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International Resources Industries and Sustainability Centre (IRIS)

Analyzing Environmental and Social Issues

IRIS researches state-of-the-art innovative management practices and their impacts on societal issues, both environmental and social, and the role that those practices may play in moving industry towards a more sustainable posture.

The mission of IRIS is to create and disseminate leading-edge sustainability research through publications, teaching and various forms of outreach to industry and community audiences.

The need for IRIS grew out of several concurrent trends that have changed resource-based industries in recent years:

  1. There has been increasing pressure on organizations in these industries to use approaches that are more environmentally and socially acceptable than historical practices, and to deal with local communities, First Nations, environmentalists and others as legitimate stakeholders in resource development.
  2. With the sustained high price of oil, the Alberta Oil Sands have become recognized internationally as the second most significant source of oil in the world after Saudi Arabia. Developing this resource in a societally acceptable manner is a major challenge.
  3. The Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, which formed the historical basis of the region's conventional energy wealth, is slowly becoming depleted. Canadian energy companies are looking globally for new sources of oil and gas to develop. These new sources offer greater productivity and are more often than not found in developing parts of the world and in environmentally and socially sensitive areas.

Benefits to Industry

The success of industry in these endeavours hinges on both technical prowess and skill at managing the environmental and social risks of these 'upstream' activities. Increasingly, companies operating in Canada are developing technical and managerial skills, with skills in managing environmental and social risks being a key success factor. These skills are being exported through international energy plays involving Canadian companies or are being disseminated throughout multinational majors from their Canadian subsidiaries.

Members of IRIS have been engaged in projects with Shell Canada and Suncor Energy in the Alberta Oil Sands and with Suncor Energy in Jordan. They have also been involved with Pacalta and Encana in Ecuador and with the Suncor/Southern Pacific Petroleum Joint Venture in Australia.

The need for sustainable development expertise is not limited to the oil and gas sector. The forestry industry is also facing the multiple pressures of local communities, First Nations, environmentalists, and other stakeholders. Additional pressures in this industry come from global markets - from environmentalists, consumers and major retailers. The mining and tourism industries are similarly facing pressures for sustainable development from various fronts.

Benefits to the Community

The faculty members associated with the Institute are regularly engaged in activities involving public outreach, consultation, and acting in an advisory capacity. Primarily this involves serving as expert-scientific advisors/participants in various regional, national and international forums, and advisory/consultancy work for private and public sector organizations, as well as for non-governmental organizations (NGO's).

Research Priorities

In consultation with our key constituents, we have identified three urgent research and knowledge mobilization challenges for resource companies. Our areas of research and outreach focus are:

  1. How to engage effectively with local communities, both in Canada and in the developing countries in which Canadian multinationals operate;
  2. How to develop and implement successful climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies; and
  3. How to manage limited water resources.

International Resources Industries and Sustainability Centre (IRIS)