Speaking to students beyond McGill’s tight-knit environmental community, there is one question I encounter often: “Whatever happened to sustainability at McGill?” Awareness around campus of environmental initiatives comes down to three things: space, community outreach, and education—and particularly, the lack of all three. What can be done to improve this situation? Enter the Educational Community Living Environment (ECOLE)—the perfect blend of collective student living, learning, and community building—something like “the Real World: Montreal (Green Edition).”
Set in a soon-to-be converted MORE house residence that will open its doors in September, ECOLE seeks to revitalize the concept of sustainability at McGill. The house, as a student-run space, will not only provide a hub for the sustainability enthusiasts, but also be a model for sustainable change in the eyes of the greater McGill and Milton-Parc communities. It will house up to 12 residents—or “facilitators”—who will experiment with materially and socially responsible living, and undertake individual applied research projects based around their collective living experience. Facilitators will come from a diversity of academic, cultural, and social backgrounds to promote the awareness of sustainability as a universal concept applicable to all aspects of life—not merely environmentally-based ones.
As an accessible space, ECOLE will also be open to all members of the greater McGill student community, as well as for the residents of Milton-Parc. It will be an alternative meeting ground for various student clubs and local organizations, as well as a place to hold joint recreational activities such as film screenings or potluck dinners. Of course, all food served will be locally sourced and subsequently composted. It will also actively engage in collaborative projects with the Milton-Parc community, and attempt to mitigate the existing tension between the citizens and students who inhabit the area.
In addition to broadening community interaction, ECOLE will enlarge the academic scope of sustainability through an interdisciplinary approach. The project will foster hands-on learning that cannot be experienced in the classroom; through meetings and workshops led by the facilitators, any interested students will have the chance to experience sustainability from all different perspectives, and relate these concepts to their own lives.
Equity will also play a significant role in the education process—as not only material but also social change is vital for building a sustainable future. Facilitators will lead anti-oppression workshops in their attempt to improve the climate of social justice among the inhabitants of the McGill student environment.
From an operational viewpoint, ECOLE will be run in adherence with a concrete governance structure and an “ECOnstitution,” which will lay down the guidelines designed to enforce transparency and consensus-based decision making. While there will be other actors involved in the political processes that surround ECOLE, it will have a mandate to maintain student sovereignty in all functional matters.
Given the realities of a McGill student’s everyday life, it can be difficult to live sustainably and responsibly. Despite all good intentions, the need for efficiency often trumps environmental duties. With the introduction of ECOLE, we believe that we can work to construct a healthy alternative culminating in a material effort to reduce, reuse, and recycle, and a social structure that is both non-oppressive and vibrant.
As the project grows, we hope to see the ideal take shape more clearly: a diverse range of students from different academic faculties living ecologically and equitably sound lives in a community that truly serves as an example of positive human action within the ‘natural environment’ of downtown Montreal.