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Kathleen Ng blames her overdeveloped concern for our world on Hydro Quebec. "I think I first became interested in sustainability before I knew what the word meant," she laughs. "Hydro used to have a cat as their mascot when I was in elementary school and this cat was always telling people to turn off their lights and reduce their water consumption. It was during the time when acid rain and CFCs [chlorofluorocarbons] were big in the news and I was always nagging my mom ‘No, don't buy that, it's full of CFCs!"
McGill's Environmental Officer since 2003, Ng's influence has expanded substantially since those early days as a budding environmentalist. While part of her mandate is to remind people how they can contribute to campus sustainability (a kinder, gentler form of nagging, if you will), she also acts as liaison for McGillians—the university's broad and eclectic range of environmental projects. "You know how there used to be those old-fashioned switchboard operators who sat there plugging in lines so that you could talk to the person you wanted to talk to," she asks. "Well, I'm the operator. I try to get different people and groups working together."
Of course, in a university spread out over two campuses with an ever-growing lineup of sustainability initiatives coming from students, staff and faculty, the matchmaking is no small task. "I like to think of McGill as an amoeba where everybody is working really, really hard except the cytoplasm is moving in all different directions," she sighs. "We're just spreading ourselves a little thin, but we're starting to move in the same direction."
Ng, who is also a member of the Association of Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education commends the McGill student body for its history of green leadership on campus, citing such programs as student-run Greening McGill's Plate Club initiative that lends diners cutlery, reusable cups and plates when they eat at the University Centre cafeteria. All that is required is a valid McGill I.D. that is returned when the dishes are washed and returned.
On the staff side, Ng says such programs as the Human Resources paperless pay stubs, Accounting's electronic invoicing and Mac's bike share project are great examples of employees contributing to McGill's environmental bottomline in a painless way. "The whole point is to rethink your daily habits so that you can reduce your personal consumption," she says. "We're not saying people have to stop doing things, but they should look at alternative ways to work."
When asked what is the easiest way for someone to make an impact on the job, Ng doesn't even blink. "Turn off your stuff when you're done," she says. "Lights, computers and heaters. In 2004, we had Energy Day in which we told people in three different buildings that we were going to monitor their consumption for one day. People paid attention to things like turning off their lights and computers, and hydro consumption was reduced by 10 percent and steam by eight percent. If you multiply that 24/7 across 20 major buildings instead of just three, we would save some $350,000 a year."
Despite her early environmental leanings, Ng didn't set off down the leafy path right away. She has a degree in physiology with a minor in management. She's also completed the Canadian Securities Course and had begun studying to become a Certified Financial Analyst. It was while studying treasury finance that she realized she was in the wrong field. "I have friends who are investment bankers and currency traders and they are making six-figure salaries," she says. "But they are working 90 hours a week, losing weight and complaining all the time about how they need a life."
On the verge of heading to Japan to teach English, Ng stayed put instead when she was recruited for her current job by Wayne Wood, Manager, Environmental Health and Safety. "Back when I started my office was nothing but a desk piled high with a bunch of files to read. Now, as you can see, my desk is a disaster zone and I have a filing cabinet with a twice as many files to read," she laughs. Proof, she maintains, that McGill, helter-skelter cytoplasm that it may be, is starting to pull in the right direction.
"There are a lot of people who really care about this," she says. "That's half the battle right there."