Advancing a culture of sustainability on campus

Student and faculty leaders behind interdisciplinary initiatives recognized

2020 was, without a doubt, not the year that we hoped it to be.

But members of the McGill community have taken these tumultuous times in stride, passing over and around obstacles to continue the push -- virtual or otherwise -- for a more sustainable campus.

The Catalyst Awards for Sustainability, celebrated each spring for the past decade, honour those achievements.

“The Catalyst Awards allow us to celebrate the top-tier achievements of McGill’s sustainability leaders,” says Executive Director of Sustainability Francois Miller. “Despite the challenges faced over the past year, the 2021 recipients have demonstrated outstanding commitment to creating sustainable change and opportunities for engagement across our campuses, for which we are incredibly grateful.”

The award recipients are decided annually by a review committee, whose membership includes staff and student representatives.

Turning vision into reality

Each of the 2021 recipients have, in their own way, envisioned a sustainable future and taken the steps needed to turn that vision into reality.

Chloë Ryan, a third-year mechanical engineering student, has been a founding member of a number of student-led sustainability initiatives that bring faculties together to solve multifaceted challenges. Her work with Sustainability in Engineering at McGill (SEAM) and the BRIDGE Sustainability Case Competition contributed to her designation as the 2021 Emerald Key recipient.

Photo of Chloë Ryan

“I’m honoured to have been chosen for this year’s Catalyst Award, and I find it really rewarding to see that McGill values students’ efforts to grow a culture of sustainability on campus,” says Ryan, who stresses that she feels climate change is the greatest threat facing her generation. “I think that everything we do should be working towards mitigating that.”

During her time at McGill, Ryan says her focus has been making the change she wants to see happen.

“I don’t think sustainability challenges are the result of not having enough ideas in the world. I think that there are so many ideas and people just need to say, ‘OK, I can actually do this and how can I do this, and let’s go. Let’s get started.’”

Making labs greener

Similarly, the Green Labs Initiative at the Neuro—this year’s recipient of the Group Initiative award—first developed their vision for low-waste research labs to address growing concern for the significant environmental costs of scientific research. Since first receiving support from the Sustainability Projects Fund in 2018, the Green Labs team has implemented infrastructural and cultural changes at The Neuro that have helped reduce waste and improve understanding of sustainable lab practices.

In the years since, the team has recruited ambassadors from more than 12 other labs across at least eight departments to kick-start their own initiatives.

Photo of Naila Kuhlmann

"We are very grateful for the recognition of our efforts in building a sustainable research community at McGill,” says Naila Kuhlmann, a member of the Green Labs Initiative at the Neuro team. “It's been wonderful to see our grassroots initiative grow since its humble beginnings in 2018, in large part thanks to the support of [the Office of Sustainability] and the Sustainability Projects Fund. It's truly an honour to receive the Catalyst Award, and we hope this inspires other labs across campus to join us!"

The current Green Labs Initiative at the Neuro team includes Kuhlmann, Jana Schüttpelz, Theresa Degenhard, Nina Caporicci-Dinucci, Pascale Patenaude, Claire Honda, Alexandra Chapleau, Maleeha Khan, and Ghislaine Deyab.

Photo of Theresa Degenhard

Team member Theresa Degenhard’s advice to others looking to start projects: “Start small …. If you try to tackle a very big project immediately, it can get discouraging even if you have a big group behind you. So start small and celebrate the small successes you [reach] each time.”


Fostering hands-on leadership

Professor Nate Quitoriano, who is the recipient of the 2021 Catalyst Award for Faculty & Staff, is equally being recognized for his ability to encourage leadership amongst others.

Quitoriano is the founding director of the goLEAD program, which unites students, faculty, staff and alumni towards his vision of hands-on leadership to address various challenges outlined by UN Sustainable Development Goals. The program, first developed in 2016, began after Quitoriano identified an opportunity that was lacking for engineering students: applied leadership skill development. Through the program, Quitoriano and his team members provide hands-on experience in applying sustainability concepts to a variety of projects.

Photo of Nate Quitoriano

One important thing to keep in mind in tackling projects is that “in some senses, perfection is the enemy of the good,” Quitoriano says. “We’re not ever going to have a perfect solution, so what we try to do is something good now and then we try to implement it and improve it with time.”

“I wish we could formally honour more people with this award since goLEAD has always been a group effort,” he says. “On behalf of that group, I am happy to receive the award and I hope that it will help us highlight the work of our student projects and give us more visibility to advance our need for funding to sustain our mission.”

The goLEAD facilitator team includes Sidney Omelon, Alexander Liepins, Larissa Jarvis, and Heather McShane. The program also includes an executive team consisting of 17 students from across the University.

Watch a roundtable discussion, hosted by the Office of Sustainability, featuring the recipients of the 2021 Catalyst Awards for Sustainability.

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