Community Matters at Dalhousie University

The Declaration, Volume 3, Number 3 : February 2000  [Partnerships]

By Ramond P. Cote

Dalhousie University, a public university founded in 1818, occupies 60 acres in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. It serves 13,500 students and offers 125-degree programs for undergraduates, graduates and professionals. The institution has a long history of commitment to environmental studies, research and practice. This article will survey Dalhousie’s academic and operational initiatives, paying particular attention to its connections with the surrounding community and region through its Joint Project course with the School for Resource and Environmental Studies, and the Burnside Project.


Although Dalhousie is one of the most recent signatories of the Talloires Declaration, its history in environmental research, teaching and management dates back to the time of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. In 1973, the university established one of the first interdisciplinary research institutes on the environment in Canada, the Institute for Resource and Environmental Studies (now School). In the late seventies, the Institute began offering a Master of Environmental Studies and a Master of Urban and Rural Planning, and the Faculty of Law began to establish its international reputation in marine and environmental law.

In the mid eighties, the university developed a new degree program, the Master of Marine Management, recognizing its location on Canada’s East Coast and its cross-university emphasis on oceans. Courses on the environment were being added to curricula across the university. New courses were being offered on Politics and the Environment in the Department of Political Science, Environmental Policy in the School of Public Administration, Environmental Chemistry in the Department of Chemistry, etc.

In the nineties, Dalhousie further expanded its offerings in the environmental field by instituting an Environmental Management concentration at the School of Business Administration, and an Environmental Engineering concentration in the Faculty of Engineering. The university was also co-sponsor of an international conference on University Action for Sustainable Development in 1991. New courses continued to be added to the curriculum across the campus including a first year undergraduate course in Environmental Studies. The Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences have both created minors in environmental studies at the bachelor’s level.
A new degree, the Bachelor of Management, is designed to foster a new perspective in management in which concepts are drawn from both business and public sector administration with information management and environmental management woven through them. The objective is to graduate a new manager for the 21st Century. This new degree also reflects the unique configuration of the Faculty of Management at Dalhousie that combines the Schools of Business Administration, Public Administration, Library and Information Studies, and Resource and Environmental Studies.


On the operational side, Dalhousie has not stood still. A recycling program initiated by one staff member of the School for Resource and Environmental Studies in the early eighties has now expanded across the university. A recent survey indicated that approximately fifty percent of the solid waste generated by the university is now diverted from landfills. An award winning small chemicals exchange program (called ChemEx) was initiated among local universities, schools and hospitals in the early 90’s. Dalhousie has also adopted an integrated pest management policy, a smoke free policy and a scent -free policy in the nineties.

The University adopted an environmental policy in 1994 and that policy is now under review by the Senate Committee on the Environment to ensure that it is consistent with the Talloires Declaration.


Community service is an important part of Dalhousie’s mission. One course and one project will exemplify the university implementation of this aspect of the mission. The School for Resource and Environmental Studies has, since its inception, required its graduate students to complete a Joint Project course. This course has two basic objectives: first, to teach students about project management and teamwork and second, to contribute to the community. The community as defined for this course can include the university itself, municipal governments, provincial government agencies and voluntary or not-for-profit organizations.

Some of the projects that have been undertaken are described below:

McNab’s Island – 1982

This project produced an audio-visual presentation, “McNab’s Island: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” designed to explore the historical and natural resources of McNab’s Island in Halifax Harbour, highlighting its value to the metropolitan area of Halifax. The presentation on slide and video formats is available on loan to schools, community groups and others.

Mahone Bay Coastal Improvements – 1984

This study examined the coastal zone of the town of Mahone Bay from the perspective of the potential opportunities for development based on social values, historical resources, tourism and the biophysical attributes of the harbour. The report was presented to the Town Council.

Conservation of Natural Areas and Wildlife in Nova Scotia – 1987

An audio-visual presentation was produced as part of a series of modules on conservation issues in the province as they related to the main themes of the World Conservation Strategy. This was part of an effort by the School to raise the profile of the WCS in Nova Scotia. The module characterized the uses and values of natural areas and wildlife and outlined conservation issues that had to be addressed.

