Within McGill Residences, a student organization is working to introduce incoming McGillians to yet another idea: sustainability.
The Environmental Residence Council (ERC) promotes sustainable practices through events, outreach, and campaigns. Each of the university’s downtown residences has a representative on the ERC so that all students living on campus can voice concerns and participate in sustainable change.
Jess Price, who served as ERC Advisor during the 2021-22 academic year, is a third-year undergraduate student who began as a member of the council herself. As Advisor, she served as a mentor and guide for incoming students on the council.
“I started at McGill during the [COVID-19] lockdown and was struggling to find a community here. When I saw the opportunity to get involved with the council, I decided I’d give it a try,” said Price, “I got to meet like-minded people and connect with groups that I wouldn’t normally be able to. It was a really beneficial experience for me.”
Advocating for sustainable change
With the goal of providing a community for new students and encouraging youth to advocate for sustainable change, the ERC has made its presence known on campus. This small but dynamic group has collaborated with other student organizers on Fair Trade Campus Week, clothing swaps, and workshops,.
The group also hosted its first Go Green sustainable networking event last year, where residents had the opportunity to connect to other student groups on campus working on sustainability.
Another important success for the council last year was creating a Residence Sustainability Survey to better address the needs of students on sustainability topics – an initiative Price was particularly passionate about.
“We got great data about plant-based meal options, recycling and composting, and then we got to work with the McGill SDG Hub to understand students’ knowledge about sustainable development.”
This information will help create systems to better serve students in the future, Price said.
With the information from the survey, members of the ERC set out to create a helpful sustainability guide for future students. Some of that information is now included in a residence life handbook for new students. A sustainability flyer is also provided in the welcome bags that students receive when arriving on campus for the new semester.
With the pandemic still impacting students’ ability to connect last year, the ERC’s work was perhaps more important – and challenging – than ever.
“Getting students to engage, especially in the first semester, was really difficult,” Price admitted, “We were working almost entirely online still, and there was definitely some burnout from trying to connect remotely all of the time. When you’re in a Zoom meeting, it is way more difficult to get everyone involved in the conversation, and even more difficult to make everyone feel comfortable.”
Another challenge was maintaining connections on campus.
“I think one of the positives was needing to lean more heavily on other groups to feel that community. ERC ended up fostering a better relationship with [the Office of Sustainability], for example, and now we have that stronger connection we can collaborate more in the future.”
With Price planning to go abroad on exchange this year, another third-year student, Emma Chothani, is taking on the ERC advisor role. “Jess and I were on council together,” Chothani recalls. “I loved being on council my first year.”
Chothani is majoring in Environmental Science, with a minor in International Development Studies and a concentration in Atmosphere and Air Quality. Having just completed a summer internship researching atmospheric microplastics for a non-profit organization devoted to protecting oceans, she would like to see the ERC work with residence dining halls to cut back further on single-use plastic containers.
Setting the agenda for the year, however, will be up to the members of the ERC, Chothani notes. Incoming students are encouraged to run for council membership, with elections held during September. The council includes at least one member from each of the nine downtown residences.
Thanks to her involvement in sustainability, Price says, “I’ve learned so much more about the university itself and all the amazing work being done everywhere to improve things. It’s about more than just the environment, it’s about building community.”
Chris Chipello contributed to this article.