McGill community members generate bold ideas for addressing sustainability challenges on campus

Students, faculty and staff brainstorm ideas for addressing some of McGill’s biggest sustainability challenges at the first Sustainability Projects Fund Challenge

On February 9th, the McGill Office of Sustainability and the Environment Committee of the Student Society of McGill University (SSMU) hosted the very first Sustainability Projects Fund Challenge. With about $1 million in funding available each year, the Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF) is the largest seed-fund of its kind in North America. The McGill Farmers’ Market, Community Engagement Day, the Plate Club, and the McGill Spin Bike Gardens are just some of the campus projects that have received support from the SPF.

The Challenge was a half-day event, during which attendees were divided into small teams and had a couple of hours to brainstorm tangible ideas that could help improve sustainability on campus through two means: (1) becoming a carbon neutral university (one of the long-term targets in McGill's Climate & Sustainability Action Plan) and (2) increasing urban agriculture on campus. Each group had a facilitator who was knowledgeable of the topic, while two experts were on hand all afternoon to answer questions from all groups.

At the end of the two-hour brainstorm session, each team presented a project proposal to a panel of three judges, all of whom were former members of the SPF Working Group. The Working Group is responsible for evaluating project applications for the SPF. The projects aimed at attaining carbon neutrality included creating an internal carbon credit market and reducing food waste, while the urban agriculture projects included a residence garden program and a collective to facilitate garden collaboration.

After much deliberation, the judges chose the urban agriculture collective as the winning project proposal; however, all teams were encouraged to submit funding applications for their projects. “The main goal of this challenge was to connect students and administrative stakeholders wanting to create a positive impact at McGill, and generate some feasible yet innovative ideas of how to address institutional challenges,” said Claire Paoli, who helped to organize the event in her capacity as an intern at the Office of Sustainability. “I was thoroughly impressed with the project proposals, and it was particularly rewarding to see participants from different faculties work together and very organically complement each other's skills.”

The event was attended by nearly 50 members of the McGill community. Given its success, the Challenge may be repeated in future years.

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