sizable as you saw from the previous slide.

So we were asked to pitch our idea at a Dragon's den including the mayor and community leaders at SFU downtown and of course they quite liked it, and they called us in to have a meeting with the Deputy City Manager Sadhu Johnston in Vancouver. He thought the idea can be internationally significant and a potent way to activate Vancouver and share this kind of learning and this kind of experience with cities around the world.

So they gave us a lot of things - they gave us 4000 ft.² in a building on False Creek under the Canby Street bridge; very deluxe right on the water. They gave us a coordinator and the universities pitched in operational funding. So that was about a year and a half ago and where are we now?

Now we know that cities around the world are going to have an enormously difficult time adapting to the twin pressures of climate change and population. We know that they’re going to spend trillions and trillions of dollars doing this and we think that the students need to be involved in this major transformation process. We think that learning can be at the center of sustainability and learning can be at the center of any sustainable future that we have. We think that the city needs to be the classroom in fact, so we proposed that City Studio needs to be a 10 year project that aims to create a kind of energetic hub for active education around sustainability that mobilizes students from all of our universities together to work with the city on real world, long-term sustainability projects. And this model brings everyone to the table because we think actually everyone needs to be there.

We need to learn to work in this zone with our students but not only students, colleagues and city staff, and citizens and experts because we think is where the action is, and we think this is where the most potent learning will happen – it’s certainly where the sustainability learning will happen. And it’s the messiness of this collaboration - between collaboration and implementation that's the zone of friction and action which creates these engaged experiences that I talked about; sharing a goal, collaborating and implementing actions that have consequences - this is where the learning happens we propose.

So we have been working on the project for over a year now and we have been in the city with our students for four months now working on some specific projects. We currently have in the core studio 14 inter-institutional students on False Creek and the city has asked us to work on some specific projects related to three of the Greenest City goals - access to nature, local food and the green economy. An example of the goal is that the city over the next 10 years wants to increase local food assets by about 50%, so it’s quite an ambitious goal.

Our students are mapping food assets, they’re undertaking neighborhood dialogues, they’re involved in food story collection because really we don't know much about food in the city and they’re engaged in street to park transformation.

The city needs this work to be done. We’ve also established a network of about 400 students in courses around the 6 campuses and 18 instructors in the 1st year. They point their existing coursework at our theme during the year. And in the first year – and this is kind of the astounding thing – in the first year alone we’ve managed to point about 20,000 student hours towards the greenest city goals. And every year we’re hoping that will increase somewhat. And over the long-term we have some of the goals.

Over the next 9 years were hoping that we can become experts and leaders in the difficult work of radical collaboration that sees students and city and silo’d institutions all working together. We want to be able to figure that out because I think were not very good at doing it. We want to become leaders in mentoring and dialogue - these are things like job opportunities in the green economy that where students learn to facilitate these difficult discussions but they also are intervening systems and get involved in the difficult world of change. We want to become experts in one planet living - that is what can higher learning actually do to contribute to the Greenest City goals and very importantly we want to consider this a learning exchange. What would it mean if we establish regional and municipal relationships that we could expand; wider city and university partnerships around the world. This is an exchange and sharing of sustainability frameworks; we have our Greenest City goals, but New York is using something entirely differently and we need to find out how they work, and we want to know what the best practices are.

So as a final word about the project, I’d just like to say that we’ve really aimed to combine what we think is the best dialogue learning with the best design learning into a place, into a single studio where we can work on real projects. And we see this project as a kind of unique catalyst - quite a unique catalyst compared to conventional university education, where students can experience their education they can see it in action and they can use it to work on real problems in the world.

In this scenario students see that we actually have the highest expectations for their work to contribute to the world and to solve real problems. Our expectations are high and they learn that their expectations can be equally high. And we feel that we and our students were ready for a large-scale action in this regard. I think there's just no question that the energy is there. We’re trying to figure out how to make it work – it is difficult bringing all of these institutions together into a shared goal and moving forward.

And I'd like to end this talk by asking you to join us in this. We’d like to extend this invitation – if you want to join us at the table; if you're a citizen or a student or a teacher or administrator or a dean, a city counselor or a researcher or a master student; were asking you to come and join us and see if there's some way you can get involved. We think this is a project that's unique enough and tapping into what people want quite seriously in their world and we’re finding that the response is incredible. No one has said ‘no’ to our offer to come into the studio or join up as a partner course. And it is growing quite rapidly. So if you feel that you’d like to join us we ask that you please contact Lena Suits. She's in the center and she’s actually the center of our entire operation: holding the whole world together. You can imagine how difficult it is working with every city department and every University in every discipline trying to knit this together, and she’d love to hear from you and we’d love to hear from you. Thank you.

Courtesy of TEDx

Ray Anderson: The Business Logic of Sustainability

February 1, 2009 (over 11 years ago)

In this talk, Ray Anderson, tells about the business of Sustainability. He shows us his own company as a business model, which is turning in profits while limiting it's global footprint. He challenges us that this way of making business is possible and an actually profitable venture.

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Source: TED

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