Pulau Sipadan, Borneo. Photo by Andrea Schieber on Flickr.

The Heart of Borneo

Kaila Belovich, FURCA award winner, explains what drew her to study the island’s complex sustainability issues.


By Hussain Al-Rikabi

Kaila Belovich is graduating with a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Earth and atmospheric sciences and a minor in human geography. As part of her degree, she became interested in international sustainability issues and received both a Certificate in Sustainability and a Certificate in International Learning.

Her interests are already helping with her career, landing her a position as Environment and Climate Research Intern for the Aga Khan University during the pandemic, and she is now working with theWater Innovation Labs at Waterlution to tackle water problems in Lebanon.

Earlier this year, she won a FURCA Outstanding Sustainability Research Award for her research on sustainability challenges in Borneo.

So how did you get interested in the sustainability challenges of Borneo?

I got the idea of this project while taking HGP 450 Resource Management and Environmental Policy. We were asked to do a poster on a sustainability problem and, while reading National Geographic, I ran into an article about palm oil in Borneo. This piqued my interest and, from there, my research on Borneo began.

What is special about Borneo to you, that draws you to study it?

Borneo is an island that is politically divided among three countries: Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. So it was interesting to explore how the decision making of those countries, in terms of resource management, conservation, and the palm oil industry, were affecting the local communities.

(Clockwise from top left) 1. Anthracoceros albirostris 2. Bako National Park 3. Niah caves 4. Orangutan and child. Photos by Andrea Schieber on Flickr.

Do you see connections between what’s happening in Borneo and back here in Alberta, in terms of sustainability challenges?

Definitely! The issues of palm oil plantations in Borneo are similar to the oil and gas issues in Alberta. There are always conversations about how sustainable those practices are for the land and for communities. Also, the lack of inclusion of Indigenous communities in the decision-making process about issues impacting them directly is quite similar.

Why should other University of Alberta students pay attention to what’s happening with sustainability in Borneo?

I think it is really important to know that a lot of the products that we use on a day-to-day basis might have come from unsustainable practices. Borneo produces 80% of the world’s palm oil, so there is a good chance that a product containing palm oil has come from there. Therefore, it is important for us as consumers to be conscious and aware of what we are purchasing.

Why is sustainability important to you, on a personal level?

Sustainability is like peace of mind. Personally, it is the feeling of making a difference whether in the products I buy, biking to school, and so on. As a global citizen, you have to take into account what you are doing to make a change and, if it is within your power, push for a change through problem-solving and research.

What valuable lessons did you get out of the experience of writing up this research and presenting at FURCA?

It was really beneficial to go through the whole process of completing a report and showing it to the world. In a sense that you gain a lot of self-discipline, you learn more about yourself and what you are doing.

Not to mention the public presentation skills you gain. How to tailor your presentation to a general audience? How to pick and choose which information might be more interesting? How to be more concise and articulate your ideas more effectively?

Where do you think this might take you next? Do you see yourself doing more research in sustainability?

I would love to. Whether it is at the University of Alberta, the City of Edmonton, or the City of Calgary, it would be great to continue working on sustainability. It is something I’m very passionate about.

Learn more about the Festival for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities: uab.ca/furca

All of the incredible photos in this article are sourced from Andrea Schieber’s Borneo album on Flickr: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjQNRYAm



University of Alberta — Sustainability

Meet the students and academics who are discovering solutions to our climate and sustainability challenges. Writing from Edmonton-Amiskwacîwâskahikan, Canada.