Lenses of Sustainability event brings UBC community together to re-imagine sustainability

Last week marked the culmination of the Lenses of Sustainability dialogue series, a three-part student-led series focused around providing spaces for faculty, staff and students from different faculties and backgrounds to have open conversations about pressing sustainability issues. 

From its first two events, Local Food and Happiness, to its most recent event, Sense of Place, the series sought to generate an environment where participants could re-imagine sustainability in their lives and think about potential ways to move towards a more sustainable future. 

“The series first started with me noticing the difficulty of different people at UBC to have open conversations about events and issues on campus, including sustainability,” said Owen Sondergeld, founder and director of the Lenses of Sustainability series. He, alongside co-director Sarah Barnes, helped make the dialogue series come to life. “While a lot of the people I’ve met are really interested and passionate about these things, I realized that there was often a struggle to connect.”

While previous events in the series were held at the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability and the Student Nest, Sondergeld and Barnes decided to host their final event in the UBC Longhouse.

“We chose the Longhouse because we thought that it really encompassed the whole concept of sense of place, especially with regards to sustainability. The UBC Longhouse is such a special place on campus and I think that walking in there it makes people more mindful,” said Barnes.

“Our intention with the Lens of Sustainability series was to try to guide these conversations that were already happening in a more proactive way and to show how these conversation could proceed between students and faculty from a range of disciplinary backgrounds,” said Sondergeld.  

Unlike other similar events at UBC, there was no pressure to follow on a pre-set or rigid academic structure, but rather to cherish the different experiences and stories of peers and to appreciate their perspectives on sustainability. Regardless of whether the participants were green go-getters or not, both students and faculty members were able to navigate the often contested waters of sustainability in an inclusive space. 

During the event, guest speaker and geography professor Siobhan McPhee as well as professor and director of the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture Ron Kellet shed light on their definitions of place and the key role of these definitions in creating sustainable cities. 

Through a Google tour, McPhee illustrated the various places that she has once called “home” as well as the global connections between them, highlighting that it is these interactions that should be brought to the forefront when discussing sustainability in our global society. Meanwhile, Kellet focused on the move towards sustainable urbanism in cities, the place-making centers of the 21st century.

As the first student-led dialogue series to arrive at UBC, Lenses of Sustainability created a platform for the UBC community to jumpstart stimulating and thoughtful conversations on the subject of sustainability. Students had the opportunity to become exposed to spectrum of experiences and people in the UBC community and become more cognizant of the real impact of our emotional connection to space in helping to construct sustainable cities. 

“Whether or not people feel that they belong or feel connected to a place has a big impact on how we treat our world. If we are more connected to something we are more likely to treat it with care,” said Barnes. “Talking about sense of place with connection to sustainability is really important, especially now as there are a lot of people who are trying to figure out how we can take better care of our planet.”