Tag Archives: impact

Studying Sustainability in Norway  

The Norwegian Aquaculture Review Council is an academic collective comprised of NTNU students Danielle Hallé, Myranda O’Shea, Bastian Poppe, Emmanual Eicholz and Peter Anthony Frank.

I think it’s fair to say that most of Norway looks like the postcards. If you can peel your eyes away from the views, you’ll notice the aquaculture sea cages along the fjords, sheep grazing in the outfield, the seemingly endless network of trails, wind parks off in the distance, or a happy forger with a bucket full of mushrooms. The natural landscape offers myriad, well-utilized benefits, which makes for an interesting location for studying sustainable development and our coexistence with nature. The course The Sustainable Management of Ecosystem Services at NTNU offered an opportunity to do just that.

The course ran as a series of lectures from members of academia as well as representatives from public and private sectors. It offered a multi-disciplinary approach to how we think about sustainability, how we come up with visions and scenarios for the future and the foundational role of biodiversity. Some lectures were very theoretical (hello, ethics of assigning value to nature) and others, applied (an introduction to the farmer’s coop structure in Norway). Some members of industry had a very clear agenda of promoting their industry while others displayed perfect diplomacy. All led to interesting discussions that often trickled outside the classroom.

The highlight of the course involved a three-day excursion around central Norway to meet with stakeholders from resource-based industries. The stakeholders we met were eager to show us around their facilities and talk about their business, their challenges both past and present, and their visions for the future of their business and the industry at large. While the bulk of the course had focused on broad frameworks and international visions for sustainable development like the Aichi Targets and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the excursion provided an opportunity to see more ‘bottom-up’ initiatives (like the textile company working to develop a natural wool alternative to Gore-Tex) and the consequences of some of the policies and practices we had been studying (like the farmer criticizing the methodology behind models of greenhouse gas emissions). The use of new technologies was also a point of discussion, like the aquaculture facility that was using artificial intelligence to optimize the amount of food released into the sea cages during feeding, saving the company money and reducing the pollution from feed into surrounding waters.

All that being said, it’s important to mention that there are always trade-offs involved in any form of business, and it’s difficult to confront a company about them when you’ve been invited into their home and offered coffee. The environmental impact of aquaculture production is a heated topic in Norway. Wool used in artisanal production must still be transported to out-of-country to be processed. Organic agricultural production lacks the capacity to feed a growing population, yet conventional agriculture depends on pesticides and chemicals that can harm the environment. The list goes on. Not-so-subliminally, the backdrop of the trip included coastal accommodations complete with Northern Lights, local fare, a visit from a curious seal and of course, the views. As a few of us plunged into the fjord for a swim, the words of our professor rang out – “now this is ecosystem services!”.

The culmination of the course was a group project evaluating the sustainability of ecolabels in one of five industries: aquaculture, fisheries, textiles, agriculture and forestry. Ecolabels are a tool intended to help guide consumers towards more sustainable products (popular examples include Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, and GlobalG.A.P.). Ecolabel certification criteria should fall somewhere between idealism and reality. As one ecolabel representative stated: “no one is ever happy” because, generally-speaking, activists don’t think ecolabels go far enough and the production side thinks the requirements are too strict. Ecolabels will therefore always have trade-offs and knowing those trade-offs can help consumers make an informed choice about where to spend their money.

Since we were given creative license with the project, our first step was the formation of the Norwegian Aquaculture Review Council (NARC), a fictitious organization initially designed to help us narrow the scope of the project, have a little fun, and deliver a product that could be relevant for our hypothetical audience, the ecolabel stakeholders. In addition to the report (which you can read a summary of here), we presented our results in an interactive dashboard so that interested stakeholders could engage with our data and draw their own conclusions based on their values. In its current form, the user can filter the ecolabels’ performance according to the four dimensions of sustainability (environment, society, economy and governance) and by the seventeen United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Ultimately sustainability is determined by society’s values, so the role of NARC is to facilitate evidence-based decisions rather than making those decisions itself. This seemed like a fitting conclusion given the pluralism expressed throughout the course.

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Aquaculture nets in a Norwegian fjord (Image Credit: Tristan Schmurr, CC BY 2.0)

A more long-term goal of NARC is to try to harness the untapped power of term projects. As students past and present know, term projects take a lot of work. Once they are graded, the only proof of their existence is a tombstone-like folder somewhere on your hard drive. Our hope is that the next cohort might pick up where we left off. Given the time constraints of one semester, we could only review two ecolabels. Those that follow could expand the website, add their own creative spin and populate the dashboard with more ecolabel reviews to help grow a user-friendly tool that stakeholders might actually use to navigate the ecolabel landscape.

The common thread throughout the semester was an ongoing discussion by a group of international, environmentally-minded students. A friend of mine often cites the adage “I don’t know what I think until I’m challenged” and to me, this was what I took most from the course – an opportunity to challenge others and be challenged on what a sustainable future should look like and how we can get there. We probably all took something different from the course. Some of us will stay in Norway, some will move on. In any event, I think many of us will keep in touch and I look forward to continuing the discussion.

Both EcoMass and NTNU thank NARC for their fantastic work. The summary of their review of ecolabels is available here.

Celine Frere: Working With Charismatic Species

Charismatic species like the bottlenose dolphin are generally easier to find funding for. So what's it like to work with them as a scientist. I spoke to evolutionary biologist Celine Frere to find out

Charismatic species like the bottlenose dolphin are generally easier to find funding for. So what’s it like to work with them as a scientist. I spoke to evolutionary biologist Celine Frere to find out (Image Credit: Jason Pratt, CC BY 2.0)

We’ve talked at length about charismatic species on Ecology for the Masses. They’re the ones that draw in the public, whether they’re cute and fluffy, majestic, or dangerous. They’re generally easier to procure funding for. So what’s it like to work with them?

During a recent visit to the University of the Sunshine Coast, I sat down with Doctor Celine Frere to find out. Celine works with two of Australia’s most charismatic species, the koala and the bottlenose dolphin. We talked about the pros and cons of charismatic species, getting the public interested in them, and the future of global conservation.

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Mark Davis: Rethinking Invasive Biology

Mark Davis' 2011 paper "Don't Judge Species on their Origins" was not well-received by sections of the ecological community. But why is a call for rethinking our attitudes to invasive species so controversial?

In the series Norway’s Newcomers, we’ve looked extensively at not only Norway’s non-native species, but the genetics, definition and even the defense of alien species. So it made sense that we’d eventually find our way to interviewing an invasion biologist. I was in St. Paul, Minnesota earlier this year and was lucky enough to sit down with Professor Mark Davis.

Mark has been a strong opponent of the demonisation of invasive species for decades. Whilst many ecologists’ first reaction is to eradicate any non-native species, Mark has urged caution, and encouraged the community towards less pejorative terms. I spoke with Mark about the impact our work has on public opinion, how we should talk about non-natives, and living with the impact of invasive species going forward.

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Defining an Invader

With the rebranding of Nrwaoys' Black List as the Alien Species List, we look at what makes a species alien and/or invasive (Pictured: The invasive Yellow Sweet Clover)

Two weeks ago, Norwegian Science Institute Artsdatabanken (ADB) announced that they would be changing the name of their invasive and alien species index. Formerly known as the Black List, the institute decided to use a name with less negative connotations, “Fremmedartslista“, loosely translated, the Alien Species list. Given this series’ focus on species from that list, it seems like an appropriate time to look at how we define the terms ‘alien’ or ‘invasive’ species.

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