Funding a more sustainable future

Posted on Wednesday, November 14, 2012

By Julia Solomon

What do Community Engagement Day, La Cave bicycle cooperative, and Macdonald Farm veggies in the McGill dining halls have in common? All are initiatives supported by the Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF), an innovative program established in 2009 as a result of some inspiring teamwork.

“The cooperation was incredible,” says Lilith Wyatt, Sustainability Projects Fund Administrator. “The Fund exists today because of the openness and dedication of partners from across the University.”

In 2009, a group of committed students began meeting with Associate Vice-Principal (University Services) Jim Nicell to lay out a framework for what would become the SPF. They also began to drum up support for their idea around campus. In a November 2009 referendum, McGill students voted – overwhelmingly – in favour of a $0.50/credit fee (maximum $15 per year) to finance sustainability projects on and around McGill’s campuses. Students turned out in near-record numbers to vote for an increase in their fees to support sustainability work. McGill’s administration rose to the challenge as well, matching those funds dollar for dollar.

This amounts to a total balance of approximately $840,000 per year over the three years for which the SPF has been initially approved. Projects are selected through a competitive application process, and the Fund is governed by a consensus working group of stakeholders from many sectors of the University. A referendum to authorize renewal of the Fund will be held in Winter 2013.

“There are other campuses with funds to support ‘greening’ projects or sustainability projects,” says Wyatt, “but I don’t know of any that have the same degree of collaboration and commitment from both students and the administration.”

The other unique feature of McGill’s SPF, according to Wyatt, is the focus on building a campus culture of sustainability over the long-term. This emphasis on projects that build awareness and catalyze change has been a hallmark of the Fund from the start and is built into the project evaluation criteria. “We’re not looking for flash-in-the-pan projects. We want to support ideas that move McGill as a whole toward more sustainable attitudes and practices,” she says.

So far, this has meant funding a wide variety of projects that deal with issues from food systems to transportation to waste management. To date, more than 80 projects have been approved and more than $1.8 million has been committed. Though they vary in scope and topic, all funded projects demonstrate careful planning, high stakeholder involvement, and the potential to have a lasting impact.

Projects can be proposed by students, staff, faculty or any combination of the three – so far approximately 50 per cent of funded projects are led by staff, 50 per cent are led by students, and 90 per cent of project teams include staff-student collaboration. Applications to the SPF are accepted on a rolling basis.

“I’m amazed by the creative projects that people propose and I can’t wait to see the ideas that come in next,” says Wyatt. “When I walk across our campuses I see the effects of SPF projects everywhere I go. I truly believe that because of the investments we’re making now, not just the operations but also the culture of the McGill community is shifting toward sustainability.”

To learn more about the Sustainability Projects Fund or to submit an application, get in touch with Lilith Wyatt at or (514) 398-8826.

Sustainability Projects Fund Results by the Numbers

The effects of a program like the Sustainability Projects Fund can be difficult to quantify, but here is a snapshot of a few of the changes made possible by the Fund in 2011-2012 alone:

• 318,000 litres of rainwater were captured and used for irrigation

• 2 McGill food suppliers were certified local sustainable by Local Food Plus

• 15,721 kg of food was produced on McGill’s campuses for McGill and local communities

• 15,680 kg of compostable waste was diverted from landfill

• 56 students got course credit for contributing to Sustainability Projects Fund projects

• 21,000 people were educated about sustainability through presentations, radio shows, workshops, film screenings, exhibits, fairs…

• 100 sustainability related student jobs were created

 Brought to you by the Sustainability Projects Fund…

Did you know these 10 popular projects are made possible by the Sustainability Projects Fund?

• McGill Farmers’ Market

• Community Engagement Day

• Aboriginal Awareness Week

• Macdonald Campus Butterfly Garden

• La Cave Bike Collective

• “Big Hanna” Campus Composter

• Campus Crops (supplying Midnight Kitchen)

• Outdoor Frosh

• Meatless Mondays in McGill dining halls

• Edible Campus on Burnside Terrace

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