With the term winding down, thoughts turn to summer, the fall semester, and all the things that we didn’t get around to this academic year. Having been around McGill for way too long, I get to see a lot of what comes up and fades away from year to year. Here’s a list of meaningful ways to engage in sustainability around campus, all of which can provide tangible experiences and connections with interesting people around the community. McGill’s students pay me to work full-time for you so I’m 100 per cent willing to collaborate on any of these.
1. Curriculum—The time is ripe for a renewed conversation about sustainability in the content and delivery of undergraduate learning. We can actively challenge what we are learning about, and what skills and values we are acquiring here at McGill. For example, energy is an area of interest for many undergrad students, but learning opportunities are often scarce. Tweaking course evaluations, evaluating sustainability content in programs, and challenging professors, departments, and faculties to do better are all realistic activities that can be taken on.
2. New Principal —We often hear how the arrival of a new principal is one of the biggest opportunities for organizational change at a university. Students can help sculpt the principal’s entrance strategy. A community-signed letter to McGill’s incoming Principal, Suzanne Fortier, could be a powerful statement. Vision 2020, which is setting McGill’s sustainability strategy, has highlighted what many people in the community are saying and could make a decent template, but that doesn’t preclude any other issues from being brought forward as potential priorities.
3. Services—SSMU and other student governments house student-run services that do amazing work. There are too many to list, but getting involved at the Flat Bike Collective, the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), Midnight Kitchen, or a media service can help maintain the foundations of this community.
4. Applied Student Research (ASR)—McGill is an academic institution, so take an academic approach to solving campus issues. It can get you course credit, and produce real changes on our campus. The McGill Food Systems Project (MFSP), a systematic multi-year ASR effort started in 2009 has studied where food on campus comes from, and works with McGill to bring better options to campus. The similarly-styled McGill Energy Project and McGill Waste Project, both formed in the last year, will tackle these on-campus issues through a combination of internships and coursework, and are a great way to get involved.
5. Investments—Here are five ideas that could be pursued: discussing with the McGill Investments Office about divestment and diversification (they’re really open to student involvement); setting up a McGill-specific carbon tax or cap system; brainstorming with peers and professors about how McGill could effect change through shareholder engagement; looking into a revolving loan fund for money and energy saving at McGill as an investment; and setting up a fund for greenhouse gas reduction research drawn from revenues from McGill’s tar sand investments.
6. Events—We don’t all have enough time to take on massive multi-year projects, but an event on a pertinent topic can begin a critical conversation around campus. There’s the Sustainability Research Symposium, Desautels Business Conference on Sustainability, the Green Groups Forum for student groups, the Sustainability Fair, workshops exploring equity and sustainability, SUS Green Week, Business Beyond Tomorrow Conference, and lots of other recurring events that need help with direction and organizing.
As you can see, there is a lot to get involved with, you just have to take the initiative. ASR is often the biggest win-win for getting involved as a student; extra-curricular activities become core curriculum. I’m around in the summer and fall to help make it happen.
SSMU Sustainability Coordinator
BA&Sc 2010, Environment, Biology