View a more complete list of publications, abstracts and some full texts.

Journal Articles (2010-2018)

Newell, R. and Robinson, J. (2018) “Using decomposition methodology to gain a better understanding of progress in and challenges facing regional and local climate action”, Journal of Cleaner Production 197, 1423-1434.

Decomposition analysis provides a potentially powerful means for analyzing community greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data. However, this form of analysis is typically conducted at larger geographical scales (i.e., national and state/provincial levels), which leaves questions around how to apply this methodology to local and regional contexts. This study explores the application of decomposition methodology to community data in order to elucidate how this form of analysis can be employed to inform local/regional planning and climate policy. The research involved developing decomposition models that focus on two particularly areas important for local climate action – transportation and residential energy. Each model consisted of five factors – population, population distribution, travel (transportation) or energy customer accounts (residential) intensity, vehicle (transportation) or home energy (residential) type, and emissions intensity. Using data from the BC Community Energy Emissions Inventory, the study examined effects of the different factors on emissions changes occurring between 2007 and 2012 in the Metro Vancouver Regional District (British Columbia, Canada). Results from the transportation analysis indicated that population growth and people’s choices in vehicle type had the effect of increasing emissions in the MVRD, whereas travel and emissions intensity factors had mitigating effects. The residential energy analysis indicated that only population effects led to emissions-increases in the MVRD, whereas the other factors had mitigating effects. Community-scale analyses also were conducted to identify municipalities where emissions-increasing effects were experienced more dramatically, for example, travel intensity effects in smaller communities (e.g., White Rock), energy accounts intensity effects in Vancouver, and emissions intensity effects in the District of North Vancouver. The study demonstrated how decomposition analysis can provide regional and local governments with valuable insight on what is contributing to GHG emissions and where progress is being made, which in turn can help these governments focus climate policy and planning efforts to achieve progress toward mitigation.
The paper begins with an introduction on the use of decomposition methodology in energy and GHG emissions studies, and its potential value for analyzing local emissions data. The next sections discuss the analytical approach designed for and employed in this study, as well as describing the data used for this research. The paper then presents the results of the analysis performed on the MVRD. Finally, it concludes with a discussion on the implications of the results of this study for regional and local policy and planning.

Coleman S. and Robinson, J. (2018) “Introducing the qualitative performance gap: stories about a sustainable building”, Building Research & Information, 46(5), 485-500.

In the design and operations industries, the performance gap is a common discrepancy found between predicted building energy performance and actual energy performance. The performance gap is considered to have negative impacts for the brand of ‘green’ buildings, designers and operators. A socially based analogue is proposed here: the qualitative performance gap, defined as the perceived gap between what inhabitants expect and their actual experience of the building environment. This concept is explored at a regenerative Living Lab: the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) in Vancouver, Canada. ‘Official’ and ‘lived’ stories about the building were interpreted from sources of building information and interviews. Expectations about and forgiveness of building performance were gained from pre- and post-occupancy evaluations and interviews. The solution to the qualitative performance gap is not to eliminate it, but, in line with the concept of interactive adaptivity, to use the gap to generate new stories and new consequences for human wellbeing. The qualitative performance gap is thus conceived as positively generative, of new stories of place and identity. This work recommends crafting an ‘official story’ of social aspirations, and a communication feedback loop amongst designers, operators and building inhabitants, transparently sharing successes and failures.

Robinson, J., and Maggs, D. (2017) “At the Crossroads: Sustainability and the Twilight of the Modern World”, in Caradonna, J. L. (ed.). (2017) Routledge Handbook of the History of Sustainability. Routledge.

As the “Anthropocene” solidifies into a common diagnosis of our age, the underlying challenges of environmental sustainability arrive at a crossroads: Can they be addressed from within the dominant paradigm of modernist rationality or do they demand a departure from the paradigm altogether? In other words, does the Anthropocene indicate a difference of degree (i.e. more and better quantification of problems at a global scale, and informing/convincing of publics), or a difference of kind (reimagining ourselves, our worlds, and the nature of the problem itself)? This chapter explores the degree to which conventional approaches to sustainability leave the larger assumptions of modernist rationality (positivist standards of truth; dualist instincts separating fact from value, object from subject, nature from culture; or linear, cause-effect, command-and-control approaches rooted in a belief in the describability of systems and the predictability of interventions) relatively unchallenged, by exploring the development of the modernist worldview itself, viz. the relationship between humans and their environment in the Western cultural history.

Potvin C, Sharma D, Creed I, Aitken S, Anctil F, Bennett E, Berkes F, Bernstein S, Bleau N, Bourque A, Brown B, Burch S, Byrne J, Cunsolo A, Dale A, de Lange D, Dyck B, Entz M, Etcheverry J, Faucher R, Fenech A, Fraser L, Henriques I, Heyland A, Hoffmann M, Hoberg G, Holden M, Huang G, Jacob AL, Jodoin S, Kemper A, Lucotte M, Maranger R, Margolis L, Mauro I, McDonnell J, Meadowcroft J, Messier C, Mkandawire M, Morency C, Mousseau N, Oakes K, Otto S, Palmater P, Palmer TS, Paquin D, Perl A, Potvin A, Ramos H, Raudsepp-Hearne C, Richards N, Robinson J, Sheppard S, Simard S, Sinclair BJ, Slawinski N, Stoddart M, Villard M-A, Villeneuve C, and Wright T. (2017) “Stimulating a Canadian narrative for climate.” FACETS 2: 131–149.

