Newly certified sustainable workplaces at McGill: Winter 2023

People sitting on outdoor steps eating lunch overlaid with a blue gradient, the Sustainable Workplace program logo and text that reads McGill University Sustainable Workplaces
Published: 17 May 2023

Five offices across disciplines and campuses embrace sustainability at work and beyond through the Sustainable Workplace Certification program

What motivates sustainable change?

For some, it may be a little friendly competition. Others say that, if given the tools to succeed, having a community of support is all the motivation they need. Regardless of how they got started, five McGill offices took action this winter to make their workplaces more sustainable through the University’s Sustainable Workplace Certification program. By changing habits such as donating furniture and talking about mental health, these workplaces offer a great reminder that to make a difference, all you need is a bit of teamwork – and a few plant swaps.

Desautel Infrastructure Team – Silver

Number of team members: 7

Sustainability goal: To be leaders in the faculty and demonstrate sustainable habits for others.

Sustainability Ambassador Alexander Aiken said that, for his team, this certification was part of something bigger. “Our team was motivated to seek certification because sustainability is one of the pillars in the Desautels Strategic Plan, and all units in the faculty were challenged to start the process of Sustainable Workplace Certification.”

The team rose to the occasion by quickly progressing from Bronze to Silver certification in just a month. Some of the many changes they have made include participating in a McGill furniture exchange to cut down on waste and improving their knowledge of how to make documents more accessible.

Aiken said he believes that thinking about sustainability has had a trickle-down effect from the office into their personal lives. “We’ve put in that extra effort, as individuals, to ensure we choose the more sustainable option, whether it be through purchasing, for example, or through pursuing healthier personal choices that contribute to our overall sense of wellness.”

Financial Services for Facilities Management – Silver

Number of team members: 10

Sustainability goal: To take pride in the successes they have had with previous sustainability initiatives, and to stay motivated to move toward Platinum certification.

Office member Luana Sorella shared insights from her team’s experience successfully implementing the changes needed to achieve Silver certification.

“[Getting the certification] helps us think about what and how we do things. Little changes can have an impact,” she said. “Educating yourselves and making these small changes can go a long way.”

This Financial Services office oversees the administration of the University’s Facilities Management operating budget and expenditures, along with all capital expenditures.

The team has incorporated new routines into their workplace habits, including cutting down on travel emissions by attending virtual conferences and encouraging a sense of community among staff by organizing a plant-cutting swap.

Their biggest takeaway: “We all play a part, and even small changes in everyone’s day to day can provide significant change.”

Macdonald Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies – Bronze

Number of team members: 6

Sustainability goal: To reduce office waste and be as ecologically responsible as possible, and to incorporate wellness into the office.

When asked about their motivation to become a certified office, Sustainability Ambassador Laura Wittebol joked that, as a member of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, sustainability was basically in the name.

“By becoming the first in our faculty to be McGill-certified for sustainability, we hope to inspire other staff and student groups in our faculty to do the same,” Wittebol said.

Through the Bronze certification, the team has committed to actions such as recycling office printer cartridges and making waste sorting resources more accessible to staff.

“We are very receptive to the idea of emotional sustainability in light of the hardships of the pandemic in the last two years, both for staff and graduate students,” said Wittebol. “We are probably now more forgiving of ourselves and more understanding of our students in certain situations than we might have been in the past.”

Another project this workplace is taking on is creating a Grad Office Welcomes Wellness initiative, which emphasizes creating a stress-free and comforting environment for incoming students.

“Our team is 100 per cent on board and glad to be moving in a positive direction!”

Desautels Career Management Centre – Bronze

Number of team members: 19

Sustainability goal: To further sustainable progress at McGill.

This office is not short on sustainable leaders, with five ambassadors instead of one: Sayeeda Alibhai, Monika Brozyna, Ruchy Khyrana, Lourdes Machado, and Alain Villemaire.

When asked about their decision to make this a collective effect, they said: “[For us, it’s about] team bonding, keeping in line with the sustainability goals of McGill and Desautels, and saving the environment for future generations.” They also believe their efforts may inspire changes in their colleagues’ personal lives.

Some of the sustainable changes the office has made include using recycling systems to their fullest extent and offering reusable dishware at office events.

For those thinking about incorporating sustainability into their office and wondering how much work it might take, this team said it was relatively easy. “[In terms of our work habits,] it’s had very little impact. Some staff are now more conscious of steps they need to take, but we were doing a lot of those steps already.”

Lending and Access Services, Humanities and Social Sciences Library Bronze

Number of team members: 18

Sustainability goal: To raise awareness and promote a work culture of sustainable choices, foster a healthier work environment, and encourage staff to use resources responsibly.

For this team, the process of getting sustainably certified was an opportunity to be more mindful when making decisions and to implement positive changes in their workplace.

“Discussing the certification program during our staff meetings created a platform for open dialogue that empowered the team to incorporate small sustainable practices and habits into our daily routine,” said Sustainable Workplace Ambassador Kristen Goodall.

Among other actions, staff members attended sustainability workshops, brushed up on their waste sorting knowledge, and stopped purchasing disposable dishes and cutlery for the unit. Their department also agreed to discontinue the use of the water cooler in their staff area. Instead, staff are encouraged to use the nearby water fountains.

“The process made staff aware of the impact of their actions,” added Carlo Della Motta, the team’s other Sustainable Workplace Ambassador. “It was also encouraging to see how few changes needed to be made and how many of these actions we were already doing.”

The Sustainable Workplace Certification program proposes environmentally, economically, and socially responsible actions to inspire sustainable changes at work and at home. Learn more on the Office of Sustainability’s website.

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