News  Sustainable McGill: within reach

New office will coordinate research, projects, and best practices on campus

When McGill’s new Office of Sustainability opens Wednesday, the University’s students, faculty, staff, and administrators will finally have a central location to integrate their efforts toward a greener campus.

“[The office aims] toward incorporating sustainable principles into McGill’s operations,…collecting and communicating information about the school’s sustainability performance to the different groups within the community,” said Jonathan Glencross, the chairperson of the Sustainable McGill Project (SMP), and one of three students who sat on the Office of Sustainability Steering Committee.

The Office of Sustainability will house the offices of McGill’s Director of Sustainability Dennis Fortune and McGill’s Environmental Officer, Kathleen Ng, as well as three tentative work-study positions. Students will also be able to submit academic proposals examining University operations that would fill gaps in knowledge of sustainable practices.

“If we have people at McGill doing research, why not take the next step and ask, ‘Could this research be incorporated into McGill operations, and how would I do it?’” said Fortune. “In the past, it wasn’t really clear what the connection was between having an idea and being able to bring it to being. The office will assist in doing that.”

While the Office aims to unite the University community, members have emphasized that they will work only with student groups who choose to participate.

“As far as the integration of clubs and services goes, those groups are autonomous, so it’s a matter of those groups deciding what makes the most sense for them,” said Maggie Knight, one of SSMU’s Environment Commissioners.

The Office of Sustainability originates with an ecosystems assessment prepared at McGill by SMP during the 2004-2005 year, according to Nadya Wilkinson, SSMU VP University Affairs and Steering Committee member.

The report was intended to be an overarching evaluation of the downtown campus’s progress toward sustainability, however, it was not taken as seriously because the administration was not involved. She found, though, that SMP learned an important lesson from the incident.

“Student groups needed to bring the walls down and work with the administration rather than just proposing ideas to them,” Wilkinson said.

At first, the SMP’s initiative to create a sustainability centre on campus did not gain momentum. Then, in 2007, McGill decided to create a Director of Sustainability, and allot their campus parking fees – around $200,000 a year – toward a Sustainability Fund.

It was a watershed moment according to Glencross, because after McGill Assistant VP (University Services) Jim Nicell announced his plan to open a Sustainability Office on campus,

Glencross, Wilkinson, and fellow student Alexandre Poisson were then invited to sit on the office’s Steering Committee, along with Nicell and Fortune.

Glencross found, though, that making the University more sustainable is only one piece in a larger puzzle.

“None of us who are involved [with the office] think that the world ends [at McGill],” Glencross said. “We want sustainability to become part of the way we do things, but the larger implication is that it can change the future practices of everyone that leaves here.”