DEADLINE EXTENDED to April 9th. Outline only required for entry.

Do you have ideas to share about how to increase urban sustainability?

Get your pencils sharpened, write an OUTLINE ONLY (~250 words) of an op-ed or a policy brief and submit it for your chance to win money and be published online!


Writing for publication, whether in academic, peer reviewed journals or social media platforms, is rapidly changing. More than ever, concise, fact-based writing must cut through the plethora of misinformation that congests social media.

We know you are looking for opportunities for you, our students, to meaningfully share your innovative ideas, questions and theories with audiences beyond your course instructors and peers; this opportunity to write for a wider audience can transform your course-assigned essays from a single use, throw away activity, to a more meaningful engagement experience that links ideas with readers.

So, while you are still developing your research, writing and critical thinking skills, you could gain even greater acumen in all these domains by having the opportunity to be mentored by a professional journalist and/or editor who will share professional techniques and methods in one part of a one-day workshop and to a policy professional who will share insights into crafting a direct, concise, thoughtful policy brief in another part of the workshop. 

I invite you to take part in this year's writing contest; to engage in community-based learning while also contributing to the public discourse on important environmental issues such as urban sustainability, climate change, ecological restoration, water, food and energy security, and natural resource management.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Joanna Ashworth
Teaching Fellow, Faculty of Environment

Contest Rules

  • The contest is open to all undergraduate students enrolled in the Faculty of Environment AND any student from any other Faculty who is currently enrolled in a course offered by the Faculty of Environment.
  • In an OUTLINE ONLY of short Op-Ed (Opinion-Editorial) or Policy Brief, you will offer an opinion on an innovative and evidence-based solution to an urban sustainability issue or request a change to current policy about that issue. 
  • Submissions should be approximately 250 words. Your final submission, post writing course, will be 750-900 words. 
  • Submissions will be judged blind.
  • Submit your entry today! (Deadline, midnight, Monday, April 9, 2018.)


  • The four winners, two in each category (Policy Brief and Op-Ed) will receive $400 each and the runners-up, two in each category, will receive $200 each. 

  • The Op-Eds will be published in the respected national online newspaper the National Observer, as well as on  the Faculty of Environment's website.

  • The Policy Briefs will be pitched in person, by the winners, to City of Vancouver sustainability managers and elected officials. 

Timeline 2018

  • Monday, April 9: Deadline for student submissions at MIDNIGHT! This requires an OUTLINE ONLY of your op-ed or policy brief: approximately 250 words.
  • Wednesday, April 11: Those eligible for the professional writing workshop with a working journalist and/or editor and a policy expert will be notified.
  • Saturday, April 21:  The workshop where participants will learn how to write a strong, thought-provoking Op-Ed and a concise, influential Policy Brief in a jam-packed day-long session. 
  • Thursday, May 3, NOON: Deadline for revised final Op-Ed or Policy Brief submissions.
  • Monday, May 14: The winners will be announced and prizes awarded! 
  • May - June: Winners' entries will be published on the Faculty of Environment's website and the Op-Eds may be published in the National Observer. The Policy Briefs will be presented in person to the City of Vancouver officials on June 8th..  


Op-Ed criteria 

  • To enter the contest, an OUTLINE only of an op-ed is needed: approximately 250 words.
  • Your FINAL Op-Ed should consist of 750 to 900 words (the one submitted post writing class).
  • It should have a clear point or thesis statement that is well supported by facts.
  • Remember to establish the writers’ bonafides; show expertise or command of a certain topic or subject.
  • Your Op-Ed should be topical, or timely in some way, preferably in a news sense. Remember that an Op-Ed is for publishing. 
  • It adds interest when you include a counter-intuitive take on a topic or subject.
  • For more information on how to write an Op-Ed, visit our colleague's site here.

Policy Brief

  • To enter the contest, an OUTLINE only of a policy brief is needed: approximately 250 words.
  • Your FINAL policy brief should consist of 750 to 900 words (the one submitted post writing class).
  • Remember that you are trying to influence how policy will be made. Be clear, be concise, be pursuasive.
  • For more information on how to write a Policy Brief, click here.

Feedback from 2017's Participants

“It was wonderful to hear directly from an editor who frequently needs to make tough decisions about what to publish. The [instructor] shared many valueable insights about the role of the op-ed in public discourse as well as practical writing techniques.” 
–Christine Leclerc, first-year, BSc, Physical Geography (Hons.)

“I think [this was] a fantastic way to allow the participants to remember why they are in the Faculty of Environment. It allows them to remember their passions and why they should continue doing what they're doing.” 
–Fauzi Nisha, recent graduate, BSc, Environmental Science

“The value of this contest in my opinion is to encourage undergrads to share their ideas and get published, I think there is a major lack of good writers in modern society. Another major value of this contest was the workshop and the personal feedback, I felt very lucky to be a part of it and meet Robyn and learn from her.” 
–Lydia Dickinson, third-year BEnv, Global Environmental Systems

“I thought [the contest] would be a great opportunity to practice writing for a non-academic audience while also spreading awareness about an issue that is important to me.” 
–Greer Vanderbyl, fourth-year, BA, Archaeology (Hons.)


A new and independent publication, National Observer has a reputation for punching above its weight. It's a leader in reporting on the new economy and has major daily impact, protecting public health, human rights, the environment and holding Canada's government to its promises on climate change.

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Questions or Comments?

Please contact Joanna Ashworth <>.