Sustainability – new perspectives at Ara Research Week

News News & events

04 Aug 2016

Sustainability is the hot topic at the 2016 Research Week, 8 – 12 August, as Ara Institute of Canterbury staff delve into the practice and theory of sustainable practice across disciplines.

Research Week celebrates research at Ara, which focuses on solving real-world problems and developing ideas, under the theme of 'Applying Innovation'.

The focus on sustainability coincides with Ara releasing a Sustainability Charter that details the institute's vision for sustainability and principles for action. The charter recognises the special role educators play in preparing graduates to lead in their field, creating and implementing solutions for a better world.

Living by the sea

Dr Dave Irwin is no newcomer to the thorny challenges of sustainability education. He has been engaged in teaching and research related to learning in the outdoors since the late 1990s and programme leader of the Ara Bachelor of Sustainability and Outdoor Education since 2011.  


In his presentation Te hone moana / the ocean swell: learning to live by the sea, on Monday 8 August, Irwin will use the example of rising sea levels and ocean health to ask how educators can engage students with crises in a meaningful way, and what they should try to achieve through that engagement. "The danger is always that students will become overwhelmed by problems so it is important to be realistic but to be solution focused as well," he says.

Basing his presentation on a chapter written for a soon-to-be-published multidisciplinary book about human relationships with the ocean, Irwin structures sustainability education around four aspects of teaching and learning. First students must understand the issues, then they must have the ability to take action. They must be able to develop and adapt to a changing world, and finally they must learn to value living in the moment.

The balance: reality and hope

"Knowledge and action have been part of the dialogue for 20 years but adaptation was something I started thinking about more after houses in Sumner were rezoned because of the risk of future inundation due to rising sea levels. People took the Christchurch council to court because they weren't ready for that change. So students have to learn to adapt to changing conditions.

"Living in the moment is fairly new to sustainability education thinking. But it is crucial because sustainability education involves dealing with a lot of information that is depressing and bleak. Students must learn to enjoy life, to still live a life as best as they can and recharge themselves for finding solutions to the problems the world faces."

Bringing in new life, sustainably

Ara midwifery tutor Lorna Davies is grappling with how sustainable midwifery practice fits within the context of a rapidly changing, market-led culture of healthcare. Her presentation is Barriers to Sustainability in Midwifery Practice.

"I set out to explore how midwives could better work with the concept of sustainability within their professional lives... My research has demonstrated that although midwives value the concept of sustainability, they do not appear to have the time or space in their professional lives to fully engage with the concept in a global sense," she says.

Like many of us, midwives are pushed for the resources they need to employ more sustainable practice. Sustainability was a new priority for midwifery in New Zealand but an important one, Davies says. She has co-authored a textbook about sustainability in midwifery and is optimistic about the future.

"As I looked at sustainability in the midwifery context, it became apparent that this was an area that had been given very little consideration.

Sustainability gains prominence in tertiary

"However, the inclusion of sustainability within courses and programmes in tertiary education is growing and the rationale behind this is to provide a clearer understanding of an ecological worldview in order to address issues such as climate change and demographic changes. 

"Discussions around sustainability and health have been gaining  momentum in many countries, including New Zealand with groups such as Ora Taiao (New Zealand Health and Climate Change Council) calling for changes in approaches to healthcare. My research will serve to translate these concerns into the area of maternity care in terms of environmental, social/cultural and economic tenets of sustainability."

Irwin and Davies present their research under the Kaleidoscope session on 8 August from 12.10pm to 1.45pm – see for programme details.

The second Kaleidoscope session is on 9 August, while students pitch a project on 11 and 12 August, all in L233. The Great Debate on 10 August from 12.10pm-1pm in C232 sees two panels of staff debating the topic "Big Brother is making your choices" in what is always a lively, and sometimes surprising, event.