Tag Archives: sustainable

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.

Are ecolabels greenwashing your farmed salmon?

Salmon aquaculture nets near Hitra, Norway. (Image credit: Peter Anthony Frank, NTNU, CC BY 2.0)

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.

With so much attention on climate change and biodiversity in the media today, it is hard not to be skeptical as to whether companies are taking advantage of these paradigms for their own profit by “greenwashing” their products. Greenwashing is the common term for the practice whereby an organization presents information that gives them an air of environmental responsibility but makes no real contribution to reducing the impacts of threats like climate change, pollution, loss of biodiversity.

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The Big Challenge: Increasing City Biodiversity

Image Credit: GuoJunjun, CC BY-SA 3.0 NO, Image Cropped

The Big Challenge Science Festival is currently in Trondheim, bringing a host of celebrities, scientists and futurists together. Their goal is to present solutions for the challenges the planet currently faces, and get people thinking about how they can adjust their lives to help the planet. While there are some big names in attendance, there are also a large number of local students and scientists working tirelessly on stands, and it’s them that I spent yesterday working alongside.

There’s some fantastic stuff on display. I was particularly impressed by the use of VR in a couple of exhibitions. One stand presented a worst case scenario for warming planet, with one of Trondheim’s most famous laneways submerged in water (although the man clinging to a floating car tire waving for assistance may somewhat disturb the kids). Nearby was another VR experience where you could shoot cars, carbon molecules and chimneys, transforming them into bikes, trees and solar panels respectively. The tent next to us had a great range of displays, presenting practical and simple options for living sustainably and also letting you snack on insects and other arthropods!

Our own stand was part of the Futurum exhibition, which postulated how Trondheim may look in 2050. It focussed on biodiversity, and how Trondheim’s wildlife will change over the next 30 years with increasing urbanisation and a warming climate. On loan from the Natural History Museum was a selection of species that could conceivably arrive in Trondheim with a 1-2 degree temperature increase. It was fun to see kids’ faces contort at the thought of a parrot being a common presence in Trondheim, but with Ring-Neck parrots already as far north as Brussels, it could happen within their lifetime.

I was pleasantly surprised at the willingness of some children to accept that new species weren’t necessarily a good thing. Most of them were entranced by the sight of a grey squirrel, but readily understood that it could mean the demise of the red squirrel and some local bird life. Likewise, I was surprised at how many parents could immediately recognise the species likely to disappear from Trondheim, and acknowledge how many more Black-Headed Gulls and Northern Lapwings they could see only twenty years ago.

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NTNU’s Tanja Petersen explains how species life the Pacific Oyster or the Grey Squirrel could be in Trondheim within 30 years (Image Credit, Øystein Kielland, CC BY 2.0)

It was also encouraging to see how many people have started to let portions of their garden grow wild in an effort to allow insects, and thus birds and mammals make their way back into urban areas. The exhibition had 2 fantastic videos compiled by Øystein Kielland focussing on the difference between a green area and a biodiverse one, and how fragmentation has devastated local plant and insect populations. So the number of adults who had already started letting areas around their house grow unchecked was encouraging. Two particular highlights were the couple who eagerly showed us the badger who had recently taken up residence in their backyard, and the girl who nodded eagerly and started telling me all about her insect hotels.

One thing I always struggle with in these situations is communicating uncertainty. Whilst it’s fun to see jaws drop at the thought of parrots in Norway, it’s difficult to communicate the ‘maybe’ factor in the amount of time it takes to engage someone in these issues. The point of the Big Challenge is to get people to act, so I hope that people walk away thinking that if they don’t start living more sustainably there could be huge species’ turnover, but I don’t want to present a worst case scenario, or talk in absolutes about issues that are very much only possibilities. So any success stories you’ve had communicating uncertainty in these scenarios would be very much welcome below!

I’ll be back at the Futurum exhibit at Krigseilerplass near the Royal Garden today. If you’re in Trondheim, I highly recommend stopping by. You can read more about the event here.

Does the Individual’s Fight For Sustainability Matter?

Plastic manufacturers and fossil fuel corporations seem to be responsible for the majority of the environment’s problems. So can individual choices make a difference? (Image Credit: Jnzsl’s Photo, CC BY 2.0)

There seems to be a pattern of thought currently floating around regarding sustainable living. How recent it is, I’m not sure exactly. But the take home message goes something like this:

It makes no difference whether an individual tries to live sustainably, big corporations are the ones making all the difference anyway.

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The Perfect as the Enemy of the Good in Sustainable Living

Eating beef isn't great for the environment. But ca someone who occasionally snacks on cows still be in favour of conservation and other ecological causes?

Eating beef isn’t great for the environment. But can someone who occasionally snacks on cows still be in favour of conservation and other ecological causes?

Today I want to talk about a tweet. Or more accurately, the attitude to sustainability that this tweet represents. It occurred during the recent Ecological Society of Australia conference, and went roughly thus*.

Good to see only vegetarian food at ESA2018. We know that it’s not possible to be truly in support of conservation unless you cut meat out of your diet.

Now for starters, I want to make it clear that I am 100% in support of eating vegetarian. For those of us fortunate enough to be living in relative affluence, vegetarian diets are easy to maintain, generally cheaper (based on personal experience), and have a proven positive impact on the climate. I’m not completely vegetarian, but I take a lot of steps to minimise my diet’s climate footprint. It doesn’t take much.

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The Thought Process Behind a Sustainable Diet

With the age of consumption well and truly upon us, we cover some of the more important things to consider when trying to eat sustainably

With the age of consumption well and truly upon us, we cover some of the more important things to consider when trying to eat sustainably (Image Credit: Love Food Hate Waste NZ, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Here at the Centre of Biodiversity Dynamics, we all pride ourselves in being a little more eco-conscious than most people (let’s not talk about the carbon footprint of our travels though). It is rare that we can make a meal together that involves meat since we are lousy with vegetarians. However, what we eat and how eco-friendly our diets actually are is a regular debate. This piece comes at the presupposition that the person reading this already has taken basic measures to be eco-friendly in their diet (i.e. not nomming on McDonalds’ reconstituted meat with a side helping of franken-fries). I am not going to talk about everything because there is frankly too much out there to discuss (and I’m not going to open a genetically modified can of worms).

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