Greening McGill

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McGill Reporter
January 11, 2001 - Volume 33 Number 08
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Greening McGill

In December, a McGill workgroup released an ambitious environmental policy proposal aimed at establishing McGill as one of the greenest universities around.

Senate is expected to vote on the proposal in February or March. Workgroup members admit that the scope of their policy proposals may be daunting, and that it may not be accepted in its entirety.

"I know that we have been very ambitious, and the University may not be able to do all of this in one shot," says workgroup chair and civil engineering professor Saeed Mirza.

"We know that the University may decide to embrace some parts of it and not others. And, realistically, it would likely have to be implemented in phases, over five to seven years."

Wayne Wood, McGill's environmental safety manager, says that the workgroup decided to leave no environmental stone unturned when attempting to chart a course for the University.

"This policy paper includes everyone's wish list; it is a conglomeration of all the ideas that were brought to the table."

One of those ideas -- and a key recommendation -- is the formation of a permanent Senate Committee on the Environment, which would be composed of representatives from the academic staff, the administrative and support staff, undergraduates and graduate students. The committee would oversee the implementation of the policy and launch new initiatives, including an environmental literacy/ethics program to further educate the McGill community.

"The Senate committee would be a watchdog of sorts," says Wood. "It would see to it that many aspects of the policy move along, but it would not be responsible for implementing everything. For example, it would not be responsible for the curricula (of the environmental literacy program); that would be an academic responsibility. But the committee would work with the groups at McGill which are interested in fleshing out the details of the policy." Wood adds that the committee would be formed largely from workgroup members.

Mirza says that the time is right to integrate environmental literacy into the education of all students.

"Today, we try to make sure that students graduate with some computer literacy, and we don't want anyone to graduate without knowing how to read and write. I think environmental literacy is even more important; it is concerned with the future of this planet."

He notes that some departments already have courses related to environmentalism and encourages other departments to follow suit. He also wonders if the Students' Society of McGill University might consider addressing environmental issues through its welcome week events or through a lecture series.

Other policy paper recommendations include: a requirement that the principal of McGill should report to Senate on the University's conformity to the policy; that the Senate Committee on the Environment commission an environmental audit of McGill; and that a full-time environmental officer should be appointed. Part of his or her job would be to submit budget requests for implementation of the policy.

The budget required may be one of the proposal's obstacles. No one contacted for this article was willing to venture a guess about initial costs, although John Henning, a professor of agricultural economics at Macdonald Campus, says that it will be in the six figure range. But workgroup members feel that start-up costs should be seen as an investment.

"I know students who look at a university's environmental policy when deciding where to go," says Brian Sawer-Foner, a graduate student representative on the workgroup and a former Green Party candidate. "It's one of the factors that many of them weigh in their decision, so I think McGill would become more competitive with this kind of policy in effect."

The policy paper is packed with energy and material conservation ideas. If these are applied, annual savings would add up yearly and offset initial costs, says Mirza.

"One of the recommendations is we buy photocopiers which produce double-sided copies; our paper costs would be halved. Another is that we install motion sensor light switches, which only turn on the lights when someone comes into a room. These light switches are expensive, but you can imagine the amount of energy saved over the years. We would recover our initial costs many times over, in a period of five to 10 years."

Henning points out that recent improved government funding of universities, including McGill, provides a unique opportunity to launch this kind of bold initiative.

"The government has promised us renewed funding, so I think the timing of our paper is very opportune. The Ministry of Education has stated that now there will be money available for innovative projects, and this could be one of them.

"If we had tried to do this a few years ago, it would have been much more difficult. But now we're in a better financial position than we've been in years, so the time is right to make this kind of investment."

The proposed environmental policy can be read at www.mcgill.ca/epw/

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