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Wilfrid Laurier University Office of Research Services
April 24, 2014
Canadian Excellence

Project Descriptions

Current Research Projects

Youth leading environmental change (2011-2014), PI: Manuel Riemer

Global climate change (GCC) is a complex problem that is interconnected with many other societal issues such as poverty and social justice. An increasing number of scholars argue that current approaches to reducing GCC (e.g., encouraging people to change light bulbs) are not sufficient in creating a new culture of conservation and sustainability. Given the complexity of this area, however, how do we engage the global community in moving from a culture of consumption into a culture of sustainability? Young people have always been among the main agents for significant cultural changes, and it is unlikely that the needed change can be created without them. In this study, we are investigating the effectiveness of a social justice workshop we have developed in engaging young people in environmental action. This workshop was developed over several years using five pilot studies including one in India. This multi-national study involves eight co-investigators and collaborators, seven community partners, six youth advisors, and six peer facilitators across six different countries (Bangladesh, Canada, Germany, India, Uganda, and the USA). CEJRG is the project lead and we have one project manager, a research associate, a couple of PhD students, a MA student, and three undergraduate students work on this project. We are using a complex mixed-method longitudinal comparison group design. Funding was provided by a SSHRC Standard Research grant as well as internal grants from Laurier. We have recently completed our one year follow up and are now processing and analyzing the data. Preliminary findings suggest that the workshops have transformational potential but their success depends on the quality of implementation. More detailed results will be released soon.

Understanding motivations to save energy for small and medium sized businesses owners (2013-2014), PIs: Cindy Ward & Manuel Riemer

This project is being conducted in partnership with PulseEnergy, the largest North American provider for online energy information software. The goal is to develop a better understanding of what motivates small to medium business owners to reduce their energy use and how an effective marketing strategy could be developed. The study included interviews and surveys with business owners. Funding is provided by MITACS, Pulse Energy, and P&G Centre for Business & Sustainability. Data collection is completed and we are currently writing up the results. Findings suggests that it needs to “make good business sense” to the owners to save energy and most often this means there need to be clear cost savings that justify the investments.

TransLAB: Hochschule Bochum in Nachhaltiger Entwicklung [TransLAB: Sustainability developing at the Bochum University of Applied Science (2014-2017), PI: Petra Schweizer-Ries, Bochum University of Applied Science

This project studies the planned development of Bochum University of Applied Science into a leader of sustainability within the European context. We are specifically interested in observing the process of communication and collaboration of the transdisciplinary team and the multiple stakeholders at this university. The role of the CEJRG members in this project is that of a “critical friend” who observe and support the process from the outside. Funding for this 3-year project is provided by the Ministerium für Innovation, Wissenschaft und Forschung von NRW (Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Research of the state of North Rhine-Westfalia).

Past Research Projects

The Narrative Approach and its Ability to Educate and Motivate Students about Environmental Justice (2012-2013). PI: Alexa Stovold

The narrative approach can be defined as: An individual or group of individuals sharing their lived experiences through narratives or stories as a form of education and insight into specific areas of investigation. Although the narrative approach has been under-studied, research has shown that it can have a profound impact on those who witness individuals’ sharing their lived experiences (Thorton, & Novak, 2010).  As part of the advanced undergraduate Psychology, Environment and Action course offered at Wilfrid Laurier University, students heard a personal story from environmental activist Ada Lockridge, who has experienced a series of environmental injustices as a resident of the Aamjwinaang reserve in the middle of “Chemical Valley” in Sarnia, which is home to 40% of Canada’s petro-chemical industry. This study investigates the effectiveness of this narrative approach and its ability to facilitate students’ learning and understanding of environmental justice, as well as motivate them to learn about environmental issues and take actions toward change. Ten semi-structured, qualitative interviews have been conducted with students from the course. Funding was made available through the YLEC SSHRC grant.