This perspective documents current thinking around climate actions in Canada by synthesizing scholarly proposals made by Sustainable Canada Dialogues (SCD), an informal network of scholars from all 10 provinces, and by reviewing responses from civil society representatives to the scholars’ proposals. Motivated by Canada’s recent history of repeatedly missing its emissions reduction targets and failing to produce a coherent plan to address climate change, SCD mobilized more than 60 scholars to identify possible pathways towards a low-carbon economy and sustainable society and invited civil society to comment on the proposed solutions. This perspective illustrates a range of Canadian ideas coming from many sectors of society and a wealth of existing inspiring initiatives. Solutions discussed include climate change governance, low-carbon transition, energy production, and consumption. This process of knowledge synthesis/creation is novel and important because it provides a working model for making connections across academic fields as well as between academia and civil society. The process produces a holistic set of insights and recommendations for climate change actions and a unique model of engagement. The different voices reported here enrich the scope of possible solutions, showing that Canada is brimming with ideas, possibilities, and the will to act.

Bendor, R., Maggs, D., Peake, R., Robinson, J., and Williams, S. (2017) The imaginary worlds of sustainability: observations from an interactive art installation. Ecology and Society 22(2):17.

Abstract: We report on preliminary results from a public engagement project based on a procedural approach to sustainability. The project centered on an interactive art installation that comprised a live actor, an immersive soundscape featuring a handful of different characters, an interactive touch-table, and four interactive rooms within which participants wandered, partially guided by a narrative through-line, yet at the same time left to make sense of any larger meanings on their own. The installation was designed to experiment with two propositions: (1) that there is value in public engagement with sustainability based on the exploration and articulation of deeply held beliefs about the world—the worldviews, values, and presuppositions that mediate perception and action; (2) that there is value in replacing the infocentric tendency of most public engagement on sustainability with an approach premised in aesthetics and experiential resonance. Following the installation’s two-week pilot run, our preliminary results indicated that the majority of participants found the experience both resonant and thought provoking, and were mostly willing to critically engage with their pre-existing notions of sustainability.

Maggs, D. and Robinson, J. (2016) “Recalibrating the Anthropocene: Sustainability in an Imaginary World”, Environmental Philosophy, 13(2): 175-194.

Abstract: Geologically speaking, the Anthropocene marks the end of the Holocene period, a time of great planetary stability. Conceptually speaking, the Anthropocene marks the end of the Modernist period, a time of great epistemic stability. As scientific framings of sustainability strain under anthropocenic realities, reconceptualizing sustainability may be necessary. By positioning human/nature relations beyond Modernist dichotomies under pinning scientific discourse, the implications of the Anthropocene
shift from methodological to ontological, dislodging sustainability from its traditional scientific foundations. To this, we propose new stability through four interlinked approaches to sustainability’s complex challenges, offering a framework for thought and action beyond Modernist framings of sustain-
ability and opening essential roles to often-marginalized interpretive social sciences and humanities.

Munro, A., Marcus, J., Wahl, J., Dolling, K., Robinson, J. (2016) “Combining Forces: Fostering Sustainability Collaboration between the City of Vancouver and The University of British Columbia”,  International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 17(6): 812-26.

Abstract:

Design/methodology/approach – This case study uses literature and document review, observations, program participant evaluation surveys, and project impact survey feedback.

Findings – The Greenest City Scholars program model has contributed to the sustainability goals at UBC and the City of Vancouver, and has supported the partnership between the two organizations. The program has grown over its five year history and is considered to be a central part of the partnership. Breadth of student participants from across the university, and high participation from City departments have been achieved. The model is now being adapted to be delivered within other partnerships.

Practical implications – The experiences presented in this case study can help other higher education institutions understand how a co-curricular graduate student work experience program could help to bolster their own sustainability partnerships.

Originality/value – This paper makes a contribution by providing insight into the use of a graduate student program to advance the goals of a university-community sustainability partnership.

Fedoruk, L., Cole, R., Robinson, J., Cayuela, A. (2015) “Learning from failure: understanding the anticipated-achieved building energy performance gap”, Building Research & Information, 43(6): 750-763.

Abstract: Over the past 20 years a number of studies have identified and provided explanations for a significant ‘performance gap’ between designed and actual energy performance of buildings. The anticipated and achieved energy performance of an advanced, innovative building that aspired to net-positive energy performance is studied: the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) building at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Selected performance ‘failures’ that became evident during operation of CIRS are studied for how they were discovered and the efforts required for their resolution: the energy systems and associated controls and monitoring. The key findings show the barriers were neither economic nor technical. Instead, the primary impediments were institutional regimes – arising from the ways that various life-cycle stages were specified, contracted and implemented. The key issues emphasize the importance of having meaningful and effective building energy monitoring capabilities, an understanding of energy system boundaries in design and analysis, crossing the gaps between different stages of a building life cycle, and feedback processes throughout design and operation. The disclosure of ‘failure’ and lessons learned is a valuable contribution to subsequent advancement for the building stakeholders and the wider professional and research communities.

