Understanding and managing the environmental and social costs and benefits of economic activity is a defining challenge of the modern era. This challenge provides the nucleus for the rapidly evolving field of sustainability measurement and management.
Modern food systems connect us, biophysically and socially. They are also key contributors to many of our most pressing sustainability issues, from local through global scales.
The Food Systems Priority Research for Integrated Sustainability Management (PRISM) Lab, located at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus, is a hub for cross-cutting research at the intersection of food system sustainability measurement and management.
Food System Sustainability Measurement and Management
Life Cycle Thinking
Life cycle thinking refers to sustainability measurement and management approaches that consider all relevant supply chain interactions associated with a product, service, activity, or entity. According to Klöpffer (2003) “Life cycle thinking is the prerequisite of any sound sustainability assessment. It does not make any sense at all to improve one part of the system in one country or in one step of the life cycle if this ‘improvement’ has negative consequences for other parts of the system which may outweigh the advantages achieved.” In other words, life cycle thinking is essential to understanding and preventing unintentional burden-shifting, whether between different kinds of sustainability impacts or between different supply chain stages or stakeholders that may occur as a result of our management decisions. Life cycle thinking and tools have become central to sustainability science.
Food Systems in Context
Modern food systems play a pivotal role in determining sustainability outcomes at multiple scales. This includes our collective resource demands, environmental pressures related to biodiversity, waste emissions to air, soil and water, and socio-economic benefits and costs. Projected growth in food production, changing patterns of production and consumption, increased competition for land, water, and energy resources, technological developments, and both social and environmental instabilities intersect to create profound challenges and opportunities. Understanding and managing food production systems, which are often supported by supply chains that span multiple borders, ecosystems, and societies, in order to respond to these challenges and to capitalize on emerging opportunities requires perspectives and tools of commensurate scope.
Research in the Food Systems PRISM lab applies life cycle thinking and tools to explore and to help resolve pressing questions at the interface of food, ecology and society. Current work focuses, in particular, on sustainability issues relevant to the Canadian egg industry and to the Canadian food sector, more broadly.
Interested in Working in the Food Systems PRISM Lab?
Are you motivated, innately curious, and highly disciplined? Are you keen to hone your research skills and knowledge? Do you have a strong interest in food system sustainability issues? Are you willing and able to critically examine your own assumptions, and to challenge and be challenged in an environment of respect, collaboration, and exploration? Does the prospect of living, working, and playing in the beautiful Okanagan Valley in western Canada match your lifestyle aspirations? If so, the Food Systems PRISM Lab at the University of British Columbia might be a good match for you.
The decision to apply for graduate studies opportunities should not be taken lightly. Graduate school is a lot of work. It can also be very rewarding, provided that you are genuinely interested in the research you are undertaking, and committed to success. In my experience, the following attributes are reliable predictors of success as a graduate student.
- Cleverness - as evidenced by a strong academic track record
- Curiosity - a genuine interest in research and exploration
- Creativity - the ability to identify interesting/important research questions, formulate innovative and rigorous research methods, and synthesize and build upon theory, methods, concepts, and information from across relevant disciplinary and interdisciplinary domains
- Criticality - the capacity to apply logic and rigour in discriminating among sources of information, arguments, methods, etc.
- Communication skills - the ability to communicate clearly and succinctly (in particular, in written form)
- Commitment - a combination of personal attributes and soft skills including ambition, self-motivation, discipline, and professionalism