Postdoctoral Fellows

Current Supervision

Kim Slater, 2021 –

Project: Urban Climate Action Project and Network

Sylvia Coleman, 2020 –

Project: Wellbeing in the Built Environment

Steve WIlliams, 2020 –

Project:  Sustainability Evalution in Mid-Sweden Sustainability Projects

Graduate Students

Current Supervision

Majd Al-Shihabi, PhD, Geograhy, U of T  2022-

(co-supervision with Heather Dorries, Geogrpahy)

Majd is working on using participatory methods to build models that describe (as opposed to predict) the behaviour of the housing market in Toronto and its relationship to the climate action goals of the city.

Emily Smit, PhD Geography, U of T,  2022-

Emily’s research focus is on achieving the City of Toronto’s TransformTO climate targets in the residential sector.

Garrett Morgan, PhD, Geography, U of T  2019-

(Co-supervision with Prof Blake Poland, Dalla Lana School of Public Heath)

Garrett’s research applies an intersectional perspective on environmental justice in the climate action plans of the world’s “most sustainable” cities.

Grégoire Benzakin, PhD, Geography, U of T  2018-

Grégoire’s research explores the pluriversal dimensions of digital infrastructures, focusing on the controversies surrounding Sidewalk Toronto.

Recent Graduates

Jaimie Cryder, MA, Geography, U of T, 2022

Title: Considering the Potential of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises to Accelerate Urban Sustainability Transitions:
A Case Study of Toronto’s Restaurant Industry

Until recently, the role of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in urban sustainability transitions has been under examined despite their collective potential to address sustainability issues. This paper aims to explore whether SMEs can accelerate urban sustainability transition. Using the multi-level perspective, this study analyzes the ability of SMEs to impact urban sustainability transitions through niche-innovation. Furthermore, it considers how the leadership of sustainability-oriented entrepreneurs (SOE) supports systemic change. Lastly, it explores the involvement of SMEs in the governance of municipal sustainability initiatives. To answer these questions, the author conducted seven interviews with sustainability-oriented actors in Toronto’s restaurant industry. This study finds that SMEs in Toronto’s restaurants industry do not exhibit characteristics of niche-innovation. However, when led by SOEs, SMEs support niche-innovation beyond their business and increase community well-being. Lastly, this study reveals that SMEs are not engaged in traditional urban governance processes and suggests that increasing involvement could support swifter urban sustainability transitions.

Ali Beynaghi, MASc, Civil Engineering, U of T, 2022

(Co-supervision with Prof Tamer El-Diraby, Civil Engineering)

Title: Policy Mixes for Accelerating Zero-Emission Vehicle Transitions: Experiences in Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario

Summary: Ali worked on socio-technical transition pathways to a driverless city. The thesis analyzed policy mixes for accelerating zero-emission vehicle transitions In Quebec, BC and Ontario, based on document analysis and interviews with 10 experts in public-private organizations, research institutes, and government. Transitions theory is used as the theoretical lens to examine this question and the thesis focuses on processes of regime destabilization. In particular, it applies two conceptual frameworks on factors influencing ZEV adoption and on creative destruction functions and processes.  These frameworks are used to design the interview instruments, organize the document analysis, and articulate the findings.

Kim Slater, PhD, Geography, U of T, 2021

Title: Clarifying, Creating, Capturing, and Catalyzing: An Exploration of Social Learning in the Evaluation of Community-scale Contributions to Sustainability Transitions

Abstract: Climate change, social inequality, ecological degradation, and political volatility are just some of the complex and interconnected challenges that underscore the need to accelerate sustainability transitions; long term, systems changes in the direction of sustainability. In an increasingly urbanized world, understanding how these challenges affect cities, and are addressed by urban actors, such as those representing municipal governments and civil society, is more important than ever. Of interest here is how social learning may shape the contributions of such efforts, particularly in spurring collective action at multiple scales. Yet the conceptual ambiguity surrounding social learning, for instance whether it is a process or outcome, and what roles agency and structure play in shaping learning pathways and outcomes, presents a barrier to understanding and leveraging it in the context of community-scale interventions. These gaps warrant the theoretical, methodological, and empirical work undertaken in this dissertation. Specifically, this dissertation clarifies social learning by applying a social practice lens, operationalizes it through a “multi-pronged, light-touch, utilization-focused” evaluation approach suitable to small scale interventions in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), Canada, and finally addresses the role of social learning in the contributions grassroots interventions make in advancing sustainability transitions.