Coops, N., Marcus, J.,Construt, I., Frank, E., Kellett, R., Mazzi, E., Munro, A., Nesbit, S., Riseman, A., Robinson, J., Schultz, A., and Sipos, Y. (2015) “How an entry-level, interdisciplinary sustainability course revealed the benefits and challenges of a university-wide initiative for sustainability education”, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 16(5): 729 – 747

Abstract:

Purpose – Delivery of sustainability-related curriculum to undergraduate students can be problematic due to the traditional “siloing” of curriculum by faculties along disciplinary lines. In addition, while there is often a ready availability of courses focused on sustainability issues in the later years of students’ programs, few early entry-level courses focused on sustainability, broad enough to apply to all disciplines, are available to students in the first year of their program.

Design/methodology/approach – In this paper, we describe the development, and preliminary implementation, of an entry-level, interdisciplinary sustainability course. To do so, the authors describe the development of a university-wide initiative designed to bridge units on campus working and teaching in sustainability areas, and to promote and support sustainability curriculum development.

Findings – The authors describe the conceptual framework for organising course content and delivery. The authors conclude with an informal assessment of the successes and challenges, and offer learning activities, student assessments and course administration recommendations for consideration when developing courses with similar learning goals.

Originality/value – The positive and negative experiences gained through developing and offering a course of this nature, in a large research-focused university, offers knew insights into potential barriers for implementing first-year cross-cutting sustainability curriculum.

Marcus, J., Coops, N., Ellis, S. and Robinson, J. (2015) “Embedding sustainability learning pathways across the university” Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 16: 7–13.

Abstract: The University of British Columbia’s (UBC) long-term vision is to embed sustainability in all of its undergraduate teaching programs. The University has described four student sustainability attributes — Holistic Systems Thinking, Sustainability Knowledge, Awareness and Integration, and Acting for Positive Change — to help guide academic units to develop sustainability learning pathways. These pathways are loosely defined as any combination of curricular experiences that, when combined, equip undergraduate students with a firm grounding in the four attributes in the context of sustainability. Amongst the early adoption of the attributes has been their application at the course level in a pilot introductory course, ‘SUST 101’, and their use in designing a sustainability pathway within the Faculty of Science. In this paper we describe the structures developed at UBC to support and enable sustainability education, summarize the curriculum framework for sustainability at UBC, and present curriculum examples that employ the University’s sustainability education framework.

Robinson, J. and Cole, R. (2014) “Theoretical Underpinnings of Regenerative Sustainability’” Building Research and Information, 43(2): 133-143

Abstract: Over the past half century, a discourse emphasizing environmental constraints and limits has both informed and provided many valuable ways of responding to complex environmental problems and has strongly shaped green building practices and associated environmental assessment methods. This paper delineates the concept of ‘regenerative sustainability’ – a net-positive approach to sustainability that is rooted in the notion of ‘procedural sustainability’ and a particular stream of constructivist social theory. The paper contrasts this to the concept of ‘regenerative development and design’ which, although having many commonalities, is based on different philosophical underpinnings. Since the origins of regenerative sustainability and regenerative design lie primarily in the social and ecological domains respectively, understanding their relationship is of importance in formulating approaches for the successful co-evolution of human and natural systems. The paper describes this relationship between regenerative sustainability and regenerative design, including a discussion of some of the key points of convergence and divergence between them, and concludes with an exploration of the practical implications of the regenerative sustainability concept.

Shaw, A., Burch, S., Kristensen, F., Robinson, J., Dale, A. (2014) “Accelerating the sustainability transition: Exploring synergies between adaptation and mitigation in British Columbian communities”, Global Environmental Change, 25: 41-51 

Abstract: While the focus of government climate change policy in many regions is on mitigation, research shows that integrated approaches, focusing equally on mitigation and adaptation, seen in the context of more general sustainability goals, may ultimately yield more productive outcomes. Since 2008, the province of British Columbia has mandated that local governments be carbon neutral in their own operations and has used a suite of policies, outreach and incentive tools to enable them to do so. The Meeting the Climate Change Challenge project explored eleven leading communities in B.C. to empirically examine how climate change policies and innovations are being framed and considered at the local scale.

In this paper, we examine the synergies and trade-offs between adaptation, mitigation, and sustainability. Our findings suggest that, among leading communities, pursuing an integrated sustainability strategy (rather than a narrow focus on climate change) has the potential to yield benefits for both adaptation and mitigation in the majority of cases. The findings suggest that communities leading on climate innovation in the province have moved beyond a siloed approach in considering mitigation and adaptation. These findings have implications on integrated decision making at the municipal scale and multi-level governance, identifying both the challenges and the benefits inherent in pursuing multiple priorities simultaneously.