The impact of Camp Suzuki in the Rouge (2011-2013), PI: Manuel Riemer 

This research focuses on the long-term impacts of a workshop called "Camp Suzuki in the Rouge", which is being conducted by our partner, the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF). The main purpose of the workshop is to mentor and support community leaders in engaging their own communities to use the park. With our research study we would like to understand how this workshop is impacting the long-term environmental and community engagement behaviours of participants. We also want to understand how the community they are trying to engage is impacted by their engagement efforts. We are using a complex mixed-methods, longitudinal design to assess the impact on both the participants and the community members. This research serves as pilot work for a planned large-scale study to develop a methodology for assessing the ripple effect of community leadership trainings. The study will be completed in March of 2013. Funding is provided by the David Suzuki Foundation.

Long-term Motivation and Environmental Engagement Workshops. (2012-2013) PI: Radha Sayal

This study examines the factors that sustain and disable one’s long-term motivation after attending an environmental engagement program. The study examined the Camp Suzuki in the Rouge program, which was facilitated by the David Suzuki Foundation. The program goal was to raise awareness about Rouge Park, which is Canada’s first urban national park. The study employs a mixed method design where both surveys and interviews are used to better understand participants’ program experiences in terms of their change in motivation towards the environment, the actual commitment to the environment and engaging their community, and the overall impact of the program. The aim of the study is to gain a better understanding of what factors contribute to long-term motivation in order to make environmental engagement programs more efficient and effective.

Collaboration among environmental organizations in the Waterloo Region (2010-2013), PI: Felix Munger

The study was initiated at the request of many of the Waterloo regional environmental organizations, in order to make informed decisions regarding the potential formalization of their collaborations. It was suggested that formalized collaboration might increase organizational effectiveness and the efficacy of the environmental system in the region by creating, for example, a stronger voice within the regional political system. The study includes two phases. During Phase I, survey data were collected from 25 local environmental organizations and analyzed using Social Network Analysis - SNA utilizes statistical procedures to generate graphical representations of relationships and activities within a network of actors. In order to evaluate the usefulness of these graphs and to further understand the process of collaboration, Felix conducted a series of interviews and focus groups during Phase II. In this phase, we are also testing a theoretical model of collaboration that Felix and I have developed. In collaboration with the Community Information Centre and an environmental web service, we are using the data from the survey to produce an online Green Book.

Assessing the degree to which retailers are currently shaping consumer preferences for energy and water conserving products (2011-2012)

Despite claims by both retailers and consumers that there is an interest in “buying green”, there is a disconnect between retailers and consumers regarding the offering of sustainable products in stores. Consumers assert they have trouble finding sustainable products because of confusion at the point of purchase (i.e. lack of information and awareness of product availability) and, in some cases, difficulty locating retailers who sell these products. In this study, led by MySustainableCanada, my colleague Dr. Jennifer Lynes from the University of Waterloo, and myself, we are trying to determine how marketing mix strategies are used by retailers to influence consumer purchases towards energy and water efficient products over conventional products and what potential barriers and incentives exist for consumers at the point of purchase when attempting to purchase these products. This multi-method study collected data in two ways: an information review of secondary data sources and covert observation (i.e., mystery shopping) of the shopping experience at retail stores in Ontario. A total of 240 mystery shopping instances in 38 retail stores in two regions were conducted. We are currently in the process of writing the final report and several publications are planned. Funding for this study was provided by Industry Canada – Office of Consumer Affairs.

Reducing vulnerability of the urban homeless to climate change (2009-2011); Funding Agencies: SSHRC ($44,290) and CUHI ($10,000; application pending) Partners: Dr. Johanna Wandel (University of Waterloo) and the Region of Waterloo Department of Social Services; Members involved: Manuel Riemer (Co-PI), Kate Klein (RA), and Jacqueline de Schutter (RA)

With this pilot research we are working towards a better understanding of the vulnerability of those experiencing homelessness in the urban centers of Waterloo region. This case study is being achieved using three objectives: 1.To assess the current vulnerability of the target group, the urban homeless of Waterloo Region, to climate change; 2. To identify future changes in the target group’s vulnerability given what we know from climate and air quality science; and 3. To reduce the vulnerability of the target group. The research is being conducted by a team of researchers and students in collaboration with Waterloo Region Department of Social Planning. The outcome of the proposed research includes not only insights on the pilot case study, but the development of new tools and methodologies to assess and reduce the vulnerability of marginalized populations in developed economies. Forty-eight qualitative interviews with people experiencing homelessness in Waterloo Region have been conducted and are currently being analyzed. A comprehensive knowledge transfer and action plan has been developed and will be carried out over the next 12 months. The goal is to develop a comprehensive strategic plan for Waterloo Region.

