McGill recognized as number two school for efforts in sustainability

McGill continues to hold the title of the second most sustainable university in Canada, as reported by Corporate Knights magazine, which rates organizations across the country by their sustainability. McGill earned a total score of 75 per cent on Oct. 30, which was based on 13 environmental indicators including the number of green building spaces on its campus and sustainable investments in its portfolio. McGill’s score was one per cent behind the University of Calgary and three per cent above Wilfrid Laurier University.

One of the most heavily-weighed factors in the ranking was food sustainability. As the magazine explains, buying locally reduces pollution from transportation. As McGill’s Food and Dining Services reports, at least 75 per cent of its produce is farmed locally during the summer, 50 per cent during the fall, and 25 per cent during the spring. McGill also became the first Canadian university to receive certification from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which identifies organizations that support sustainable fishing and fish farming practices.

McGill is also widely recognized for its initiatives in fair trade foods, another key element of the Corporate Knight’s ranking system. In February 2017, McGill was chosen out of 21 competing universities to receive the 2016 Fair Trade Canada Campus of the Year Award for its continued support for fair trade products and practices.

Fair trade practices refer to considering the environmental and social factors behind food production. Roddick Roast, McGill’s own coffee blend sourced from small fair trade farms in Mexico, is an example of this.

“Once you see a fair trade label on a product you know that it came from a fair trade certified farm and that the proper price was paid for it and that all the actions were properly audited,” Fair Trade Executive Director Julie Francoeur said. “It’s also a development tool, how do we generate impact over time in those communities?”

Another important factor in the ranking was how environmentally sustainable the structural design of buildings was. McGill scored well in this category because it has received the gold certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a certification based on a building’s resource efficiency and environmental quality. McGill’s Life Sciences Complex is the only university-owned laboratory in Quebec that has received the LEED gold certification from the Canada Green Building Council. The McGill Health Centre’s Glen site is also the first hospital in Quebec to receive a LEED gold certification. Carmen Lampron, director of the Life Sciences Complex, described how buildings that meet the LEED certification requirements have long-lasting, quality materials and healthier employees.

Building a LEED building is more expensive than building a regular building, but over years you will gain in your costs for operation, [and you are being] a good citizen,” Carmen Lampron, director of the Life Sciences Complex, said.

McGill also sponsors numerous student-led environmental initiatives on campus through the Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF). Launched in 2010, the SPF is one of the largest funds for sustainable projects in North America, awarding more than $5.5 million to over 170 projects thus far.

“What’s really unique [about the SPF] is that students become project managers,” Toby Davine, communications officer at the McGill Office of Sustainability, said. “Those students that apply to lead a project get to set the budget, they get to hire people, and see a project from start to finish which gives them a certain level of independence and autonomy. It’s really centered on student learning. [It] allows students to take what they learned in the classroom and apply it […] to something that they really care about.”

In an effort to improve its environmental performance, McGill launched its Climate and Sustainability Action Plan on Dec. 1. By the year 2040, McGill aims to become carbon neutral. With the current drive for environmental sustainability within the McGill community, Toby Davine believes that this is possible.

“I think that carbon neutrality is definitely a challenge, but if we weren’t challenging ourselves, there’s no point,” Davine said.

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