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Recap: The MSSI Research Theme Symposium

On November 9th & 10th, 2020 the MSSI hosted its third annual MSSI Research Theme Symposium. With keynote speakers from Azim Premji University in India and BASF Canada, along with presentations from each of the research themes, the event drew attendees from across McGill and beyond.

On November 9th and 10th, 2020 the four McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative (MSSI) research themes, along with the MSSI Hub, hosted the third annual MSSI Research Theme Symposium, bringing together over a hundred participants to deepen their understanding of sustainability and tune in to learn more about the important projects the themes are pursuing.

November 9th, 2020: Adapting Urban Environments & Sustaining Landscapes

With seventy-five per cent of the global population expected to be living in urban areas by 2050[1], no area of the planet will be unaffected by urbanization. Historically, the theory surrounding this vast phenomenon has centered on cities in the global North, but urbanization is happening in the global South as well—and at faster rates.

Professor Harini Nagendra, Director of the Azim Premji University Research Center in India, delivered the opening keynote on November 9th. Professor Nagendra spoke to urban sustainability from a global South perspective. She noted that historically, most research on urban centres in the global South has been led, if not entirely conducted, by researchers from the global North, who are likely to lack the necessary cultural context. Her presentation was a call for funders to promote locally-based research.

The keynote address was followed by presentations and discussions from the Sustaining Landscapes and Adapting to Urban Environments research themes.

The Urban Environments research theme was represented by Professor David Wachsmuth and Professor Kevin Manaugh, who presented a sneak peak of their ‘Sus’ (for sustainability) dashboard. As described in the presentation, the Sus dashboard was built to address the disjuncture between an increasingly sophisticated theoretical understanding of how cities function in socio-environmental systems and the application of that understanding in improving city life.

Brian Robinson and Laxmi Sushama presented on the Sustaining Landscapes research theme, with Professor Robinson providing a broad overview of the theme and their research topics, while Professor Sushama focused specifically on two Northern landscapes projects: super resolution climate simulation applications for the Arctic and southerly urban regions and sustainable technology for mine and other infrastructure adaptation.

Watch the keynote and research theme presentations from day one of the Symposium here.

Day One of the symposium wrapped up with an major announcement from Dean Anja Geitmann regarding the launch of a fifth research theme—CleanTech for Climate Action—along with a virtual student research fair.

November 10th, 2020: Creating Sustainable Materials & Sustainability Transitions

In Canada, eighty-six per cent of plastic waste ends up in landfills, four per cent is incinerated, and one per cent leaks directly into the environment.[2] Only nine per cent of plastic waste is actually being recycled, which results in $7.8 billion in trapped value from non-recycled plastics.

Amy Sandhu, the head of Sustainability and Government Relations at BASF Canada, delivered the November 10th opening keynote. Sandhu spoke to the reciChain Canada pilot program, which uses blockchain and digital plastic tracing technology embedded into plastic polymers to trace plastics through their lifecycle and contribute to the realization of a circular economy for plastic packaging. 

Following the reciChain keynote, the Creating Sustainable Materials research theme, represented by Professor Audrey Moores and Professor Nil Basu, walked the symposium attendees through their research theme’s various projects: quantum dot nanocrystals for LCD screens, sustainable perovskites project for photovoltaics, titanium dioxide in functional materials, responsible replacements for endocrine disrupting chemicals, and the sustainability checklist for materials research.

Professor Jaye Ellis and Professor Dror Etzion continued the conversation on behalf of the Sustainability Transitions research theme, presenting on scientific authority and sustainable governance and the PIVOT project — an initiative to amplify the actions of small- and medium-sized enterprises to halt carbon pollution and transition to the low-carbon economy—respectively.

Watch the research theme presentations from day two of the Symposium here.

A student panel, speaking to the student experience in interdisciplinary and sustainability research projects rounded off the day and wrapped up the Symposium.

The MSSI Hub would like to thank all students, staff and faculty who assisted in putting together this symposium. Without you, it would not have been possible. A special thanks to all research theme co-leads who put many hours into preparing for this event.


[1] Professor Harini Nagendra, MSSI Symposium presentation:

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