Organic campus students

Sparking a sustainable revolution

From recycling and conserving water to reducing your carbon footprint, being environmentally conscious can seem complicated and confusing – and that’s just in our own homes. Shifting the ecological habits of an entire institution? That’s no mean feat, but McGill’s students, faculty and staff are committed to making the University a leader in sustainability, both in our campuses and through innovative environmental research that will improve the health of our planet.

“Most of the sustainability projects I’ve seen have started pretty small – one or two students with an idea – and grown,” says Kathleen Bradley, a student in Philosophy and Economics. “It’s a way students can take control of their campus and their community, and say, ‘this is how we want the world to be and this is what we’re going to do to make that happen.’”

Bradley certainly knows what she is talking about. As a member of the 2013 Class Action Committee, she helped raise over $10,000 from graduating students to build a Green Wall in the McLennan Library. The new wall will beautify the library, purify the air and reduce energy consumption, and increase student productivity and reduce stress – all while promoting a greener McGill.

“The zeal among students is absolutely there,” says Dr. Martin Krayer von Krauss, Manager of the McGill Office of Sustainability. “Young people get that this is an imperative for our generation. It’s a challenge, but they want to talk about it and get on board.”

A a large number of the University’s greatest achievements in sustainability have been supported by philanthropy, much of it from McGill’s very own campus community of faculty, staff and student donors. The Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF), an $840,000-per-year program funded through student fees matched dollar-for-dollar by the McGill administration, has supported more than 80 projects to date, from bike racks and gardens to surveys and symposia to encourage research in the area.

And students and staff have also dug deep to support the Seeds of Change program, an initiative from the McGill Alma Mater Fund that helps grassroots projects to flourish, as well as the Campus Community Sustainability Fund, created by the Campus Community Committee to promote green-friendly endeavours across the University.

Right alongside students and staff in their sustainability engagement are McGill’s dedicated alumni. Thanks to a pair of visionary gifts from philanthropists Lorne Trottier, BEng’70, MEng’73, DSc’06, and Ram Panda MEng’71, MBA’77, the Faculty of Engineering is poised to provide the blueprint for public policy in the area of sustainable engineering and design.

The Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design will serve as a vibrant interdisciplinary home for the growing number of professors and graduate students from across the Faculty engaged in sustainability research: ranging from guiding the flow of urban traffic and its emissions, to exploring how to use alternative energies such as wind power and bio-fuels, to developing better wastewater treatments.

This far-reaching support is indicative of a shift that Krayer von Krauss says is taking place across campus. Whereas McGill’s environmental efforts were once isolated, now they are centrally coordinated through Vision 2020, a University-wide initiative that seeks to build an overarching sustainability vision and action plan for – and from – the entire University community.

With the vision and goals already in place, the next step, says Krayer von Krauss, is shifting from goals to tactics. “We’re changing the focus of the conversation from what we would like to achieve to how we are going to achieve it,” he says. “In a way, we’re on the cusp of a new era of sustainability at McGill.” And donors are playing an important role in making this green revolution possible.