How did the environment and sustainability become your passion, how did you get involved?
My passion for the environment began at a very young age. Growing up in Labrador, our family camped every summer and we were so fortunate to have access to nature all around us.
What did you study in school?
While I was pursuing my Bachelor of Science in Health Education here at Dalhousie, I took an environment and health course that changed my focus. The course involved an internship with the Ecology Action Centre, and that really charted the path to my career in sustainability. I then went on to obtain my Master’s in Environmental Studies later in my work career.
Where did you work previous to Dalhousie?
I worked for Environment Canada in various capacities for ten years before joining Dalhousie. Prior to that, I worked for Clean Nova Scotia, the NS Department of Environment and the Red Cross. One of the most interesting jobs during my time at Environment Canada included a two-year assignment to the Sydney Tar Ponds.
How does your role at Dalhousie inspire others to do more for the environment?
In my role as Director of the Office of Sustainability, I engage employees and students about various sustainability projects that we are working on at Dalhousie, but I also provide support to them to act on their own initiatives. Our office promotes experiential learning, adult education and community-based social marketing.
Before your position was created, what was done at Dalhousie in terms of sustainability?
Dalhousie has a long history of sustainability, dating back to the early 1970s. The Ecology Action Centre actually began as a student society here at the university.
Also, worth noting is when the Halifax Declaration was signed at the university in 1991 and spearheaded by the School of Resource and Environmental Studies (SRES). The Declaration included the presidents and senior representatives of 33 universities from ten countries on five continents and concluded that universities be committed to the principle and practice of sustainable development within each university, and at the local, national and global levels.
What do you think makes an effective leader at Dalhousie?
I think an effective leader is one who can listen, engage others, demonstrate integrity, be determined in his or her values and consistently recognize colleagues or team members for their work and achievements.
In addition, as a leader is important to take time to continue to learn from others. If you are open to it, you can learn something new every day, whether it is from a colleague, student, mentor or employee.
What are some of the challenges you face with sustainability?
We have a comprehensive Campus Energy plan with $100 million of retrofits identified. One of the biggest challenges for sustainability is prioritizing projects based on the capital we have and the time it takes to complete the projects. Also, our university has many older buildings and deferred maintenance is an ongoing challenge.
How can we move forward? What does the future hold for environmental sustainability?
There are so many exciting opportunities on the horizon for us at Dal in terms of sustainability. One in particular that I’m quite passionate about is the idea of having the Agricultural Campus be part of a renewable energy project, and potentially making it the university’s first carbon neutral campus. The Agricultural Campus has access to more solar, geothermal and biomass sources than the Halifax Campuses so it has great potential with respect to renewable energies.
Rochelle Owen is Director of the Office of Sustainability at Dalhousie, and has held this position since 2008 when it was created.