Commentary  Editorial: Sustainability Office first step to tangible change

It’s rare that McGill and its students see eye-to-eye on innovations to improve the University. Students want more Architecture Cafés, more transparency from their administration, more space on campus; the administration pushes for more Chartwells, lacklustre labour negotiations, and fewer interdisciplinary programs. Yet students and their administration have finally found something they can agree on. 

Environmentally-minded students and staff have been petitioning for the creation of an environmental centre on campus since 2005, raising the issue at Town Halls and the annual ReThink conference. Yesterday, McGill finally opened the much-anticipated Office of Sustainability in Ferrier 216, and today, we’d like to say good work, and thanks.

Much of the discussion at yesterday’s opening concerned the Sustainability Office’s ability to serve as a hub for all campus-related environmental activity – acting as a resource, an organisation centre, a meeting ground, and a nucleus for research. Low institutional memory has made it all too common for students to work on projects completed by others just two years earlier. But with all work funnelled through the Office, we can actually get something done, keep track of what we do, and build on it. Further, the Office will increase McGill’s visibility on the radar for sustainability research in Canada, drawing in more of the students and professors we need to make tangible environmental progress.

While the Office is certainly an important symbol of McGill’s commitment to sustainability issues, it’s important to note that the University has not yet proven itself to be a leader among Canadian universities – for instance, the University of British Columbia opened its sustainability centre over a decade ago. Now that it’s here, we hope that McGill’s Office will be successful in communicating the necessity of energy reduction, and the reusing and recycling of materials, as well as making it easier for undergraduate coursework to be more relevant to campus environmental activity. Its architecture already embodies these qualities – whether through recycled carpet and tiles, reused furniture, less toxic paint, and fewer lights – and these innovations need to spread beyond the Office’s walls, for instance through a campus asset-reallocation system, as discussed by Sustainability Director Dennis Fortune yesterday.

The Office will only work to its fullest capacity if McGill advertises its potential, and if students truly make it their first stop after a compact fluorescent lightbulb goes on above their head. Simply having the Sustainability Office won’t solve anything. We need the University to properly promote the Office, to encourage people to contribute and use it. The Office is a tremendous first step – one of many, we hope – toward a more sustainable McGill.