Sustainability not just for tree huggers

Sustainability not just for tree huggers McGill University

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McGill Reporter
April 3, 2008 - Volume 40 Number 15
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 40: 2007-2008 > April 3, 2008 > Sustainability not just for tree huggers

Sustainability not just for tree huggers

Rethink McGill conference produces concrete plans

Sustainability at McGill: it's not just for crazy, tree-hugging, granolahead nut jobs anymore.

That was the title of one of the presentations during the 7th annual Rethink conference and, indeed, of the capacity crowd in Room 232 of the Leacock Building, only a small minority looked inclined to squeeze a tree.

For the most part, the mix of students, faculty and staff was there to bang out concrete strategies to help McGill reduce its environmental footprint, not only on its two Montreal campuses, but on more distant but equally important properties such as the Gault Nature Reserve in Mont Saint-Hilaire.

McGill Environmental Officer Kathleen Ng used her presentation, Sustainability at McGill, to bring participants up to speed on the activities of Rethink McGill, the University's continuing environmental campaign – and to remind participants that tree-hugging is not a prerequisite for action.

"You may think McGill isn't doing anything, but we are doing a lot," Ng said, citing the institution's paper-use policy, which in two years has seen the use of 100-per-cent recycled paper skyrocket from zero to 33 per cent of paper used, as an example.

Add to that the policy against the unnecessary use of pesticides, the elimination of paper-based telephone directories, the installation of a geothermal heating system at Lady Meredith House and the adoption of a bicycle-lending program on the Macdonald campus, among other initiatives.

Breakout sessions during the morning-long March 28 conference invited participants to address three topics – education/sensitization, responsible consumption and promoting social involvement – from which the concrete strategies emerged.

Session chairs reported back that the University should make a concerted effort to inform incoming students about ecological options, that a multi-stakeholder task force on energy consumption be struck and that a working group investigate the feasibility of setting up a farmer's market – perhaps during the annual car-free day – on the downtown campus.

"This is a good starting point," said Jim Nicell, Associate Vice-Principal, University Services, adding the creation of task forces and working groups will help turn the participants' ideas into reality.

"We need to get stakeholders talking around the table about what actions we can take," he said.

Biology Professor Martin Lechowicz, director of the Gault Nature Reserve, delivered the keynote address, which marked the 50th anniversary of McGill's stewardship of the 1,000-hectare, South Shore reserve about 40 kilometres from Montreal.

The challenge of protecting the property into the future, Lechowicz said, is for McGill to be involved in the development of the surrounding landscape, which it is, in partnership with the town of Mont Saint-Hilaire and the non-profit Centre de la nature Mont Saint-Hilaire.

"Representatives from the Centre go to town council meetings to talk about rezoning areas around the mountain," Lechowicz said, by way of example.

Presentations by student organizers of the Sustainable McGill Project, Gorilla Composting and other groups rounded out the morning's discussion, and Prof. Saeed Mirza of the Department of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics received a special award for helping McGill develop its environmental policy and for "not being afraid to wave the flag for the cause," Nicell said.

McGill's green paper trail

Although the volume of paper McGill purchases hasn't changed much in the past few years, the percentage of 100-per-cent recycled paper the University uses certainly has, according to the following statistics from McGill Purchasing Services, which were obtained and presented by student Alex Poisson at the 7th annual Rethink conference.

2005 2006 2007
Total sheets purchased 65,684,600 63,628,000 64,904,500
Total 30% recycled paper 26,349,000 30,943,500 25,167,500
Total 100% recycled paper 0 6,966,000 21,168,000
Percentage 30% recycled 40% 19% 39%
Percentage 100% recycled 0% 11% 33%

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