Burch, S., Yuill, H and Robinson, J. (2014) “Meeting the climate change challenge: a scan of greenhouse gas emissions in BC communities”, Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability, DOI: 10.1080/13549839.2014.902370

Abstract: The Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) is taking significant steps towards climate change mitigation, including a carbon tax on fossil fuels and legislation that mandates greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions within public sector organisations and GHG reduction targets for municipalities. This paper carries out a preliminary scan of the GHG emissions of BC communities using the provincially mandated Community Energy and Emissions Inventory reports. We map trends in energy consumption and emissions per capita while uncovering correlations between these variables and land-use planning, geographic, and demographic variables. These data have shown that: (1) energy consumption in BC is an adequate proxy for GHG emissions; (2) transportation, more than buildings, is a strong driver of overall GHG emissions; (3) building emissions are not likely to be strongly influenced by dwelling type, but density of buildings is crucial; (4) geographic location influences emissions; and (5) population size and age do not appear to influence per capita emissions. These findings are particularly important as they suggest that the potentially intransigent factors of income and population size need not be barriers to achieving significant GHG reductions. The policy onus thus falls squarely on transportation planning, land-use, energy conservation, and fuel switching. This in turn highlights the importance of deeper underlying sociocultural and political preferences, which shape the behaviours that have a strong bearing on emissions profiles.

Burch, S., Shaw, A., Dale, A., Robinson, J. (2014) “Triggering transformative change: A development path approach to climate change response in communities”, Climate Policy, 14(4): 467-487

Abstract: While climate change action plans are becoming more common, it is still unclear whether communities have the capacity, tools, and targets in place to trigger the transformative levels of change required to build fundamentally low-carbon, resilient, healthy communities. Evidence increasingly supports the finding that this transformation is not triggered by climate policy alone, but rather is shaped by a broad array of decisions and practices that are rooted in underlying patterns of development. Even so, these findings have rarely penetrated the domain of practice, which often remains squarely focused on a relatively narrow set of climate specific policies. This article builds a conceptual framework for understanding the dynamics of community-level development path transformations that may both dramatically reduce GHG emissions and significantly enhance community resilience. This framework illuminates eight critical enablers of innovation on climate change, each of which is illustrated by compelling examples of community-level experimentation on climate change across the province of British Columbia, Canada. It is concluded that community-based climate (or sustainability) policy might be more likely to trigger development path shifts if it employs a longer time horizon, recognition of adaptability and feedbacks, integrated decision making, and systems thinking.

Policy relevance: This article deepens the understanding of the underlying drivers of both GHG emissions and vulnerability to climate change impacts. A development path framing of climate change responses suggests that highly nonlinear opportunities may emerge to push drivers of emissions or vulnerability over a tipping point and trigger a shift that cascades beyond the community in which the initial action took place. The findings highlight the need for policy approaches that use longer time horizons, systems thinking, adaptive management, and integrated decision making in community planning.

Wiek, A., Talwar, S., O’Shea, M., Robinson, J. (2014) “Toward a methodological scheme for capturing societal effects of participatory sustainability research”, Research Evaluation, 23(2): 117-132

Abstract: Sustainability research that strives to develop solution options to complex problems and involves non-academic partners has received increasing public attention. Given this trend, funding organizations, universities, and collaborating partners from business and government seek evidence for the effectiveness of such research. The article introduces a framework and methodological scheme for capturing the societal effects of participatory sustainability research. The framework was developed through literature review and a workshop with institutional agents. It accounts for both direct and tangible as well as indirect and less tangible effects. Effects include quality products, knowledge gains, increased decision-making capacity, enhanced networks, and transformational changes. Participatory research features linked to these effects include representativeness of participants, adequate level of interaction, and transparent incorporation of stakeholder inputs. The framework is translated into a methodological scheme, which we discuss based on exploratory testing. The testing revealed a number of challenges, including adequately incentivizing participation and dealing with memory distortion. We propose coping strategies such as collaborative participant recruitment, memory consolidation activities, and real-time study design. The article provides a constructive, yet cautionary aid to researchers, professionals, and funding organizations seeking to capture the societal effects of participatory sustainability research.

Miller, T.R.,Wiek, A., Sarewitz, D., Robinson, J., Olsson, L., Kriebel, D., Loorbach, D. (2014): The Future of Sustainability Science: a solutions-oriented research agenda. Sustainability Science 9(2): 239-246 

Abstract: Over the last decade, sustainability science has been at the leading edge of widespread efforts from the social and natural sciences to produce use-inspired research. Yet, how knowledge generated by sustainability science and allied fields will contribute to transitions toward sustainability remains a critical theoretical and empirical question for basic and applied research. This article explores the limitations of sustainability science research to move the field beyond the analysis of problems in coupled systems to interrogate the social, political and technological dimensions of linking knowledge and action. Over the next decade, sustainability science can strengthen its empirical, theoretical and practical contributions by developing along four research pathways focused on the role of values in science and decision-making for sustainability: how communities at various scales envision and pursue sustainable futures; how socio-technical change can be fostered at multiple scales; the promotion of social and institutional learning for sustainable development.

