The Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) Sustainability Case Competition Expo took place on Wednesday, March 14, in the SSMU ballroom, where six teams showcased their designs for the upcoming construction of a sustainable student-run cafÃ©. After two rounds of rigorous competition, students voted on their favourite design, with a panel of judges announcing Team Fireside CafÃ© as the winner.
After the September 2010 closure of the student-run Architecture CafÃ©, SSMU challenged students
to collaborate and create innovative designs with an emphasis on environmental and economic
The participants were motivated by an array of visions and ambitions, from concern for the perception of food culture to fulfilling restaurateur hopes. One member of Team CafÃ© Evergreen, agriculture and environmental science student Margherita Springer, underlined the importance rekindling students’ relationship with food. Her team’s concept centred on a cup of tea to promote a sense of community and a healthy perspective on food.
“It gives students an opportunity to really get attached to their food,” Springer said. “You have a cup
of tea in front of you, and there’s a story behind that cup of tea, and how it came to be, where it came from … it reconnects you to the fact that it hasn’t just magically arrived there.”
“And I think that’s where poor eating habits come from, because [people] don’t realise how food is
made and what their relationship to food is,” she added.
A few participants saw this competition as a stepping stone in their potential career path as a
restaurateur, and appreciated the opportunity to apply the skills needed to operate a cafÃ©.
“I immediately applied because I’m interested in restaurants and would like to open a restaurant
one day,” Jenny Wood, a U3 science student from Team Growing Grounds, said. The team focused on nutrition transparency and a self-serving, pay-as-you-go concept that aims at reducing environmental waste.
Sustainability was an overarching theme at the Expo. There was much talk over the use of locally
sourced food, and in the case of Team Thatched Roof CafÃ©, locally sourced wood. Another sustainability driven concept of theirs was ‘Project Squirrel,’ which plans to can and preserve produce from farmers in a 250 km radius over the summer to be used all throughout the year. Ideas to grow vegetables in the cafÃ© were also popular.
Team The Loop understood sustainability as a loop – as never ending cycles. This inspired them to conceptualise a grey-water filtration system, filtering water from sinks and dishwaters and using it to grow hydroponic plants in the cafÃ©-herbs, lettuce, and tomatoes that can be used in salads served to customers.
“I’m really excited to see such amazing teams come together with such creativity to create a more
sustainable community,” a representative of Dix Mille Villages said, and one of many organisations and businesses like Dessau, Aedifica, and Ambrosia that were present at the expo.
Team Fireside CafÃ©, composed of Kartik Sameer Madiraju, Jane Zhang, Andrew Wu, and Rebecca Rosenthal, was announced as the winner of the competition, winning a prize of $6,000 and the prestige of having their design implemented for the student-run cafÃ©. With Thatched Roof CafÃ© taking third place and Team Growing Grounds as the runner-up, SSMU also distributed $100 prizes to each participant in appreciation for their hard work throughout the competition.
Team Fireside CafÃ© focuses on integrating the feeling of home and sustainability, while placing
core importance on building a welcoming, respectful community. The student-run cafÃ© is set to be
constructed in the student centre this year.
“It is amazing,” Rosenthal said about their win. “We had so much help from so many people from both McGill and Montreal, and it’s been such an uplifting feeling.”
“I find it really fitting that we are designing a cafÃ© that is community oriented, because truly, it took [the support of] a village,” Wu said.