Rethink your green appeal

Rethink your green appeal McGill University

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McGill Reporter
March 30, 2006 - Volume 38 Number 14
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 38: 2005-2006 > March 30, 2006 > Rethink your green appeal

Rethink your green appeal

Environmental conference unearths the hip, creative side of campus sustainability

Environmentalism is the latest trendsetter. It's the buzzword behind the Starbucks' reusable City Mug, the Earthwatch Institute's learn-as-you-go vacation expeditions, and fashionista Stella McCartney's new leather-free silk stiletto shoes. Even the loathsome SUV has jumped on the green bandwagon with models that blend luxury and better fuel consumption, like the Lexus RX 400 Hybrid. In short, environmentalism is no longer the stuff of "crazy granola nature buffs" as McGill Environmental Commissioner Kathleen Ng proved at this year's Rethink Conference, "The Future is Now."

Caption follows
Meet the Rethink Lemming mascot - he's hip, he's clever and he's all about environmentalism.
Courtesy of Rethink

"We are definitely moving in the right direction - people are more gung-ho," she said of the March 17 event, which brought together senior administrators, student leaders and specialized faculty to discuss campus environmental initiatives and often-overlooked issues like air travel on McGill business.

Ng, who receives countless daily emails from eager students and staff wanting to get sustainability-savvy, is very proud of the collaborative efforts advancing McGill's environmental policy. Since its beginnings in 2001, the policy has evolved from a promise to manage McGill's resources responsibly to a full-fledged campaign advocating alternative transportation, reduced energy consumption, nature conservation and waste management.

The intricacies of the campaign demand that students and staff challenge their everyday habits - hence the "Rethink" variable in the "Reduce, reuse and recycle" equation.

"People do support the university's initiatives but they're not always sensitized to the real issues so they don't get involved," explains Mehdi El-Ouali, Post-Graduate Student Society (PGSS) president and member of the Subcommittee on the Environment. "More rethinking is certainly in order."

It's not easy being green

The average North American uses about 7.7 hectares worth of earthly resources a day, by far the most worldwide. According to the Global Footprint Network, this space - or ecological footprint - amounts to three times more resources than the earth can generate for each human. "We have to make the community responsible for its actions," affirms the School of Urban Planning's Jeanne M. Wolfe. At McGill, that begins with environmentally creative building strategies like geothermal heating and incentive-based campus competitions like the Inter-Residence Energy Reduction Competition. The key is careful planning to ensure easy maintenance.

"Very few people hang onto their pop cans all day until they find a recycling bin," says Greening McGill's Michelle Lee, who works on improving campus recycling. "We should make it easy for people to do the right thing."

Thankfully, university initiatives are doing just that. Rethink dedicated the first half of its conference to showcasing the innovative, often quirky work of student groups. While PGSS spurs debate through its Here on Earth speaker series, the Environment Residence Council encourages water preservation with freshmen shower races. And then there's Gorilla Composting, which proudly lugs 500 kilos of campus waste to a third-party farm every week.

"We ship up our food leftovers and kiss them goodbye... well, not literally," explains Gorilla representative Kealan Gell. Beyond student efforts, the university is also incorporating green thinking into the building design standards of the Master Plan. Diamond + Schmitt Architect Jack Diamond introduced conference attendees to some of the plan's environmentally friendly features, notably its larger leisure spaces and rooftop gardens, its reduced surface parking and its pedestrian walks.

"I love the fact that the master plan does align with McGill's environmental policy, especially with regards to green space," says Caitlin Worrell, environmental commissioner for the Students' Society of McGill University. "It's great that [the Master Planners] are welcoming student input."

Sowing the seeds

As a learning institution, McGill is uniquely positioned to serve as a role model for sustainability. Not only is it home to major conservation areas — the Morgan Arboretum on Macdonald campus, the Gault Estate on Mont St. Hilaire and the Molson Nature Reserve — it also collaborates with environment leaders Recyc-Québec and UNESCO.

While McGill still has a lot to learn, it is well on its way to becoming a sustainable campus — and creatively so. Rethink organizers proved their ingenuity when presenting Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Morty Yalovsky with a gift for his support: a generous stack of 100% post-consumer paper. What spells gratitude better than reused printing sheets? Now that's clever (re)thinking.

Want to get involved? Find out more about the Rethink campaign at

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