This work was undertaken through transdisciplinary co-production, meaning intervention participants, as well as partners, funders, and researchers, co-developed the evaluation framework, and co-interpreted the results of applying it to interventions in two case studies. Twelve GTHA-based grassroots climate action interventions are the subjects of this evaluation in Case #1, while a Toronto-based home retrofit program called BetterHomesTO is the subject of evaluation in Case # 2. Through “conversational surveys” (a hybrid survey and interview method) and an online survey with participants, funders, and stakeholders, as well as semi-structured interviews with affiliates, document reviews and workshop analyses, I assess the interventions in both cases. This approach offers an effective and accessible means with which to evaluate community-scale interventions, affording unique opportunities for intervention participants to conceptualize, and assess their contributions to sustainability transitions, and trace and enhance social learning along the way.

Steve Williams, PhD, RMES, UBC (co-supervisor with Terre Satterfield) 2019

Title: The splash and the ripples : assessing sustainability transition experiments


Abstract: Fostering sustainability transition is a pressing global societal challenge. Rising GHG emissions, severe social and economic inequality, unsustainable production and consumption activities, and global environmental degradation and its human consequences are all indicators of an unsustainable world. Sustainability Transition Experiments (STEs) have been proposed as a method to accelerate sustainability transitions in response to these challenges. We need methods by which to evaluate STEs, to understand what is happening within transition processes, and to provide insight to STE designers and facilitators as to the efficacy of their processes. This need led to the development of my research questions: How can we conceptualize, and evaluate, the contributions to sustainability transitions of STEs? Was the Energy Futures Lab effective in supporting sustainability transitions in Alberta? I develop a three-part evaluation framework of process, societal effects, and sustainability transition impacts leveraging a development pathway framing. I apply this framework to the case of the Energy Futures Lab in Alberta, Canada which has the goal of fostering transition to a sustainable energy system. Through participant interviews, document reviews, then coding all data in Nvivo, I assess the EFL and the evaluation framework itself. I conclude the framework to be an effective method with which to evaluate STEs. The most significant contribution of the framework is in conceptualizing and assessing sustainability transition impacts. By leveraging the framing of development pathways, this framework provides a detailed set of evaluation categories and indicators that can be used to assess development pathway change and the contribution of an STE to such change.

Ivana Zelenika PhD, RMES, UBC (co-supervisor with Jiaying Zhao)  2018

Title: Sustainability by design : motivating pro-environmental action and improving waste diversion


Abstract: Engaging the public in sustainable actions is essential for reaching local and global sustainability goals. The first two research questions of this dissertation focus on strategies to reduce contamination of waste in private and public areas through active and passive prompts, and immediate feedback on errors. The third research question expands the behavioural analysis to examine willingness to act in several pro-environmental domains: waste, water, food and biodiversity. Together, this thesis aims to contribute to best practices in the field of waste diversion, community engagement and long-term pro-environmental behaviour change.
The first study of this dissertation shows that providing active guidance during a public festival helped people sort waste significantly better than stand-alone prompt interventions of 2D signage and real-life 3D items. The effects were consistent across all waste streams and show the importance of guidance and feedback at the time of sorting to help reduce contamination and achieve zero waste goals. The second study demonstrated that immediate feedback on sorting errors through a computer game also improved sorting accuracy in the lab, and benefits persisted even when feedback was removed in the second trial. The game was additionally tested in a field study in student residence buildings, resulting in the weight of compost materials increasing while bin contamination decreased. The third key finding of this dissertation demonstrates that botanical gardens can help engage local visitors in sustainability topics through team-building activities while immersed in nature. After their visit, participants were more knowledgeable about environmental issues, more connected to nature, and showed greater willingness to engage
in sustainability actions.

These findings in aggregate suggest that active guidance, timely feedback, and engaging nature tours can be effective tools to raise awareness and educate the public in recycling and composting adherence. However, knowledge alone is insufficient to lead to pro-environmental behaviour if the overarching systems of provision are not designed to leveraging people’s desire for convenience and behavioural shortcuts. In addition to environmental education and awareness, special attention needs to be paid to convenience, socio-normative cues and material infrastructure.

