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Championing biodiversity and sustainability

Dr Elizabeth Vander Meer's role in the department of Social Responsibility and Sustainability has seen her implement the University's climate change strategy while developing student projects with a focus on the environment and biodiversity on campus.

Elizabeth Vander Meer

My background

I received a Masters and PhD, awarded in 2008, from Lancaster University in Environmental Policy and Ethics, where I focused on biodiversity policy and the ethics around conservation approaches with case studies in Brazil and Mexico. Fieldwork involved visits to biosphere reserve sites and surrounding urban areas to get a sense of how conservation was being undertaken, the local cultures and ethics , and the pressures on nonhuman and human populations. I returned to academic student life to pursue a part-time distance-learning MA in Anthrozoology with the University of Exeter in 2013. There, I focused on human-wildlife conflict, wildlife rehabilitation and wild animals in captivity.

I have been employed by the University of Edinburgh since 2003, at first in part-time roles as I finished my degree at a distance and then fulltime in policy, research and project support positions; thus, in terms of my working life, there is not much before Edinburgh! My current role as Climate Policy Manager in the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability (SRS) has led to my most satisfying work so far with the University. I was inspired to study environmental policy and ethics as a result of growing up in Fiji and Florida, both places teeming with diversity, but facing the conservation challenges of a small island and of a state in the grips of rampant and sprawling development.

At Edinburgh

As Climate Policy Manager, I was first employed to coordinate development of the University’s climate change strategy, Zero by 2040. We launched the strategy successfully, and since then I have devoted time to developing sub-strategies in adaptation and biodiversity. Other tasks include development of a research hub to collate climate change and biodiversity-related research for show-casing, responding to government consultations, and writing policy briefings.  I am also responsible for carbon reporting for the University, collating our yearly response for mandatory climate change reporting to the Scottish Government.

I have been able to engage with students through the living lab programme, which is defined as the use of our academic and student research capabilities to solve social responsibility and sustainability issues relating to our infrastructure and practices. It provides rich learning experiences for students while contributing to real-world operational solutions.  I worked with students and academic colleagues on a MSc in Advanced Sustainable Design Semester 1 project last year to re-envision a building on central campus for sustainability, future climate and future learning; the course director, John Brennan, and the volunteer and design students were all inspiring with their creativity, enthusiasm and commitment to the project.

I have also overseen exciting biodiversity projects, including a course placement student in SRS who mapped and scored green spaces at Pollock Halls as a trial of a draft standard developed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. A dissertation placement student worked on a project for us to capture perceptions of “wild” areas on campuses, to determine possible reactions to expansion of un-mown or less managed spaces for the benefit of biodiversity. These are just a few examples that have inspired me so far and I look forward to working in Semester 2 on a sustainable design community project and on a coursework project in nature, greenspaces and health, that will feed into the biodiversity strategy. 

We hope to continue to grow projects like these, improve our carbon reporting and expand partnerships and collaborations to proactively address issues of climate change and biodiversity on our campuses but also in the wider context of the city of Edinburgh and beyond. My colleagues in SRS are dedicated to social responsibility and sustainability issues, making a real impact, and it is extremely satisfying to be surrounded by passionate people.

Something I know...

People probably don’t know that the anthrozoology side of my expertise has involved the study of primates and predators, considering coexistence and these animals in captivity.

Related links

Social Responsibility and Sustainability