Haas-Lyons, S., Walsh, M., Aleman, E., Robinson, J. (2014): Exploring Regional Futures: Lessons from Metropolitan Chicago’s Online MetroQuest. Technological Forecasting & Social Change 82: 23-33

Abstract: Online public deliberation on policy and planning issues has great promise as an engaging, affordable and productive public participation method, but it is not a panacea for democratic deliberation or a substitute for face-to-face public engagement. This paper reports on a mix of deliberation tools used by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) to engage residents in online, face-to-face and in-situ deliberations on the long-term future of the Chicago region. MetroQuest is a digital tool for regional planning that served as the primary engine of CMAP’s engagement project, contributing new opportunities for individual learning and preference setting that were aggregated into nuanced collective choices. This mix of deliberation approaches resulted in over 20,000 Chicago-area residents engaged, clear public priorities that were reflected in the approved final plan, and advanced a new form of interactive knowledge building and collective priority setting for the field of democratic deliberation. More research is required to develop effective models of engaging the public in a mix of face-to-face and online deliberation.

Cole, R.J., Oliver, A., Robinson, J. (2013) Regenerative design, socio-ecological systems and co-evolution, Building Research & Information 41(2): 237-247. 

Abstract: A key notion in regenerative design is the co-evolutionary, partnered relationship between socio-cultural and ecological systems, which requires an explicit engagement with the implications and consequences of future design decisions. However, despite the extensive literature in other disciplines regarding the co-evolution of socio-cultural and ecological systems, this approach has yet to receive serious scrutiny within the context of the built environment and within the emerging notions of regenerative development and design. Drawing on an interdisciplinary body of literature, a discussion is initiated on how socio-cultural and ecological systems and their co-evolution might connect to the concept of regenerative design. Following a critique of a relevant example highlighting the current practice of regenerative design, the new building for the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, potentially relevant aspects of a socio-ecological system and of evolution theories are examined for the built environment. Several observations are presented on how these may offer a stronger theoretical framing of regenerative design, particularly the shifts in design thinking: from buildings as artefacts to their dynamic role in adaptive processes over time; widening the boundary focus of a building from its site to the neighbourhood.

Bendor, R., Haas Lyons, S., Robinson, J. (2012) What’s There Not to ‘Like’? The Technical Affordances of Sustainability Deliberations on Facebook. eJournal of eDemocracy and Open Government 4(1): 67-88.

Abstract: Social media are considered ideal means to promote inclusive political participation by “reaching citizens where they are” in scalable and cost-effective ways. However, with all the excitement about the new virtual public sphere, little attention is given to the technical mediation itself – the affordances of e-deliberation platforms and the kind of interactions they support. In response, this paper aims to thicken the account of the interrelated political and technological contexts of e-deliberation. Using recent Facebook deliberations on sustainable transportation in Vancouver as our example, we argue that different rationales for public participation in policymaking animate different approaches to discourse, which, in turn, inform and are affected by different design and use strategies for e-deliberation platforms. Our argument suggests that the design affordances of e-deliberation represent opportunities to promote or curtail certain visions of a political culture of sustainability.

Robinson, J., Burch, S., Talwar, S., O’Shea, M., Walsh, M. (2011) Envisioning sustainability: Recent progress in the use of participatory backcasting approaches for sustainability research, Technological Forecasting and Social Change 78: 756-768.

Abstract: This paper describes recent progress in the utilization of participatory scenario-based backcasting approaches to sustainability research that blend quantitative and qualitative analyses in order to explore alternative climate change futures, as undertaken in a range of  academic, government, and private sector projects in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, Canada. These projects reveal that buy-in to policy proposals may be enhanced by participation, but there is a risk of participants being overwhelmed by the complexity of the choices they are being asked to make. Furthermore, tools are grounded in a process, which must itself be the explicit focus of attention in designing successful backcasting projects and combining participatory backcasting techniques with more interactive processes that can enhance our ability to explore highly complex and uncertain, value-laden issues. These approaches can be used to drive action and support decision-making, but for a truly consultative and consensus-oriented process to occur, it is important that a broad sample of the community be engaged in the discussion that are equipped with technical knowledge or understanding of the goals of the process in order to participate in an equitable and effective fashion.

Sheppard, S., Shaw A., Flanders, D., Burch, S., Wiek, A., Carmichael, J., Robinson, J., Cohen, S. (2011) Future Visioning of Local Climate Change: A Framework for Community Engagement and Planning with Scenarios and Visualization. Futures 43: 400-412

Abstract: There is an urgent need for meaningful information and effective public processes at the local level to build awareness, capacity, and agency on climate change, and support planning and decision-making. This paper describes a conceptual framework to meet these requirements by generating alternative, coherent, holistic climate change scenarios and visualizations at the local scale, in collaboration with local stakeholders and scientists. The framework provides a template for a process to integrate emission scenarios with both mitigation and adaptation strategies, and to link local manifestations of impacts and responses with global climate change scenarios. The article outlines the empirical application of this framework in the Local Climate Change Visioning Project in British Columbia, Canada. The project collaboratively localized, spatialized, and visualized possible climate change effects and community responses in the community’s ‘backyards’. The article concludes with lessons learned and suggested principles for future visioning efforts to engage communities in possible policy and behavioural choices.

