Desautels Students Promote Culture of Sustainability

A student team connects Montreal universities and businesses to show that green is profitable

When I finished high school, I applied only to McGill. You might think that was risky, but I knew McGill was the perfect choice for me due to its strong reputation in sustainability. I’m now a BCom student majoring in Managing for Sustainability, one of 15 programs worldwide entirely dedicated to sustainable business. In a world where challenges are increasingly interconnected and complex, we need more leaders with cross-disciplinary academic programs and tri-sector experiences.

Managing for Sustainability integrates management studies with fundamentals of environmental science and sustainability. The major is offered in collaboration with the McGill School of Environment and the Department of Geography.

After completing my first year of studies, I decided to create the Desautels Sustainability Network (DSN), a re-visioning of past initiatives to inspire greener and more socially responsible business practices. Our student-led organization aims to create the next generation of business leaders – people who envision sustainability as an opportunity, both for businesses and society-at-large. It gives students access to the resources needed to understand the variety of opportunities in sustainable business.

With my Co-President, Loïc Eloy, we gathered a team of students and established an ambitious plan to make McGill one of the world leading universities for training visionary leaders in sustainable business.

In 2019, in addition to seven events and numerous projects, the DSN organized the Desautels Business Conference on Sustainability, connecting 250 students with 30 industry leaders—making it Montreal's largest student-led conference on sustainable business. This ambitious event was in great part made possible thanks to the generous support of the Hantho Family Fund for Environmental Management and Sustainability, established more than ten years ago by McGill alumni Mark Hantho (BCom’81) and his wife, Monica (BEd’81).

Our DSN team identified and responded to two challenges that are hindering the growth of leaders in sustainable development at McGill.

The first is a business culture that generally does not see sustainability as an incentive to innovative, and therefore, as a profitable business strategy.

The second issue is the lack of communication between McGill faculties, Montreal universities, their students, and respective student groups. This silo effect limits the next generation of leaders from learning from different perspectives that the public, private, and plural sectors bring to the same challenges.

These challenges cannot be solved quickly, but DSN took significant strides towards addressing them over the last year. DSN brought together over 1,000 students, 50 industry leaders, and 30 student organizations from McGill and other Montreal universities, helping to establish a citywide network of students, faculty, and community members interested in sustainable business practices. The members of the DSN are thrilled to have sparked interest in and opened up the conversation around sustainable business at McGill.

Part of DSN’s team also works on mainstreaming sustainability principles throughout the Faculty’s curricula, so that any business student, regardless of their major, can learn to apply them.

As a testament to their commitment and hard work, on April 1, the McGill Office of Sustainability gave DSN the Catalyst Award for Connectivity, Governance & Administration—the highest recognition at McGill for leadership in sustainability.

The recognition is encouraging, but our real focus is on the future: We are so proud of the work we have done as advocates for the advancement of sustainability on campus and in the greater Montreal community, but we can’t wait to do more.