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ReThink conference brews sustainable development plans

McGill’s seventh annual ReThink conference drew about 80 students, faculty, and administrators Friday, with topics ranging from the University’s past environmental initiatives to ways it can meet the Quebec Ministry of Education’s mandated energy reduction target – a 14 per cent decrease from the 2003 levels by 2011.

Sustainability Director Dennis Fortune emphasized the need for a holistic approach to tackling environmental problems. In one slide of a PowerPoint presentation, he displayed all of the government’s 16 goals, such as social equity and solidarity, biodiversity preservation, and responsible production and consumption.

“Our problem is that we don’t want to see it all on one slide,” Fortune said, explaining that people tend to view the goals individually and overlook how they are interrelated.

Environmental Officer Kathleen Ng delivered an update of ReThink’s activities, including the implementation of geothermal heating at the Lady Meredith house and the installation of 13 recycling bins on the downtown campus last semester.

In an interview after the conference, Ng said that greater communication should exist between Senate, governance, and faculty bodies, and that more students should participate in environmental initiatives.

“We see the same student groups every year,” Ng said. “I really just want people to get more personally involved.”

Student attendees agreed that ReThink is a necessary part of improving sustainability on campus, but that coordination of sustainability efforts on campus requires more attention.

ReThink, hosted by the Sub-Committee on Environment, seeks to foster environmentally-minded values and skills that will improve sustainability at the University.

Arts Senator Lynne Champoux-Williams – at ReThink for her second time – was frustrated that prior to the conference she was unaware of many of the initiatives outlined in Ng’s report.

“It was a really different experience than last year,” Champoux-Williams said. “Hell, we have so much to [work on at McGill].”

Sustainable McGill Project (SMP) co-chairperson and SSMU VP University Affairs-elect Nadya Wilkinson said that last year’s conference succeeded at bringing in staff members who had never given much thought to sustainability.

“[ReThink] is a fundamentally positive thing, but we should be more critical of ourselves,” Wilkinson said.

At the conference Wilkinson presented a proposal for a Sustainability Centre, for the second time.

After the presentations, attendees split into three informal groups of about 25 people to brainstorm ideas to include in McGill’s Sustainable Development Plan.

SMP co-chairperson Jonathan Glencross, U1 Environment, suggested that this portion of the conference could be much more effective if the groups were smaller and led by a well-informed facilitator. He noted that his group was meant to discuss energy, but focused on individual paper use rather than larger issues like the 7,000 flights McGill researchers took last year.

“Seven thousand flights trumps anything about paper,” he said.

The groups later presented ideas, such as introducing a Farmer’s Market on the downtown campus, a Task Force on energy use, and better communication across campus.

Most called for communication of projects already underway, and also for including information about McGill’s policy pledging to make graduates eco-literate in all courses.

In a interview following the conference, Fortune stressed the importance of both drafting a sustainable development plan for McGill and of measuring the University’s progress in environmental tasks.

“[Sustainability] has to be part of our core way of doing things – for everybody, no matter what faculty or research group,” Fortune said. “It’s more than just focusing on what we’ve been doing. We have to come up with a way to show we’re meeting our commitments.”

Ng added that SSMU should host its Pre-Think conference near the beginning of the fall term, as it had in previous years, and that members of the McGill community should use the online forum at