Talwar, S., Wiek, A., Robinson, J. (2011) User engagement in sustainability research. Science and Public Policy 38(5): 379-390.

Abstract: User engagement, stakeholder involvement, and public consultation in sustainability research have received increased attention over the last decade. Key driving factors behind this are that social outcomes, policy relevance, and user engagement have all become requirements for securing research funding. Many articles have provided compelling arguments for the need to reconsider why, when and how users are engaged within the research process. We propose a typology of user engagement strategies in research, focusing on the actual research process and emphasizing types of engagement in research. We illustrate these types with a comparative analysis of empirical examples from three interactive sustainability research projects, based in Canada and Switzerland. The article discusses the challenges that require a reconfiguration of institutional and organizational structures to seize the full potential of interactive sustainability research.

Salter, J., Robinson J., Wiek, A. (2010) Participatory Methods of Integrated Assessment – A Review. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 1: 697-717

Abstract: The field of Participatory Integrated Assessment (PIA) is still very young, having evolved from the broader field of Integrated Assessment (IA) in the mid to late 1990s. Like IA, PIA is a problem-based field, with a focus on interdisciplinary research. Fundamental to PIA, however, is the assertion that the quality of decisions is improved by the direct involvement of stakeholders in the assessment process—particularly when those decisions pertain to complex, intractable problems. Climate change presents just such a problem, and it is in the domains of climate change and related sustainability issues where PIA has seen its broadest application. Previous reviews have focused primarily on the mechanisms of participation in PIAs. The purpose of this review is to take a broader look at the field of PIA, focusing on components and cross-cutting themes that appear to be defining the conduct of PIA exercises. The review first looks at common components of PIA, including methods (future scenarios and models), participation (mechanisms of participation, representation, and stages of involvement), and outcomes (policy outcomes and process outcomes). The review then turns to an examination of cross-cutting themes in the field of PIA. These themes include the tension between qualitative and quantitative information, the role of interactivity in PIA, the importance of institutions and institutional change, and navigating the space defined by choice, uncertainty, and constraints. As governments at all levels move toward response options for climate change, PIA is increasingly becoming an approach for providing meaningful participation in the selection of those options.

Brown, Z., Cole, R., Robinson, J., Dowlatabadi, H. (2010) Evaluating User Experience in Green Buildings in Relation to Workplace Culture and Context. Facilities 28(4): 225-238

Abstract: This paper aims to explore the relationship between green building design and workplace design practice, and to examine the role of organizational culture in shaping design and operation decisions with consequence for user experience. Design/methodology/approach – A literature review and introduction of key concepts establish the foundation for the research and provide a context for interpreting results. Empirical findings are presented from a pre- and post-occupancy evaluation of a company’s move to a new headquarters building designed both to shift organizational culture and to meet environmental objectives. Findings – The paper demonstrates that, while there are potentially significant gains to be made from integrating green building with workplace design strategies from the outset, there are many other factors beyond the quality of the space, which may play a role in shaping user experience. Links are drawn between improved occupant comfort, health and productivity in the new headquarters building, and organizational culture and contextual factors accompanying the move. The findings raise a number of important questions and considerations for organizational and workplace research, and post-occupancy evaluation of buildings. Research limitations/implications – The research and findings focus on the experience and context of one company’s move to a new headquarters building and cannot be extrapolated. Given the mainstreaming and merging of green building design with workplace design practice, more research and studies are needed to advance this important line of inquiry. Originality/value – The paper brings together the two agendas of workplace design and green building design, which have until very recently progressed along separate paths.


Book Chapters (2010-2018)

Dale, A., Burch, S. Robinson, J. and Strashok, C., “Multilevel Governance of Sustainability Transitions in Canada: Policy Alignment, Innovation, and Evaluation”, in Hughes, S., Chu, E.K. and Mason, S.G., eds. (2018) Climate Change in Cities. New York: Springer.

Abstract: Local communities are on the front line of climate action, mitigation, and adaptation implementation. This chapter explores the research outcomes of a tri-university five-year research collaboration studying local climate innovators in the province of British Columbia. At the time the research began, there was a unique opportunity to study multilevel governance between the province and local governments albeit in a national vacuum. Lessons learned from the first phase and preliminary analysis from the second phase are then applied to the province of Ontario poised to take province-wide action. Ontario’s case is different in that there is now alignment between the federal and provincial levels, but less engagement to date with local governments. Our research shows that the active engagement of local communities is essential for accelerating climate innovation and multilevel  governance.

Cole, R., Robinson, J., and Westerhoff, L. (2016) “Regenerative Sustainability: Rethinking Neighborhood Sustainability”,  in Steven Moore, ed. Pragmatic Sustainability: Theoretical and Practical Tools. 2nd edition. London: Routledge.

