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Faces of sustainability: Dr. Daniel Hoornweg

Posted by Guest Author on July 06, 2015

Who are you and what do you do on campus?

I am an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Energy Systems and Nuclear Science. I work on energy and urban systems – energy for transportation, energy for cities, and how production and distribution of energy can get us closer to sustainability.

How did you get started in environmental work, and how long have you been interested in it?

Probably the best place to start is crossing the Wabigoon River the summer of 1981 en route to Red Lake, Ontario and my first co-op work term (as a geologist). The river stunk unbelievably and when I threw a stone on the foam at the base of a beautiful, albeit smelly, waterfall, the stone floated on the filth. We were some 60 km downstream from the Dryden paper mill. "Surely this is wrong," I thought. Since then I have worked in the oilfields of Alberta, local government in Ontario and overseas for some 20 years. In 1987 I started For Earth’s Sake in Guelph, Ontario - North America’s first retail store to exclusively sell environmentally friendlier products.

I’ve worked with more than 400 cities in some 60 countries to help build better basic services: water, waste, transportation and energy. I like to think that engineers working with cities and utilities is one of the most pragmatic and effective ways to get us to sustainability.

What does sustainability mean to you?

‘Sustainability’ is more a process than a destination; it comes in a multitude of ‘shades of grey.’ Sustainable development requires professionalism, passion and a good dose of pragmatism - and a much greater sense of urgency. 

When did you first become interested in sustainability?

I bought a copy of Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report. It was special ordered to the Guelph Bookshelf Café in 1987 (before Amazon and the Internet). This book captured the need, urgency and possible route to sustainable development more than anything before - or, arguably, since.

What could UOIT do to become more sustainable?

  • Forget the factions and personal and faculty frictions and work as multi-disciplinary teams.
  • Work with the City of Oshawa and Region of Durham to enhance local sustainability and take these tools and experiences across the country and around the world.
  • Stick to pragmatism and professionalism, and mix with passion and purpose – in all faculties.
  • Help graduating students know where they and their world are likely to be in 2050 and what they might be able to do during their careers to make it much more sustainable.
  • Embrace targets and metrics as well as the social narrative – we are all in this together. 

What’s your favourite environmental hobby or activity away from work? 

Canoeing, walking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or enjoying a drink on the deck atop the Canadian Shield. 

Who are your eco-heroes?

  • Fatima al-Firhi: In 859, this woman started the world’s first degree-granting university.
  • Elinor Ostrom: Arguably the world’s most practical economist – Nobel Prize, 2009.
  • Rachel Carson (Silent Spring, 1962); Gro Harlem Brundtland (Our Common Future, 1987); and Donella Meadows (Thinking in Systems, 2008): Three authors who launched and led sustainability efforts. 

What would you recommend to someone on campus who is interested in sustainability?

Enjoy the ride, learn one or two things well, and give a care.


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