Sylvia Coleman PhD, RMES, UBC (co-supervisor with Ray Cole)  2016

Title: Normalizing sustainability in a regenerative building : the social practice of being at CIRS


Abstract: Regenerative buildings are deemed “net-positive” because they are designed, in theory, to return positive benefits to their natural and social environments. On the “human factor” side, net-positive buildings are claimed to enhance human well-being, productivity and health.

I consider how a net-positive building facilitates engagement, and enhances well-being, health and productivity. Through statistical analysis of pre- and post-occupancy surveys, interviews and document analysis, I investigate the inhabitant experience in a net-positive building, the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) Living Lab on UBC campus. Using a tripartite model of culturally-based social practice theory as framework, I characterise the building itself as meaningful symbol, as object of interaction, and as intervention in everyday practices. These lenses indicated “new normals” of active inhabitance.

A “qualitative performance gap” was interpreted as the difference between an aspirational, stakeholder-based “Official Story” about the building as change-agent, and the skeptical but forgiving “Lived Story”, constructed from inhabitant interviews. This “gap” between stories creates a space for new stories, and indicates a need for ongoing dialogue between stakeholders and inhabitants on the status of the change-making project, in keeping with the vertical integration of the Living Lab concept. Engagement was conceived as a form of social practice that could be enabled or hindered by social spaces and controls. Inhabitant satisfactions and dissatisfactions, recorded in pre- and post-occupancy surveys, were conceived as symptoms of stable or potentially changing practices.

Quantitative comparisons and correlations show that CIRS provides excellent indoor environmental quality, especially in terms of natural light, workspace, air quality, and controls; it performed less well on acoustics and electrical lighting. Participants perceived that the CIRS building had a positive effect on their well-being and health, while productivity was enhanced but to a lesser degree due to common contemporary workplace design thatimpacted acoustic and visual privacy. The regenerative building context took over and rendered “pro-environmental behaviour” somewhat unnecessary.

Emerging from the analysis is the notion of “normalizing sustainability” through material and symbolic interventions, and support for the utility of pre-to-post-occupancy evaluations and social practice theory, in providing evidence for human agency and larger-scale change.

Pani Pajouhesh MA, RMES, UBC  2016

Title: From theory to practice : an analysis of transformative social innovation at the University of British Columbia


Abstract: Higher education institutions are striving to become both models and leaders in innovation for sustainable development, as sustainability is becoming a growing priority around the world. The approaches adopted by many universities, however, are typically implemented as an add-on to existing structural and social frameworks, which often constrain new ideas and practices that transcend traditional institutional structures or, at best, promote incremental change for sustainability. Incremental change, however, may not suffice to cope with prevailing sustainability challenges. In fact, it may only serve to perpetuate unsustainable trajectories that are embedded in institutional processes and practices characterized by inertia and path-dependency. It is necessary to overcome the limitations of piecemeal improvement to develop purposive approaches that enable, accelerate and scale-up transformative social innovations. This thesis examines the activities that have informed and guided innovation processes for sustainability at the University of British Columbia over the past twenty years, through the lens of socio-technical transitions theory, in order to gain greater insight into the dynamics, mechanisms and agency that the theory suggests is necessary for engendering transformative social innovation. Based on an extensive literature review, document analysis, and expert interviews with key stakeholders, the findings suggest that the institution exhibits the necessary conditions to foster transformative change for social innovation. An analysis of its sustainability policies, practices and processes over the past twenty years reveal that the University has created and continues to sustain the conditions for this complex, long-term and multi-level systemic change through experimentation and learning and multi-level coordination and synchronization – with exception of a few institutional barriers that have challenged non-conformism and innovation development or the diffusion of ideas and practices across scales. Recommendations are provided for the University, and for other institutions, to better govern a transition to sustainability. Though the University of British Columbia model will not necessarily suit a generic application to other universities, as the context in which they operate will be different, the findings from this study shed light on best practices, and possible barriers and challenges, to governing sustainability transitions at higher education institutions

Anne-Mareike Chu MA, RMES, UBC  2016

Title: Understanding the Performance Gap: An Evaluation of the Energy Efficiency of Three High-Performance Buuldings in British Columbia (

Abstract: The market shift towards high-performance buildings has been brought into question by growing concerns about the actual energy efficiency of these projects. Research studies have been pointing increasingly to performance gaps between the predicted (or modelled) and actual (or measured) energy consumption of certified ‘green’ buildings. Discussions about reasons for performance gaps have been recurring in the building industry and research alike.