Abstract: In this chapter, we offer some basic principles for the application of regenerative sustainability to the built environment, and propose that urban neighborhoods represent a particularly potent context in which to imagine, understand, catalyze, and assess regenerative sustainability. Neighborhoods represent an effective “niche” that contains much of the specificity and rigor of building-scale sustainable design characteristics, but that introduces a greater degree of the human and ecosystem complexity that exists at the city scale. Explorations and evaluations of regenerative sustainability at the neighborhood scale can therefore serve to highlight the cross-scale outcomes of more specific or localized interventions such as buildings, infrastructure, landscapes, policies, or community initiatives, as well as the relationships between them. As we will show, regenerative sustainability principles moreover hold considerable promise for strategic direction—in
terms of both process and performance—to agencies and authorities engaged in promoting sustainability goals and/or participatory planning processes to explore desired neighborhood futures.

Holden, M., Robinson, J., and Sheppard, S. (2016) “From Resilience to transformation via a regenerative sustainability development path”, in Yoshiki Yamagata, ed., Urban Resilience – A Transformative Approach, Springer.

Abstract: In this concluding chapter, we revisit the meaning of urban resilience from a political and planning studies perspective. From this perspective, the pursuit of even multidimensional urban resilience leaves a considerable amount to be desired and has given rise to a critical backlash from some theorists and urban activists. In pursuing this line of critique, we offer a response to this backlash that has been articulated against resilience by adding two new concepts to urban resilience planning and action, essential for socially-valuable outcomes of our efforts: development path thinking and the pursuit of regenerative sustainability.

Burch, S., Shaw, A., Kristensen, F., Robinson, J., and Dale, A. (2015) Urban Climate Governance through a Sustainability Lens Exploring the Integration of Adaptation and Mitigation in Four British Columbian Cities, in Johnson, C., Toly, N., and Schroeder, H. (eds.) The Urban Climate Challenge: Rethinking the Role of Cities in the Global Climate Regime: Routledge.

Abstract: By analyzing data gathered in four case study cities 2 in the Canadian province of British Columbia, as part of the “Meeting the Climate Change Challenge (MC 3 )” project, for the purposes of this chapter we ask the following three questions: (1) what, if any, are the benefi ts of embedding climate mitigation and adaptation action into a sustainability framework at the urban scale; (2) how is this initiated in practice; and (3) in what ways is this shaped by partnerships and interactions between both state and non-state actors at multiple scales (see www.mc-3.ca )? The first question pertains to the issue of framing, the second addresses drivers and the third pertains to governance. Ultimately, these features are explored for their potential for more broad-scale transformative changes in underlying development paths.

Antle, A.N., Tanenbaum, J., Macaranas, A. and Robinson, J. (2014) Games for change: Looking at models of persuasion through the lens of design. (Nijholt, A. ed.) Playful User Interfaces: Interfaces that Invite Social and Physical Interaction, Singapore: Springer.

Abstract: Games for Change are digital games that purport to change people’s opinions, attitudes, or behaviors around specific issues. While thousands of games have been created, there is little evidence that such games do persuade or contribute to behavior change. To address this problem, address the research question: How do elements of the different models of persuasion and behavior change manifest within Games for Change? We identify and focus on three models: Information Deficit, Procedural Rhetoric, and a new model called Emergent Dialogue. To answer this question, we had to determine what ‘‘clues’’ there were in games that we could use to identify each model of persuasion. Using a collaborative version of a Close Reading methodology we analyzed ten Games for Change about sustainability. Based on our results we propose six categories of design markers. Each marker can be used to identify or implement specific design elements associated with a particular model of persuasion. In this chapter, we describe our methodology, present six categories of design markers, and describe the specific strategies for each marker associated with each of the three models of persuasion. We illustrate each model and its design markers through canonical examples including a new game called Youtopia that we have created to encode the Emergent Dialogue model into a digital game. We conclude with proposed guidelines for game design of Games for Change.

Cayuela, A., Robinson, J., Campbell, A., Coops, N., Munro, A. (2013) Integration of Operational and Academic Efforts in Sustainability at the University of British Columbia in Sandra Caeiro, Walter Leal Filho, Charbel Jabbour, Ulisses M. Azeiteiro, eds., Sustainability Assessment Tools in Higher Education Institutions – Mapping Trends and Good Practices Around the World, Berlin, Germany: Springer.

Abstract: Sustainability is a growing priority for higher education institutions around the world. Many universities are responding to global imperatives by committing to strong operational sustainability goals and targets. Similarly, many universities are realigning their resources and redefining their academic priorities to respond to the need to prepare students to understand and address sustainability challenges. Yet few post-secondary institutions have identified the need to deeply integrate academic and operational sustainability as a prerequisite for permanent positive change toward sustainability on campuses and beyond. At the University of British Columbia (UBC), the integration of operational and academic sustainability has catalyzed the development of an aggressive portfolio of programs and activities that aim to transform the University into a test-bed for sustainability and an agent of change in the wider community. However, while the specific actions and projects described herein represent a tangible manifestation of UBC’s intent, the most important change taking place at UBC lies at the level of institutional culture around sustainability. From this perspective, the cross-fertilization of academic and operational cultures becomes an indispensable armature on which the more specific actions rest. This chapter reviews the UBC Sustainability Academic Strategy (SAS) process that led to the creation of the UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI), with a mandate to integrate academic and operational sustain- ability campus-wide and to act as a clearinghouse for sustainability programs and activities. Special emphasis is placed on a critical review of the USI’s most ambitious sustainability implementation strategies deployed and the resulting challenges. Potential solutions to these challenges are hypothesized before concluding remarks concerning the process of institutionalizing deep and lasting transformative change. The general intent is that this synthesis be of value to higher education institutions considering how they might deepen their commitment to sustainability.

