Two graduate students – Western’s biggest bird booster and a neuroscientist with a passion for eco-fashion – have been named two of London, Ont.’s top environmental advocates.
Biology PhD student Brendon Samuels and environmental neuroscientist Indra Bishnoi are recipients of the Green Leader Award from Green Economy London and the London Environmental Network. The award recognizes and celebrates area businesses and individuals for environmental stewardship and sustainability.
Samuels’s advocacy for bird-friendly window design, both in new construction and in retrofitted buildings, has helped make Western’s campus and London safer for winged creatures. He has championed biodiversity and climate-change education and practice throughout the city.
Bishnoi, meanwhile, mobilized Western’s Society of Graduate Students (SOGS) to declare that the planet is in a climate emergency and called for sustainability commitments on campus, as well as locally, nationally and internationally.
Fashion with a cause
This week, Bishnoi also launched a sustainable fashion brand called jeobyindra.com.
“’Jeo’ in Hindi means ‘live’ and that’s really what it’s for: for the life of the planet,” she said.
The fashion industry is notorious for its high use of water and chemical during production, and for low wages paid to labourers, she said.
By contrast, sustainable fashion uses eco-friendly fabric, ethical means of production and is made by workers paid fairly for their labour. Bishnoi calls it style that prioritizes people and the planet.
“Rather than calling up people to say, ‘You should care about climate change,’ this is sort of my foot in the door,” she said.
The clothing line reflects Bishnoi’s South Asian heritage, with a twist.
One yellow saree top, for example, is made of banana ‘silk’ – fibre derived from the inner and outer linings of banana peels. Another is made from the fibre of oranges.
Bishnoi, who chairs the SOGS sustainability committee, said her academic and environmental work mesh well with her fledgling business. “Entrepreneurship brings research out of the ivory tower and puts it into the hands of people who can bring about change in the real world.”
For Samuels, pushing for change has resulted in fewer bird-strikes against Western buildings and more biodiversity across campus, the latter embedded as a priority in the Towards Western at 150 strategic plan.
His research has included enumerating birds he finds dead or injured beside buildings. And he successfully lobbied Western to apply bird-friendly window coatings to some campus buildings including, recently, the International and Graduate Affairs Building (IGAB) where he has already noticed a reduction in collisions.
“With Western’s retrofits and commitment to bird-friendly construction for new builds, it’s a first for universities in Ontario. It would be great if other Ontario universities could follow Western’s lead,” Samuels said.
Samuels is also urging the City of London to follow Western’s lead in its buildings and in new developments.
“This has kind of taken on a life of its own for me. I meet the coolest people and this is a great opportunity to use my academic experience to make a difference on and off campus.
“I’ve been fortunate to find that at Western, and in London, there are so many people who support what I’m doing, I never feel as if I’m doing it by myself.”
The pair received their Green Leader award during a recent ceremony that honoured a total of nine London companies, organizations and individuals for prioritizing the environment in their operations, business practices and lives.