This thesis investigates the energy performance gap of three high-performance LEED-certified buildings in British Columbia: the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS), the Jim Pattison Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Technology and Renewable Energy Conversation (JPCE) and the District Education Centre (DEC). For each case study, an energy performance evaluation reveals differences between modelled and measured energy consumption. Based on an extensive literature review, the reasons for identified performance gaps are explored through expert interviews with key stakeholders that were involved in the design, construction or operation of each of these projects.

The energy performance evaluation reveals significant performance gaps in all three case studies, with one project outperforming and two under-performing the design predictions. The research highlights a lack of consistent metered-energy data at the system level. Based on these findings this study attempts to evaluate key sources of performance issues, in the context of the three example buildings. It shows that performance-gap reasons indicated in the literature occurred at all phases of the building lifecycle: starting at the planning/design and modelling phase, through the construction, commissioning and handover phases, to the building operation and occupancy phase. The results suggest that performance gaps are closely related to shortcomings in energy design concepts, development procedures, and operational practices that were applied in the three buildings.

The research emphasizes the importance of creating a greater transparency of development procedures and collaborative approaches to successfully design, build and operate high-performance buildings. The challenges faced by project teams to integrate innovative technologies calls for robust design solutions and methodologies that can be easily translated into implementation strategies and operation procedures that meet building management capacities.

Lisa Westerhoff PhD, RMES, UBC  2015

Title: City stories : from narrative to practice in Vancouver’s Olympic Village  (

Abstract: Calls for a more thoughtful and wholehearted inclusion of the humanities and social sciences in defining and answering questions of sustainability have highlighted the importance of integrating a more comprehensive range of values, knowledges and perspectives into our efforts to transition towards sustainable societies. Far from an abstract gesture, such a shift has practical implications for the way sustainability policies and projects are conceived and carried out, including the design and assessment of urban sustainable neighbourhoods.

In this dissertation, I show that the study of narrative offers a potent means of untangling the underlying assumptions and meanings embedded within decisions and characterizations of sustainability and sustainable neighbourhoods, which I explore in the context of Vancouver’s Olympic Village. I tell the story of this unique urban development from the perspectives of the many voices that have created it, from its first planners to its present beneficiaries. By combining narrative with insights and methods from social practice theories, I show how the sustainable intentions of the Olympic Village have challenged and intersected with the lived narratives of its residents and managers, two key constituencies in the neighbourhood’s unfolding. I investigate the neighbourhood as an intervention both structural and symbolic to reveal the normative (i.e. discursive) and performative (i.e. material) dimensions of the neighbourhood’s particular narrative of sustainability, and the way these have intervened into residents’ and managers’ practices, perceptions and identities.

I conclude that while broad metanarratives of sustainability in both policy and media have played strong roles in shaping the lives of the neighbourhood’s residents and managers, the neighbourhood continues to evolve as its constituents perform new practices in the landscape. I show the important intersection between social and ecological goals, highlighting the need to consider and support liveability in the pursuit of sustainability. Finally, I show that while the neighbourhood has been instrumental in pushing sustainability efforts forward, it also missed key opportunities to address the expectations and experiences of its future inhabitants.

Julia Reckermann MA, RMES, UBC  2014

Title: CIRS pre-occupancy evaluation : inhabitant feedback processes and possibilities for a regenerative place (

Abstract: An untypical workplace, The Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) is an aspiring regenerative place with the goals to realize net-positive inhabitant psychological and physiological well-being and environmental performance in which inhabitants actively shape their experiences. As part of these aspirations, this research set out to investigate how feedback processes, such as specifically a Pre-Occupancy Evaluation, can support the navigation towards manifesting these human performance goals. This research explores inhabitants’ relationships with their Pre-CIRS workplace experiences before their move into the new place, as well as to their future experience in CIRS. More specifically, it investigates inhabitant satisfaction and interactions with controls within their previous workplace contexts as well as their associations, expectations and desires for their experiences at CIRS. Past experiences of workplaces can influence inhabitant satisfaction with, behaviours, and the emergence of desired novelty and aspirations of regenerative places. Findings reveal that inhabitants were not satisfied with certain elements of their Pre-CIRS workplaces and not very engaged in creating their experience. Sources of discontent in many cases were associated with perceived lack of control over situations to alleviate discomfort and negative affect. Whilst mental associations with CIRS appeared to reflect a heavy focus on environmental sustainability aspirations, sources of positive feelings include the physical building, the social aspirations of place, the novelty and vision, and a desire for connectedness. Although inhabitant desires are aligned with CIRS aspirations at the conceptual level, they likely go beyond past experiences of their workplaces and call for new ways of thinking, feeling, and acting to realize net-positive aspirations. Thus, it is proposed that regenerative workplaces require a new set of tools that enable a place to shift into ‘becoming’ and embodying aspirations of place. Based on the learning from this research, the regenerative literature, as well as reflections on the process itself, actions steps have been recommended in this work to realize aspirations of place.