Forest Ecology at the McFarlane Woods Nature Reserve – 1988

A school kit including a teacher’s guide, a student guide, a slide set and resource materials was produced to increase interest in the nature reserves and the study of landscape and resource uses. The kit encourages students to apply basic ecological field methods in two small study areas in the McFarlane Woods.

Survey of Shoreline Litter in Halifax Harbour – 1989

This award-winning project produced an accurate assessment of the type, amount and sources of persistent litter in the Harbour. Nineteen 200 metre sites were surveyed representing approximately 5% of the 76-kilometre shoreline, on three occasions. The results were presented at a meeting of government officials, non-governmental organizations and the media.

Bicycles as a Form of Urban Transportation – 1991

This project promoted the use of bicycles in Halifax. A roundtable discussion was organized involving representatives from local cycling and environmental groups, universities, recreational committees and various municipal and provincial agencies. The student team prepared a discussion document for the roundtable and produced a report that was distributed to participants.

Dalhousie University Environmental Audit – 1991

The project team developed a comprehensive framework for an environmental audit of the university. The framework embodies perspectives of both the university management and the departments, and it considers three functions: administration, education and research. A report, “Taking Up the Challenge,” was produced.

Cultivating Solutions in a Garden of Possibilities – 1997

This project produced six radio programs, which were broadcast on the university radio station CKDU and later on Radio for Peace International. The programs emphasized issues associated with community development, focusing specifically on Communities, Ethics, Business, Food, Health and Environmental Education.

Ecological Assessment of the Musquodoboit Trail – 1998

This project was undertaken in collaboration with the Musquodoboit Trailway Association. The team was asked to provide information on the ecological significance of the trail’s surroundings, and a detailed report on the flora of the area was prepared for the Association.

Taking Responsibility for Water Quality in the Bras d’Or Lakes – 1998

At the request of the Bras d’Or Stewardship Society, the team compiled information on the quality of the lakes in Cape Breton, focussing primarily on the link between sewage disposal and shellfish growing area closures. A report was prepared for the Stewardship Society and a pamphlet was produced intended to raise the public’s awareness of the relationship between the practices of homeowners and boaters and water quality. The pamphlet was eventually distributed throughout the area by the Society.


Burnside Industrial Park is one of the five largest parks in Canada, ranging over 2500 acres, with 1300 businesses and 18,000 employees. This research and development project, Canada’s first recognized industrial ecology project, has an active community involvement element. As ecosystems are more or less definable units linking species within communities with their chemical and physical surroundings, an industrial ecosystem must necessarily involve one or more business communities operating with full awareness of the environmental capacity of the area. The project has identified a number of strategies which will assist in the evolution of what is at best a very immature ecosystem into one which is more mature regarding the nature of materials and products and their reuse and recycling. This requires the creation of stronger networks among businesses in the Park.

Project staff have written a regular column, “The Burnside Ecosystem,” in the Park’s monthly newspaper for the past five years. The column is designed to educate business managers and employees about environmental issues and practices. An extension and information centre has been established in the Park as well. The centre is staffed by one full time employee and students from the engineering and business Coop programs who are trained to conduct environmental reviews of small businesses. The project also publishes a series of eco-efficiency fact sheets for businesses. Topics include: used oil management; vehicle maintenance and repair; managing organics in your business; water conservation; managing pallets; greening employees; and greener purchasing policies. These fact sheets are advertised and made available to businesses on request. The centre is a partnership between Dalhousie University and Nova Scotia Power Inc., the province’s private electric utility, with financial support from the environmental management and economic development agencies from the municipal, provincial and federal levels of government.

This project has generated international interest and the Park receives visitors from around the world to see the strategies in action and to study the evolution of the Park.


Progress continues to be made in administration, teaching, research and community service at Dalhousie. The University’s next major project may be the design and construction of the region’s most energy efficient and environmentally sensitive building for the Faculty of Management. This building would house the School for Resource and Environmental Studies and would serve as a regional demonstration project and teaching laboratory for planners, architects, engineers and environmental specialists.
Raymond P. Cote is a professor in the School for Resource and Environmental Studies and the Faculty of Management at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. He is reachable at tel: 902-494-1358; fax: 902-494-3728; e-mail: For more information on Dalhousie’s work with the Burnside Industrial Park, see; for information on the Eco-Efficiency Centre, see

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