News  Sustainable living project launches despite years of rejected funding

ECOLE initiative receives positive feedback from residents

Correction appended October 19, 2014.

On October 3, the Educational Community Living Environment (ECOLE) project officially launched a sustainable housing initiative at a former MORE house on University. The project, which aims to promote sustainability in the McGill community, allows ‘facilitators’ interested in sustainability to live together and complete projects related to environmental conservation, and provides a space for sustainability-related events, workshops, and meals.

“I basically walked in and immediately started bawling because I was so happy and so proud,” Courtney Ayukawa, the current Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) president who has worked on the project since May 2013, told The Daily.

“It’s really amazing to be able to walk by now and see the chalk on the sidewalk in front of the house and see that it’s an actual real thing and it’s not some amorphous intangible project that people are working on – it’s an actual house where people are doing research and people are having meetings and workshops and trainings.”

Thomas Saleh, a Sustainability, Science and Society student, and Rachel Cross-Calvert, a Mechanical Engineering student, are two of the eight facilitators currently living at the ECOLE house. They say they each pay roughly $525 per month in rent and that their fellow facilitators are about half Sustainability, Science and Society majors, while the other half come from a highly varied, but majority science, background.

Each person living in the house has their own bedroom, and some of the rooms on the upper floors have been converted into meeting rooms that can be rented by student groups or used as study spaces.

According to Saleh and Cross-Calvert, the house itself is not built to be sustainable, nor are the appliances meant to be particularly environmentally friendly. “It’s got to do with our practices, and so […] our building is a normal MORE house, and all our appliances are pretty standard. We’re more looking at [sustainability] through our consumption – what we buy, what we eat – and then through practices: how we do things, how we live in the house,” said Saleh.

Residents of the ECOLE house are required to complete a project related to sustainability during their time living in the house, and some, depending on their program, will receive course credit. Many of the current facilitators’ projects are related to social sustainability; according to Saleh and Cross-Calvert, topics include healthcare for migrants without status.

Saleh explained that his project will look to document energy consumption within the ECOLE house. “I’m mostly looking at energy and I’m going to try and see whether we make progress in terms of our energy in, energy out, waste, things like that. And then try, as my own personal research project, to look into what the actual impacts of the ECOLE house are in terms of what that means from an ecological point of view,” he told The Daily.

Overall, Saleh and Cross-Calvert were pleased with their experiences at ECOLE.

“I really like how many people are in and out of our house all the time,” said Cross-Calvert. “It’s great because there’s people from all different organizations and clubs from McGill, using our space and coming into our house, and it’s exciting to meet all those people, and with all those people come a lot of ideas and creative energy.”

Saleh, on the other hand, cited the price of rent as a downside to living at the ECOLE house. “The downside is I think, obviously, I probably wouldn’t be living here paying this much rent if I wasn’t doing ECOLE. I would have liked maybe to live a little bit further out, see Montreal a little bit more, stuff like that.”

“I kind of like the fact that our work and our living situation, you can’t separate them, because if you believe these things about sustainability it can’t really be separated,” said Cross-Calvert. “It’s our way of living it out.”

ECOLE project, four years in the making

ECOLE Coordinator David Whiteside told The Daily about the ECOLE project’s main goals.

“The aim of the project is to be an ongoing experiment in sustainability, and we want to get as many people thinking about that and engaging with that project as much as possible.”

Supported by SSMU, Student Housing and Hospitality Services, and the McGill Office of Sustainability, ECOLE has been in planning for approximately four years.

Ayukawa said she began working on the project in May 2013 because she was hired by SSMU to work as a coordinator for the project along with two other students. She worked on administrative tasks to get the project on its feet.

“My personal hope for the project is that it will be able to last, and in the very long term, as it finds a sustainable source of funding, it becomes a space that every student on campus knows, and is familiar and feels welcoming to go to,” said Ayukawa.

The project was initially brought to the table by the the Alternative University Project, which applied for funding from the McGill Sustainable Projects Fund (SPF). However, the request was rejected, and when the group applied for a second time, it was rejected again. After SSMU began supporting the project in 2012, it was finally able to secure funding from the SPF.

—With files from Jasreet Kaur

An earlier version of this article stated that ECOLE is funded by the Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF), Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), Student Housing and Hospitality Services, and the McGill Office of Sustainability. In fact, while ECOLE is supported institutionally by these organizations, and has received funding from SSMU in the past, it currently only receives funding from the SPF. The Daily regrets the error.