David Maggs PhD, RMES, UBC  2014

Title: Artists of the floating world : rethinking art/sustainability relations in the late days of modernity (

Abstract: This research is an attempt to reroute art-sustainability relations through the metaphysical juncture of Modernism’s fading dichotomies, i.e. fact-value, subject-object, culture-nature. For many this relationship has fallen short, particularly in the form of infocentric, instrumental engagements aimed at behaviour change. But if we read sustainability as a problem of worldview and artistic agency as ontological in nature, might something more promising emerge? To explore this, four artists were commissioned to produce work in response to an analysis of sustainability built around Bruno Latour’s ‘Modern Constitution’. The interests were twofold, to investigate the challenge of engaging art’s ‘ontological agency’ in light of prior art-sustainability frustrations; and to explore practical and ontological dimensions of operating ‘beyond’ the dichotomies of Modernity. The first interest concerns the prescriptive challenge of artistic agency—how do we ‘use’ art? Outcomes include the following explorations: A distinction between art’s behavioral and ontological agencies; a proposed category of ‘artistic ontologists’ to house scholarship aligning ontological agency with aesthetic, expressive, and imaginative priorities; a view of art as ‘double agent’, necessarily ‘of’ and ‘against’ encompassing rationalities; and the argument that a healthy view of art is fundamentally epistemological, a means to learn not teach. Regarding a ‘post’ Modern or ‘post-normal’ world, this research proposes to shift sustainability from the well-worn challenge to prove the world real to the more perplexing challenge to prove the world imaginary. This entails a shift from ‘substantive’ approaches to sustainability (facts drive values) to ‘procedural’ approaches, where sustainability emerges from the interactions of immanent human and non-human agencies. Practical concerns include structuring emergent dynamics within collective processes and shifting expertise accordingly. Ontological dimensions explore particular ‘qualities of immanence’ that might shape our imaginings in fruitful ways, while pursuing a genuine exit from Modernity nonetheless. Building on Mike Hulme’s arguments, I suggest sustainability in an imaginary world involves ‘flipping the sustainability predicate’, turning a problem we are trying to solve into one that solves us. This engages John Robinson’s work on ‘regenerative sustainability’ by arguing that regenerative approaches may not only be more compelling, but increasingly in line with emerging logics of a post-normal worldAs part of the Greenest City Conversations project, David’s research explored the relationship between art and sustainability. In particular, he explored less instrumental applications to sustainability issues by identifying the relevance of more intrinsic or idiomatic elements of artistic language in the hopes that this opens up a wider opportunity for the arts to engage with sustainability, along a broader conception of such issues themselves.

Stefan Storey PhD, RMES, UBC  2014

Title: Application of life-cycle approaches for the evaluation of high performance buildings (

Abstract: The market shift towards high performance buildings is posing a major challenge to decision- makers, designers and developers. They need to know what constitutes high performance design and practice, what the environmental consequences of decisions are, and how buildings are performing relative to anchored benchmarks. This doctoral dissertation provides building designers and operators methods on how to use life-cycle approaches to inform design and track performance. The research focuses on a case-study of the lifecycle impacts of advanced buildings at UBC, built to various standards of performance including the current best-practices (LEED standards) and the currently emerging ‘regenerative’ standard. Life-cycle approaches are used to explore simulated impact over time in terms of quantified financial and environmental metrics. The research novelty is in the integration of life-cycle models; the aggregation of compatible separate studies to provide a larger overview of building performance. Additionally, the analysis leverages the benchmarking capabilities of the UBC Life-cycle Analysis database – a high-resolution survey of 30 UBC buildings – to show that the contribution of rapid churn building products, such as information technology, contributes a disproportionally high amount to embodied impacts. The study also analyses operational impacts based on utility consumption data for 70 conventional buildings versus 10 best practices (LEED Gold) buildings at UBC with respect to building age and building type. The results show that, in contrast to previous studies, older buildings often outperform new buildings. The dissertation concludes that benchmarking and multi-stakeholder modeling life-cycle approaches are critical for informing expert opinion during decision-making. Attention to modeling construction, and ensuring broad participation is key to ‘useful’ modeling. The process of creating a life-cycle model is often more informative than modeled final results; collective understanding and communication – the basis of good decision-making – improve through participation and stakeholder interaction.

