News | McGill & SSMU to team up on sustainability fund

Non-opt-outable fee to go to referendum in November

McGill has committed to supporting the Sustainable Projects Fund (SPF), an initiative that would support various environmentally friendly initiatives at the University.

At a meeting on October 8, former Sustainable McGill coordinator Jonathan Glencross and SSMU VP University Affairs Rebecca Dooley proposed the establishment of the SPF to Provost Anthony Masi, asking that McGill contribute to it by matching the amount of money the project raises through SSMU. The following day, Masi called Glencross and confirmed that the University was on board.

“The purpose is to create a culture of sustainability,” said Glencross. “In looking at environmental projects, it’s not just about decreasing your [carbon] footprint. If you’ve lowered your footprint but you haven’t really changed perception or behaviour, then you haven’t really changed much.”

The SPF would be administered by a committee composed of four faculty members and four student representatives: two from SSMU, one from the Post-Graduate Students’ Society, and one from the Macdonald Campus Students’ Society. The estimated $840,000 annual fund would provide funding for campus initiatives that promote environmental sustainability.

“[The University] has never shared this much responsibility with students, and they’ve never committed up front to something with a matching component. This is all a new precedent,” Glencross said.

At Thursday’s SSMU Council meeting, Glencross and Associate Vice-President (University Services) Jim Nicell both laid out the project and its objectives. Councillors agreed to hold a referendum on the SPF’s proposed non-opt-outable $0.50-per credit fee in November.

“The fund is meant to be a point of collaboration between the Univeristy and students,” said Dooley. “There are about 27 environmentally-oriented groups on campus, and they have a lot of drive and ideas [for sustainable projects], but don’t have the capital.”

If approved by students in the referendum, the SPF is likely to work closely with the Office of Sustainability, a relationship Dooley said would improve the Office’s efficacy as a student resource.

A sustainability coordinator and three students in the work-study program will oversee the sponsored projects and occasionally write reports for the committee.

Before writing their proposal, Dooley and Glencross studied the sustainability funds administered by the University of Guelph and the Concordia Students’ Union, but decided that both models were not adequately consultative and that the SPF should be jointly administered with the University.

“Interest in sustainability should not just be supported by students,” said Dooley. “Without the University’s buy-in, there isn’t as much institutional memory. Having parity [on the committee] gives the fund more power in terms of changes that we can make.”

Glencross said that the SPF would also offer students an opportunity to apply their research to local projects, and that he hopes the program will facilitate closer relationships between students and the administration.

“McGill is a research-driven institution, and part of this fund should be connecting the academic components of sustainability to what we’re doing locally on campus. And I think that will be the catalyst for some serious transformative change,” Glencross said.

He added that given the amount of interest in sustainable initiatives, he believes that the funding will be put to good use. “People want action right now. People are desperate for people who are being successful at implementing this stuff, if it’s not coming from the government.”

Both Dooley and Glencross said they were relieved that the University had decided to endorse the program, given its recent decision to decrease its operating budget for the 2009-10 academic year by $5 million.