Sustainable Happiness Research Nationally Recognized

Cape Breton University professor, Dr. Catherine O’Brien, has received the 2011 Outstanding Post-Secondary Individual award presented by the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication (EECOM) for her research that focuses on child and youth friendly planning and sustainable happiness. More broadly her research explores how information revealed through sustainability and happiness studies can be merged to contribute to greater personal happiness, more responsible citizenship and ultimately to a more sustainable future for the earth and its inhabitants.

The EECOM awards are presented to individuals and groups from across the country making this recognition a great honour. “It is an important recognition in the area of environmental education, a recognition that acknowledges sustainable happiness as an outstanding contribution,” says Dr. O’Brien, a faculty member in the Education Department at CBU.

Dr. O’Brien’s work currently strengthens a pan-Canadian project entitled Children's Mobility, Health and Happiness- A Canadian School Travel Planning Model. The project is led by Green Communities Canada with collaboration from both CBU and the University of Toronto. This project involved the development of an education resource that can easily be adopted by every province. The resource links sustainable happiness with health education outcomes for grades primary to six. Dr. O’Brien notes the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School has had all of their grade four teachers attend a professional development workshop on the resource. The Manitoba Department of Education has circulated the link for the document to all of its elementary schools as well. This project is funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer through its CLASP initiative (Coalitions Linking Action and Science for Prevention), with additional funding support from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

In addition to this, the team is also working with partners in every province and territory to implement school travel planning, a comprehensive community-based initiative that taps into the increasingly urgent demand for safe and walkable neighbourhoods. “Working with the Centre for Sustainable Transportation at the University of Winnipeg, I co-authored the Child and Youth Friendly Land Use and Transport Planning Guidelines with Dr. Richard Gilbert that can also be used in every province,” she says.

Notably, Dr. O’Brien has been invited to present at the TEDxUTIHP event, themed The Human Experience, which is taking place in Toronto, Ont. on Thursday, September 17. The event will explore the social, environmental and medical issues affecting people around the world and the amazing men and women who are working to address them.

A leader in her field and active member of her community, Dr. O’Brien works closely with groups in the region such as AcTraC Cape Breton and The Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, N.S. Globally, she has shared her work in places such as UC Berkeley where she developed and taught a course with Rick Foster and Greg Hicks, who are both internationally recognized pioneers in the field of happiness and leadership.

EECOM is Canada’s only national, bilingual, charitable network for environmental learning. EECOM's Canadian Awards of Excellence in Environmental Education recognize individuals and organizations who have collectively influenced hundreds of thousands of Canadian citizens, and helped implement one of EECOM’s key goals – to advance environmental learning, ensuring Canadians are environmentally literate, engaging in environmental stewardship and contributing to a healthy future.