Robinson, J.,Berkhout, T., Cayuela, A., Campbell, A. (2013). Next Generation Sustainability at The University of British Columbia: The University as Societal Test-Bed for Sustainability. Ariane Konig, ed., Regenerative sustainable development of universities and cities: the role of living laboratories. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

The purpose of this chapter is to provide a description of an attempt at The University of British Columbia (UBC) to implement the living laboratory concept at a deep level.

 Bizikova, L., Burch, S., Robinson, J., Shaw, A., Sheppard, S. (2011). Utilizing participatory scenario-based approaches to design proactive responses to climate change in the face of uncertainties. (Feichter, J., Gramelsberger, G., eds.) Climate Change and Policy: The Calculability of Climate Change and the Challenge of Uncertainty, Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag.

Abstract: The purpose of this chapter is to describe innovative research approaches that use quantitative and qualitative analysis in order to explore alternative climate change futures. These approaches take the view that responses to climate stimuli will increasingly involve complex socioeconomic decisions about desirable development pathways. An emphasis on development pathways is viewed as a useful way to guide development priorities and promote action, while explicitly accounting for adaptation and mitigation in the face of uncertainty. Local case studies in British Columbia are presented, which utilize participatory scenario-building processes and demonstrate ways of considering uncertainty in the design of locallyrelevant responses to climate change. The chapter concludes with lessons learned from the local case studies, and presents the barriers to developing adaptation and mitigation responses to climate change that help communities transition toward resilient and sustainable development pathways, despite the uncertainties surrounding climate change.

Bizikova, L., Burch, S., Cohen, S., Robinson, J. (2010) A Participatory Integrated Assessment Approach to Local Climate Change Responses: Linking Sustainable Development with Climate Change Adaptation & Mitigation. (O’Brien, K., Kristoffersen, B. and St. Clair, A., eds.) Climate Change, Ethics and Human Security, pp. 157-17, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Abstract: Recent advances in the study of climate change impacts and responses have indicated the great value of integrated assessment methods. Traditional integrated assessment, however, is plagued by the lack of thorough integration of social and institutional domains, which must occur if integrated assessment is to serve its purpose of facilitating decision-making under conditions of uncertainty. These domains are especially relevant to an exploration of the linkages between Sustainable development and climate change responses (Adaptation and Mitigation) and related policies. We suggest that a participatory integrated assessment (PIA) framework can be used as a platform for organizing SAM studies, providing an ongoing learning opportunity for both researchers and practitioner/stakeholder partners. Within the PIA, scenario and backcasting tools could be used in conjunction with other case-specific methods (e.g. from forestry, water management and urban planning), as well as dialogue support methods such as visualization and decision-support models. We outline some key elements of a methodology which uses backcasting and scenario development to envision a locally sustainable future, explicitly considers tradeoffs and synergies between adaptation and mitigation, links climate change and sustainable development, and generates an integrated ‘SAM’ scenario.

Explicit incorporation of capacity in the PIA process reveals a set of indicators that must be included so that climate change can be placed in the context of broader development priorities and responsible policy decisions can be made. Examining capacity in this context reveals the resources with which any response to climate change can be built and it draws our attention to the underlying development path which simultaneously begets both capacity and barriers to action. The ultimate result is the generation of locally-significant climate change response strategies constructed upon a foundation of multi-stakeholder dialogue and scientifically robust scenario development.

 Robinson, J., (2010) On Beyond Zebra: Being Undisciplined in Support of Sustainability. The Trudeau Foundation, The Trudeau Papers, Volume II, pp. 96-129, Montreal: The Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation.

Abstract: How do we, as researchers or practitioners, come to grips with daunting societal issues like sustainability? What kind of knowledge do we need, and how do we use it in the service of social change? Can we combine academic work with social engagement, theory with practice? This paper will explore some of these questions in the context of an academic career that has been driven by a felt need to contribute to an urgently required process of societal change in the direction of sustainability. This has led to a focus on what I call “issue-driven interdisciplinarity,” a sometimes uneasy, but always inspiring blend of research and community engagement, aimed at combining various kinds of “expert” knowledge with public values, attitudes, and practices in support of a transition towards sustainability. In reflecting on these issues, I will try to draw some lessons from many years of attempts to pursue issue-driven interdisciplinarity as it applies to energy, climate change, gaming and simulation, buildings, and urban sustainability, and conclude with some discussion of where we plan to take such work in the future.