Date: Thursday, February 7th
Time: 3:15-4:30 PM
Location: Room 4004, Faculty of Social Sciences Building
(120 University Private), uOttawa campus


Tapping into what matters: Relational values and policy mixes for sustainability

In the face of pressing global sustainability challenges, opportunities pass by while prevailing responses draw piecemeal from a basket of well-worn tools, with little consideration of larger, systemic effects. The concept of relational values is quickly gaining traction as a crucial, and previously overlooked, way of understanding what matters to people and why. By incorporating relational values into decision-making of all kinds, we can make environmental policies and programs implementable and effective. We can avoid many of the unintended negative effects, and harmonize smart policy mixes to enable a transformation in social norms towards sustainability.

This talk examines four categories of sustainability solutions: incentives, certification, regulations and place-based approaches. It examines their strengths, as well as their limitations, from the perspective of structural and societal changes needed for sustainability. It delves into the idea that redesigning policy tools and approaches could unleash and normalize existing relational values of responsibility, in all sectors and across the supply chain. Crucially, where governments are not yet onside with or empowered to take strong environmental action, such changes could be driven by grassroots action. Although difficult to realize, such relational policy mixes could help achieve broadly agreed-upon sustainability goals without introducing draconian measures, thus preventing and addressing present and future injustices.


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Kai Chan is a professor at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia. Kai is an interdisciplinary, problem-oriented sustainability scientist, trained in ecology, policy, and ethics from Princeton and Stanford Universities. He strives to understand how social-ecological systems can be transformed to be both better and wilder. Kai leads CHANS lab (Connecting Human and Natural Systems), and is co-founder of CoSphere (a Community of Small-Planet Heroes). He is a UBC Killam Research Fellow; a Leopold Leadership Program fellow; a director on the board of the North American section of the Society for Conservation Biology; senior fellow of the Global Young Academy and of the Environmental Leadership Program; a member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists; Lead Editor of the new British Ecological Society journal People and Nature; a coordinating lead author for the IPBES Global Assessment; and (in 2012) the Fulbright Canada Visiting Research Chair at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Kai is in Ottawa until June on sabbatical working towards mainstreaming biodiversity and sustainability in government and industry decision-making, and would be pleased to chat with anyone working in related areas and/or on environmental values. He can be reached at