Laura Fedoruk MA, RMES, UBC  2013

Title: ‘Smart’ energy systems and networked buildings : examining the integrations, controls, and experience of design through operation (

Abstract: Designs for new infrastructure such as buildings and energy systems often have the goals of being ‘smart’ and ‘sustainable’. These goals often coincide with designs that integrate renewable and distributed energy systems, industrial ecology based principles, increased controls and monitoring capabilities, and integrated design techniques. This thesis attempts to understand the design and process-based lessons that help to achieve these goals in networked infrastructure through the use of a contextual literature review as well as two case studies that examine the design and early operation of the networked energy and controls systems at the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS). The thesis examines various literatures associated with ‘smart’ and ‘sustainable’ systems inclusive of sustainable buildings, smart grids, distributed energy systems, and industrial ecology and finds that learning processes and systems integration are key to the success of these projects. From this understanding, a case study is used to examine the energy systems at CIRS in order to understand the systems integration of energy infrastructure during early operation. The analysis reveals that in order to create systems that meet their design intent and create symbiotic relationships within a network, it is paramount to understand system boundaries and network effects throughout the lifecycle of a project – from design through to operation and optimization. A second case study examines the systems at CIRS that are usually considered the ‘smart’ component of infrastructure, controls and monitoring capabilities, and finds that in order to have successful controls systems it is necessary to design and operate these systems in a way that complements the human systems that interact with them. Designing for learning enables operator troubleshooting processes and inhabitant feedback and understanding.

Tom Berkhout PhD, RMES, UBC  2013

Title: Steering transformative energy efficiency and conservation in British Columbia, Canada (

Abstract: In this thesis I assess the strength of efforts by the Government of British Columbia and BC Hydro to steer transformative energy efficiency and conservation (TEEC) in BC’s built environment between 2005 and 2012. TEEC implies a level of energy savings that requires major changes over the next 10 to 40 years in not only the physical components of the built environment but also in day-to-day routines and patterns of life. An underlying assumption of the thesis is that in order to learn about, develop and implement the kinds of initiatives needed to achieve TEEC an accelerated system of policy and technology innovation is required. In carrying out my research, my particular focus was on assessing the influence of governance practices on efforts to achieve TEEC and on the outcomes that these practices lead to. To do this, I developed a theory-based evaluation framework to assess the effectiveness of existing governance approaches to steer socio-technical transitions. The underlying premise of the theory is that a reflexive governance approach to steering transitions is more likely to lead to a stronger transition context which over time increases the likelihood of a transition being achieved. To this end, the thesis singled-out eight system conditions that I argue are needed to build and maintain the kind of momentum needed to realize long-term transformational change in complex socio-technical systems. These eight conditions were then used as the basis for assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the Province’s and BC Hydro’s efforts to steer TEEC. When I compared the strength of the transition conditions being created in each case study against the governance approach used, I found a link between the use of reflexive governance practices and stronger transition conditions. Based on this assessment 15 recommendations were advanced for how to improve the governance of TEEC in BC’s built environment. What is more, these findings suggest that any effort to pursue TEEC will need to also be accompanied by a shift to a more reflexive approach for steering transformational change.

Nichole Dusyk PhD, RMES, UBC  2013

Title: The transformative potential of participatory politics : energy planning and emergent sustainability in British Columbia, Canada (

