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Uniting the chaos through sustainable changes

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The McGill Environment Students' Society (MESS) is working to solve the lack of space for Environment students through sustainable initiatives, starting with the new MESS lounge. Upon receiving both basement space and funding from the School of Environment, the MESS council has been working to revamp the two rooms and couches sitting in the school’s building on Rue University. This redesign has catapulted further into different sustainable practices being undertaken within the space, such as a coffee co-op and alternative composting. 

Andi Antal, U3 Environment, commented on the importance of having a space for Environment students.

“We’re always meshed in with Geography students,” Antal said. “Because of that we don’t have our own identity.”

Antal also spoke about the approach to furnishing the rooms that will put sustainable practices into action. Most of the furniture and decor pieces have been bought or found at Value Village, and on Craigslist—even the espresso machine that will be used by the Coffee Collective is a second hand purchase. 

“Everything we need is already made, we don’t want to produce anything more,” Antal said. “If we buy used, we’re contributing to reduction of waste [because] those items [aren’t] ending up in a landfill [and we’re] extending the lifecycle of the material good. Recycling is a mitigator but doesn’t actually address the issue of things being overproduced and in turn things being over consumed.”

Within the student space, MESS is also hoping to put a second initiative into action: The vermicompost. In conjunction with Campus Crops, a student run urban gardening initiative at McGill, the MESS team is hoping to set up the compost, which is a process by which worms are used to recycle organic waste. Eventually MESS is looking to set up a how-to workshop on composting for other students interested in waste reduction—whether that is with their own vermicompost or more simple but different ways to compost while on campus.

Antal is also leading the MESS mural design project, a rolling submission-based contest for a mural that will cover two small walls in the basement area of the lounge. This is a way to engage students more actively with the space, amd assure the space is representative of the environment community. 

“My major role in it is more the artistic stuff,” Antal said. “Having environmentalism and art as two of my major interests, I’m always trying to find ways to merge [them] and have them work together because I think they can [both be] really powerful.”

One of the final, tastier sustainable initiatives being introduced is the Coffee Collective Co-op, an independent student run group that will work to give students a cheaper alternative to specialty coffees on campus. 

Chelsea Kingzett, U2 Environment student and MESS External Representative to the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Council, explained that they will be sourcing from a Montreal company called Union as one way of keeping the co-op locally based. They’re also eliminating the option of the to-go cup in order to encourage students to bring tumblers with them, or stay in the lounge with their coffees in reusable cups. 

“[The] MESS council decided unanimously to share [the] space with the Coffee Co-op,” Kingzett said. “[So] it will be a coffee bar located in […] the MESS lounge. It’s going to be a program run by volunteers […] as a break-even operation. Basically, we’ll charge the amount to source beans for the next batch.”

By reducing coffee waste and using the vermicompost bins, the program will run as a zero waste operation. 

Although the efforts focus on sustainability, Antal and Kingzett both note that the projects ultimate goal will be to unite the school of Environment together as a community.

“Having the environment lounge will give students a space to come together, cross paths, and talk about different stuff they’re doing or even just meet people,” Kingzett said. “People […] want more events and more opportunities to interact with [other] Environment students and we’re hoping this space will facilitate that.” 

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