Brendan directs a team of design, communications, media production and learning professionals in the UNU Media Centre which is responsible for the provision of a comprehensive range of communication and online educational services. These include public relations; maintenance of institutional links with key media partners; provision of design, brand/identity and production support for UNU research; provision of support with web development and content management; and provision of editorial support. In addition, the UNU Media Centre develops and collaborates on a range of e-learning projects; undertakes research; develops open educational resources; and provides a range of audio visual and creative services including interactive media, video documentaries and interviews, as well as audio podcasts.
Brendan’s professional interests lie at the intersection between environmental sustainability, human security, communications and learning. He joined the UNU in 1996 as a Ph.D. fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies. He became a research fellow in 1997 and undertook research on the impact of information technology on communications and education related to the local environment (through the Iwate Environment Network project), including the emergence of virtual universities and online learning.
He was appointed Academic Programme Officer at the UNU Centre in 2002 and set up the UNU Media Studio in collaboration with Keio University (which subsequently became the UNU Media Centre in 2009). He has overseen the development of a range of online educational projects that focus on environmental and natural resource management issues (e.g., Ayuquila River E-case study, Chichinautzin Biological Corridor Documentary, Satoyama Initiative Portal, EIA and SEA course modules, Our World 2.0). He also participated in various international collaborations including the implementation of the Global Virtual University (2002-2007), as the UNU focal point for the World Summit on the Information Society (2002 to 2005) and in facilitating the on-going Asia Pacific Initiative from 2002 to today. From 2006 onwards, he became a member of the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication exploring how to use the web and social media to promote conservation goals. In 2011, he was invited to be a peer reviewer for the Zero Order Draft of the IPCC 5th Assessment Report.
Prior to joining UNU, Brendan worked as a programme officer at the United Nations Environment Programme’s International Environmental Technology Centre based in Shiga Prefecture, Japan. He has nearly 30 years experience in environmental management research and practice. His initial research specialization as an undergraduate at Heriot-Watt University was social impact assessment with a particular emphasis on the measurement of the economic consequences of industrial plant closures using economic multiplier models. Subsequently, he focused on the socio-economic assessment of nuclear power stations in the United Kingdom as a consultant in the Power Station Impacts Research Team based in Oxford.
In the mid-1980s, he began to explore the environmental aspects of project development and came to Japan to research the role of environmental impact assessment in decision-making. In 1991 co-authored a book on Environmental Policy and Impact Assessment in Japan and continues to teach on this topic including the facilitation of a 100% online module on environmental assessment. In the early 1990s, he had the opportunity to put his research ideas in practice as an environmental planner with Ove Arup & Partners and Cobham Resource Consultants coordinating teams involved with the environmental assessment of motorway widening projects, airport developments and new power stations.
From 1992, Brendan began his doctoral research on the impact of the Rio Earth Summit on local environmental policy as well as the emergence of Local Agenda 21 and the importance of decentralization. Over the past 10 years, Brendan has mainly been concerned with how best to communicate complex scientific issues (mainly in relation to the environment) to the public. This led to various experiments using the web, social media and online educational tools. The most recent example is the 2008 launch of the UNU’s web magazine – Our World 2.0 – which looks at the interaction of climate change, peak oil, food security and biodiversity loss. The magazine and associated video documentaries have won a number of awards for the innovative approach taken to communicating UNU’s research and in the use of social media.
Related to this, Brendan has explored different aspects of environmental communication, sociology and psychology, but particularly the notions of ecological modernization and the New Environmental Paradigm with respect to environmental values and attitudes. Based on this research, he published an edited volume entitled “Ecological Modernisation and Japan” in 2005.
Brendan has considerable teaching experience and has been facilitating a range of online, video conference based and face to face courses. The topics he teaches on includes: human development and the environment, local environmental governance in a global framework, major social theories and the environment, environmental symbiosis and ethics, climate change, peak oil, food security, environmental assessment, as well as research communication, open education and learning, presentation skills and social media.
He is particularly concerned with the measurement of both the quality of student experiences of learning online and on the effectiveness of various online tools to support the communication of scientific research outcomes. He has published several papers on student online learning strategies, on the need to enhance science communication and on the value of openness in relation to learning, science, academic publishing and researcher engagement with non-specialists.