Brian Lawson ’82 and Joannah Lawson (Master of Industrial Relations ’89, U of T) are the alumni behind Trinity’s Integrated Sustainability Initiative, which is weaving sustainability into all facets of College life. In 2019, the Lawsons’ $10-million gift to the Living Trinity Campaign launched the Integrated Sustainability Initiative and led the fundraising for the Lawson Centre for Sustainability, a living example of how communities can meet the challenges of climate change. The Lawson Centre is scheduled to open in 2024.

1. The two of you and your son Alexander (Trinity class of 2024; Co-Head of Arts) attended the small ground blessing ceremony for the Lawson Centre for Sustainability this past November. What was that experience like?

JOANNAH: We loved that it was a “ground blessing” instead of a “ground breaking,” and we appreciated the planting of oak saplings as part of the ceremony. The oak tree serves as a beautiful metaphor for taking the acorns from a previous generation of trees to draw upon for future growth and flourishing. Learning that the saplings were from a mother tree on the U of T campus that is more than a century old made it even more meaningful.
[Editor’s note: To learn more about the provenance of the red oak saplings that will become part of the reimagined Trinity campus, read the story on page 10 of Wycliffe’s Insight magazine.]

BRIAN: The ground blessing was a new and fascinating experience for us. It was a truly special moment when the National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop, The Most Rev. Mark MacDonald, led a service of smudging to bless the earth on which the building will stand. [Editor’s note: Register here to experience the YouTube premiere of the Trinity ground blessing on Feb. 23 at 7 p.m.] We were glad that student, staff, faculty and alumni representatives were there—and of course we were delighted to be joined by our son Alexander, in his role as one of the student leaders.


2. The mission of your family foundation is “to promote human and planetary health through an environmentally sustainable food system.” Which aspects of the Lawson Centre for Sustainability and the Integrated Sustainability Initiative excite you most when it comes to supporting that mission?

JOANNAH: Sustainability is one of the most significant and challenging global issues of our time. The goal of our foundation is to support activities that will improve human health and the health of the environment—the two are inextricably linked. We believe food systems are a big part of the solution, through high-quality nutrition and regenerative agriculture, and it’s been exciting to see Trinity set sustainability as a strategic direction for the College.

BRIAN: The opportunities that the Trinity Integrated Sustainability Initiative create for students and the College fill us with hope. Integrating sustainability into the Trinity curriculum will provide all students with an even greater capacity and passion to make change. So many aspects of the new building—its community kitchen, roof-top garden and low-impact environmental footprint—resonate with our goals of supporting human and environmental health. They will also create unique learning experiences that will become ingrained in the thinking of our future leaders. Both of us are encouraged by what this means for Trinity students, for the potential for change, and for a more sustainable future.


3. What impacts have the COVID-19 pandemic had on you and your family?

JOANNAH: We’re lucky because as a family we really like each other. While online learning for our high school- and university-aged children has been trying and has somewhat diminished their school experience, the silver lining has been more time spent together. We’re lucky because as a family we really like each other and have built some special memories in the past two years that we will cherish.

BRIAN: We have worked out together, cooked together and played a lot of games, Parcheesi being the family favourite.


4. Which people or organizations have inspired you most in your journey to bringing the Lawson Centre for Sustainability to life?

BRIAN: The enthusiasm of the leadership at Trinity, the students, faculty and the entire community are our inspiration. We’ve also been inspired by the building team’s creativity and thoughtfulness in bringing together the physical aspects of the new building with the programming and activities that it supports, to create an environment that will have tremendous positive impact on integrating sustainability into the overall Trinity experience.

JOANNAH: There’s a lot of information out there about climate change, sustainability and global health, and it can sometimes feel overwhelming. We are big advocates of listening to evidence-based, subject matter experts to help us chart a more sustainable future. And we’re excited that the Integrated Sustainability Initiative and the new building will help to nurture our next generation of leaders in sustainability, nutrition and overall health.


5. What changes have you made personally when it comes to living more sustainably that we might all consider for our own lives?

BRIAN: For me, it’s about being mindful that every action we humans make has an impact, and that every action matters, big and small. Each of us can make a difference.

JOANNAH: We focus on a few areas where we know we can make a real impact—the food we eat, transportation, and reducing our use of packaged items, especially single-use plastics. Our diet consists of mostly plant-based whole foods for our health and the health of the planet, we compost our food scraps, we take public transportation as much as possible, and we drive an electric vehicle. And we have discovered fabulous alternatives to buying products in plastic bottles such as using an ‘eco-laundry egg’, pellets we add to water for liquid hand soap, and carrying our own reusable water bottles and coffee mugs.


Bonus question: What is your go-to comfort meal/food during the winter?

BRIAN: Homemade bread! I created my own sourdough starter back in 2019, before the pandemic sourdough starter craze started. I use it to bake my own bread all the time.

JOANNAH: In addition to enjoying Brian’s bread, I make a lot of bean dishes—they are the ultimate foundational food and are so easy and versatile. I highly recommend signing up for the Canada Food Guide email blasts for great recipes, food tips, and inspiration. If you have not yet seen the Canada Food Guide Food Plate, you are in for a beautiful surprise. The latest version of the guide is vastly different from those in the past. It is science-based, and promotes plant-based, whole foods that are good for human and planetary health.