Abstract: This research examines the potential for local engagement in provincial energy planning and the contribution it might make to an energy transition. Combining a social worlds framework with the concept of hybrid forums, I develop the thesis that participation can facilitate sociotechnical change by facilitating the exploration of new identities and the collective reframing of problems and their solutions. This is what I call the transformative potential of participatory politics. I explore and elaborate this thesis using a discourse analysis of the provincial clean energy policy and two case studies of communities in British Columbia: Fort St. John and Dawson Creek. The discourse analysis examines the evolution of the clean energy storyline, introduced in 2007, and how it serves to position actors and technologies in the province. The analysis shows how the storyline, although integrating an environmental imperative into policy discourse, reproduces the trajectory and inertia of historical energy development. The case study analysis examines municipal energy planning and one large-scale renewable energy project in each of the communities: the proposed Site C Hydroelectric Project in Fort St. John and the Bear Mountain Wind Park in Dawson Creek. My analysis describes the mechanisms and sites of collective negotiation and how in each case, participatory processes have altered technologies, collective identities, and the framing of energy planning. The case studies support the thesis that participatory politics can contribute to energy transitions by altering the social and material characteristics of energy networks. In so doing, they add nuance to our understanding of what participatory energy governance can contribute and the circumstances in which it is effective. This includes findings that highlight the significance of the institutional, political, and infrastructural context in which participatory governance unfolds leading to the conclusion that participation, although potentially transformative, is not a panacea. In conclusion, I situate my findings in relation to the concept of procedural sustainability arguing that by making room for collective negotiation, participatory politics can help move beyond the apparent antagonism of implementing renewable energy projects toward a potentially more productive approach of localizing energy projects and collectively constructing sustainability discourses and practices.

Meg O’Shea, PhD, RMES, UBC  2012

Title: Embodying and performing sustainability  (

Abstract: This dissertation explores the theoretical and methodological implications of including embodiment and performance theory in sustainability theory and practice, and demonstrates the advantages and difficulties of embodied sustainability research in two case studies of communities performing sustainability practices. The potential influence of an embodied approach to participatory governance theory in light of the anticipated sustainability transition is also investigated. The fundamental characteristics of embodiment are determined and a performance typology derived from performance theory is developed to help guide case study analysis and interpretation. The first case study investigates the perceptions, actions, and possible transformations of members of a theatrical group who tour British Columbia by bicycle. The second case study recruits the creative participation of members of a recycling initiative in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in a photographic project designed to elicit their embodied experiences of sustainability within their daily actions. This research is premised on the argument that sustainability can be usefully conceived of as a property that emerges from collaborative practices and dialogue (i.e., procedural sustainability), rather than simply as a set of expert-defined imperatives (i.e., substantive sustainability). Incorporating the embodiment paradigm into research on sustainability suggests that such research should be interactive by way of active and creative participation by citizens. Furthermore, embodiment and sustainability are experienced as deeply socially and culturally embedded phenomena, which should be reflected in sustainability research through a strong integration of ecological, economic, social, and cultural concerns. Performance theory provides a theoretical frame and methodological direction that centres on the socially- and culturally-mediated experiencing body. Findings from the case studies, and application of findings to participatory governance theory, confirm that: framing sustainability as a procedurally emergent property of social practices is appropriate and productive at the community-scale; applying a performance lens to sustainability practices reveals complex performative dimensions of socially-situated embodied experience; and participatory processes for embodied engagement, specifically arts-based methods, have great potential to provide novel opportunities for engagement with governments and policy processes.

Susanna Haas Lyons, MA, RMES,UBC  2012

Title: It’s complicated : exploring Facebook’s potential for deliberative public engagement on sustainability policy (

Abstract: The explosion of low-cost interactive digital tools like Facebook has prompted governments around the world to experiment with online public engagement. However, the media’s rapidly changing nature, combined with limited research in the field, means that little is known about how social media impacts who participates, how they participate and what is contributed in these online public engagement activities. To address these questions, the researcher convened over 500 people in a Facebook-based deliberation about transportation policy for the City of Vancouver, Canada, which resulted in recommendations that were considered by the City in drafting a long-range plan. Two hypotheses are explored: (1) locating a deliberative public engagement on Facebook can address some key challenges of in-person deliberation, and (2) deliberative discourse can be cultivated within a social media environment. An analysis of Facebook’s affordances – access to publics, distributed time and space, collaboration and learning, cross-platform connectivity, and social character – suggests that its properties both improve and impede the deliberative qualities of public engagement such as demographic representativeness, frequency of participation and reflective opinion sharing. Measuring participant discourse according to criteria of deliberativeness – discussion coherence, disagreement, opinion justification, engagement, and equality – demonstrates that this case study fostered the individual role in deliberation such as topical coherence, justified opinions and equal access to the discussion. However, the e-deliberation was not as successful as hoped in eliciting group aspects of deliberation such as disagreement and engagement with one another’s contributions. Together, these investigations provide a cautious but optimistic view on social media for deliberative public engagement. The study concludes by pointing to the need for further attention in social media based deliberation to engagement process design, participant recruitment and discussion tool development.