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From Theory to Practice: One Scholar’s Practical Approach to Sustainability

Natalie Vasilivetsky joined the Environmental Research & Education Foundation’s (EREF) latest class of scholars in the fall of 2023. Her academic and professional work in advancing sustainability and resource recovery led her to the Department of Sustainability at the University of Guelph (UofG), Ontario. 

Natalie completed her Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Philosophy in 2017 at UofG. During this program, she became interested in human-environment interactions and community-based environmental initiatives, guiding her towards a career centered on sustainability. She’s currently the Environmental Sustainability Coordinator for UofG’s Sustainability Office, where she’s worked for over a decade. In this role, her engagement with students on various resource recovery projects fostered a growing interest in the systemic challenges and opportunities within waste management.

“I was always intrigued by the big-picture, structural implications of the waste system. Specifically, I was interested in how top-down policy directives and funding changes could benefit operations management and grassroots action for resource recovery. This led me to Dr. Kate Parizeau’s work, and I instantly knew I wanted to work in her lab.”

Dr. Parizeau’s work with the Circular Innovation Council and involvement in the Guelph-Wellington Commercial Food Waste Diversion Collective showcased the tangible impacts of innovative resource recovery projects. Joining this work marked the beginning of Natalie’s deep dive into the intricacies of waste operations management within the Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional (IC&I) sector, the transition towards a circular economy, and the implementation of corporate waste reduction and sustainability practices.

“My work is structured around the intersections of operations management, experiential learning, and resource recovery. One of my favourite projects was working with students to create a large-scale food waste diversion program for the University of Guelph, which has diverted over 500 tonnes of organics to date.”

This initiative not only served as a practical application of her interests but also as a catalyst for broader engagement. The success of this program, evidenced by the many inquiries she received from across North America, underscored the demand for scalable and replicable sustainability solutions. It solidified Natalie’s resolve to explore the factors that contribute to the success of such programs, aiming to provide a blueprint for replication in diverse contexts.

Natalie’s current research aims to understand the applicability and feasibility of the Guelph-Wellington Commercial Food Waste Diversion Collective project, shedding light on its potential scalability and effectiveness in addressing food waste challenges within Canada’s IC&I sector. Using program evaluation as her primary method, Natalie seeks to answer critical questions such as:

  • What key factors contribute to the success of this initiative? Which conditions are necessary to replicate these factors? 
  • How do stakeholders perceive the effectiveness and sustainability of the pilot initiative, and what barriers exist to its wider adoption?
  • What lessons can be drawn from the pilot initiative in terms of best practices, strategies, and policies for future food waste reduction efforts in the IC&I sector nationally?

By addressing these questions, Natalie’s research contributes valuable insights into the real-world impact and potential of the Circular Innovation Council’s pilot initiative, guiding future program development, policy formulation, and strategic decision-making in the realm of food waste management.

As Natalie looks to the future, her ambition is to leverage her research to demonstrate the efficacy and necessity of large-scale food waste diversion initiatives. She envisions her work influencing policy and operational practices within governing bodies and organizations dedicated to sustainability.

Natalie’s contribution to the industry promises an experienced and unique perspective on the potential interplay between policy, operations management, and grassroots action in sustainability. Attendees can look forward to engaging discussions and valuable insights from Natalie’s work, underscoring the potential of academic research to drive real-world environmental solutions.

“Being selected as an EREF scholar is a pivotal moment in my journey towards sustainability and resource management. This sponsorship is much more than financial support; it represents a validation of my research and its potential to effect systemic change. The opportunity to share my work is incredibly empowering, and I’m excited about the conversations and actions that our collaboration will ignite, driving us closer to realizing a more sustainable future.”  

About EREF

EREF is a 501(c)3 class charity that advances scientific research and creates educational pathways that enable innovation in sustainable waste management practices. For complete information on EREF-funded research, its scholarship program, and how to donate to this great cause, visit erefdn.org.

Media Contact:

Stephen Aber
Communications Manager
Email: saber@erefdn.org