Commentary  McGill is pseudo-sustainable

We need to be taking direct action to follow through on our environmental commitments

Garbage can be found everywhere at McGill. At “one of Canada’s best-known institutions of higher learning and one of the country’s leading research-intensive universities” doesn’t it seem strange that our campus is so unsustainable? Why does the SSMU cafeteria still have bottled water despite the bottled water ban? Why do Styrofoam plates need to be used for only half an hour and then thrown away? Why are recycling and composting bins as rare as yetis? Why are there so few vegetarian or vegan options? And most importantly, why are these things not priorities?

People often talk of “saving the world,” but we must realize that we need Earth to survive, and in preserving it, we are saving ourselves too. We too are animals, another species that lives on this great planet known as Earth. Other issues that threaten our survival are dealt with at the utmost speed and fervour. Take war for example: even the longest war of 335 years does not compare to the amount of time we have spent abusing the environment we depend on for survival – without any real form of resistance to this destruction.

Environmentalism should not be optional. We do not live in an anarchical society; already, there are things we cannot do. Those who might argue that the way things are now is “natural” must remember that natural usually only means customary.  In the SSMU cafeteria, sustainability initiatives have been proposed to implement more viable practices. These include eliminating styrofoam and bottled water through cooperation with the Plate Club, buying local food, better waste management by using Big Hannah and Gorilla Composting, more vegetarian and vegan food options, et cetera. All of these require collaboration between SSMU, the vendors, different campus organizations, and the McGill administration.

However, the current state of affairs leaves something to be desired. For example, although there is talk of better waste management through composting and recycling, we have yet to see a single permanent composting receptacle on campus. There have also been no real efforts to reduce the amount of waste produced, such as through the use of biodegradable take-out containers as opposed to the plastic, styrofoam, and aluminum foil ones used throughout McGill.  The SSMU cafeteria is only one of the many places food is served at McGill. Problems there can be seen everywhere else on campus as well, but may prove to be even more difficult to tackle due to the fact that most cafeterias are controlled by Aramark Canada.

The marginalization of student input in these matters is evidenced most strongly by the Architecture Café closing last semester. Despite promises to “meet and exceed environmental and sustainability requirements,” I have yet to see any changes in the food served anywhere on campus. The choice of vegetarian and vegan options remains pitiful; there are few mentions of local food; and the enormous amount of waste produced along with a lack of waste management must make us wonder whether Aramark and McGill are really taking student cries for sustainability seriously.

But progress is a slow and gradual process, and we must all do our part by continuing to care and make our voices heard. Support environmental causes (that you believe in, of course) like Midnight Kitchen, the Plate Club, Organic Campus, Gorilla Composting, and the Flat, to name just a few. Talk to these groups and listen to their mandates. Demand more sustainable objectives from our student leaders in SSMU, AUS, SUS, et cetera, and from our world leaders in government. Do little things like turning off the lights, avoiding bottled water, recycling, and composting. But most importantly do not sit back and say: “this is enough.” It may be an uphill battle, but in the end… it certainly can’t be harder than chugging lukewarm Boréale at Bar des Arts on a Thursday.

Jenny Lu is a U1 Arts and Science  student and a member of the Plate Club, but the views here are her own. She can be reached at