Sustainability is a word that gets used a lot these days, and sometimes it pays to unpack what we actually mean when we say it. From everyday personal decisions such as whether or not to use a supermarket plastic bag, to large-scale corporate initiatives to decarbonise, sustainability is ultimately about responsibility—for our communities, for our planet, and for future generations.
One of the most pressing issues facing this generation is of course climate change, and the University is wholly committed to playing its part in the fight against it. Our Climate Change Research Institute and Science in Society Group are working to provide a better interface between science and policy. Our Antarctic Research Centre aims to improve understanding of Antarctic climate history and processes, and their influence on the global climate system. Our legal scholars contribute to advances in international environmental law, and our engineers and physical scientists work on sustainable energy systems.
This issue also touches on research our academics are doing into distinct but interlinked challenges such as biodiversity loss, pesticide regulation, freshwater decline, and housing density, which need to be addressed with no less urgency if we are to build a sustainable future.
Our researchers are looking into ways to build a deeper public discourse around environmental issues by partnering the natural sciences with other disciplines such as the arts and humanities. In this issue, you can read about the work being done by academics such as Professor James Renwick, Associate Professor Rebecca Priestley, and Dr Wokje Abrahamse to communicate complex ideas and change people’s behaviours through these means.
As a large organisation, we are looking at what we can do to make our own practices and processes more sustainable. We have aligned our own actions with our research by adopting the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment and by actively reducing our own carbon footprint. I’m particularly pleased that we are the first New Zealand university to be developing a comprehensive plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2030—which you can read more about in this issue.
We are also launching our own Sustainability Week in September, in association with our media partner Newsroom, and involving cross-university seminars, debates, and events that aim to stimulate thought and action. Our efforts to demonstrate sustainability leadership have been recognised with numerous awards, including two Australasian Green Gown Awards we received in 2018, and a prestigious International Green Gown award in July 2019 for our Victoria Plus Programme. The University was a finalist in the sustainability section of the 2019 Wellington Gold Awards.
The research of course is crystal clear. The challenges posed to the world by climate instability and ocean acidification are already evident. The consequences to life as we know it are grave and will be irreversibly set in motion unless we rapidly decarbonise the world’s energy supply and actively protect our planet’s rich biodiversity.
I hope you enjoy reading about our contributions to sustainability research, but more importantly, I hope that the stories in this issue spur you to take action at any level you can—be it personal, community, national, or global.
Professor Grant Guilford