Homelessness and environmental justice (2009-2010); Student Project; Partners: Dr. Johanna Wandel, Wendy DeGomez (both University of Waterloo), and the Region of Waterloo Department of Social Services; Members involved: Kate Klein (PI) and Manuel Riemer (Supervisor)

This study is a phenomenological inquiry into the experience of environmental justice and injustice in a community of people experiencing homelessness. People who have experienced homelessness are a highly understudied population in environmental justice scholarship, despite the fact that due to their unique life situation, they experience the effects of global climate change, pollution, littering, and other environmental issues in a way that cannot be equated with the experiences of other people in low socio-economic brackets. This study explores their understandings of these injustices, as well as their experiences with attempts to address them: Do they understand their personal environment as a justice issue? Do they feel represented by the people making decisions on environmental issues that affect them? Is political engagement in environment issues something that appeals to them, and what barriers exist to their engagement?

Evaluation of Reduce the Juice (2009-2010). Funding agency: WLU Start-Up Grant; Partners: Reduce the Juice (RTJ); Members involved: Dana Pettus (Co-PI; RA) and Manuel Riemer (Co-PI; Supervisor)

RTJ is a youth-driven community education initiative in Waterloo Region. They employ high school students during the summer to canvas their neighbourhoods and persuade local residents to reduce their carbon footprint and air pollution by changing their transportation and energy-intensive household behaviours. This evaluation of their 2009 campaign includes a pre-post comparison group design to evaluate the impact of the high school students on residents. In addition, qualitative interviews are conducted with residents to explore the type of challenges they experienced in trying to change their behaviours and habit and what has helped them along the way.

Critical consciousness raising among high school students (2009-2012). Funding agency: WLU Start-up Grant; Partners: Reduce the Juice; Members involved: Livia Dittmer (Co-PI, RA), Gina Hickman (RA), and Manuel Riemer(Co-PI, Supervisor)

Building on pilot research that indicates the importance of complex interventions for environmental change, this case study is investigating the efficacy of a workshop-style intervention on raising critical consciousness of environmental factors on students employed by Reduce the Juice (RTJ). These four workshops, conducted over the summer, each focused on a particular theme (i.e., the ecological model, urban planning and design, government and policy, and environmental justice) and were designed to help the students develop an understanding of the multiple levels of influences that impact individuals’ environmental and transportation choices. This intervention intended to help the students develop knowledge and skills to help them in the short term, with their RTJ work as community educators, and in the long term as environmentalists. The students’ experiences are being explored phenomenologically through recordings of the workshops, qualitative interviews, journal entries from the RTJ Team Leaders, and questionnaires regarding the students’ previous environmental and general community involvement. This research is intended to help RTJ refine its training and programming to help it attain its goal of empowering youth to establish habits of environmentalism and community activism.

Creating just and sustainable communities: Exploring synergies between environmental justice, community psychology, and urban planning (2010-2012). Funding agency: Student project; Partners: Dr. Sandeep Agrawal (Ryerson University), Dan Murray (Regional Planning Office), Tapestry; Members involved: Felix Munger (PI) and Manuel Riemer (Co-PI; Supervisor)

In determining the underlying causes of the current environmental crisis, researchers increasingly point to the link between environmental degradation and other societal issues such as social injustices and the trend toward individualism and decline of community. In searching for pathways to change, we are developing a research program to systematically study attempts in creating alternative communities and to understand their successes and challenges in developing communities that are environmentally sustainable and socially just. The planned empirical study can only be accomplished with a cross-disciplinary approach that builds on the strengths and unique perspectives of community members, policy makers, and scholars from a variety of disciplines.