Community Conversations on Carbon Neutrality

The Sandbox

After six months of consultations, a possible target emerged for the Sustainability & Climate Action Plan: to make McGill a carbon neutral. We invited students, faculty, and staff to the Community Conversations on Carbon Neutrality to provide feedback and ideas.

 

Following a two-year community engagement process, the McGill Office of Sustainability launched the Vision 2020 Sustainability Strategy in 2014. The Strategy lays out a framework for achieving the highest possible standards of sustainability on our campuses. Between 2014 to 2016, fourteen priority actions were advanced across five categories: Research, Education, Connectivity, Operations and Governance & Administration.

With year 2020 on the horizon, we are entering the final stretch. Since September 2016, the Office of Sustainability  has been conducting consultation events for the next phase for Vision 2020 Climate & Sustainability Action Plan. We established five multi-stakeholder action teams, consisting of students, faculty, and staff who met three times throughout the year to discuss the key actions to be pursued in the next phase.

Through these consultation events, the Office of Sustainability was able to identify two high-level targets: a platinum sustainability rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and carbon neutrality. In order to raise awareness about the topic of carbon neutrality and gather feedback from the McGill community, the Office of Sustainability hosted three Community Conversations on Carbon Neutrality in March 2017. The Community Conversations were hosted at both the Macdonald and downtown campuses and gathered about fifty participants.

Each meeting was organized into three components: an introductory presentation on carbon neutrality and McGill’s current carbon emissions; a break-out discussion session in which attendees identified the major sources of McGill’s carbon emissions and possible reduction strategies; finally, a group discussion on carbon neutrality at McGill.

During the Community Conversations, participants discussed the major sources of McGill’s carbon emissions – buildings, air travel, commuting, and vehicles – and possible reduction strategies. Below are some of the key comments and suggestions made during the three events.

Buildings

The Community Conversations were hosted at MacDonald Campus and downtown. Around fifty students, faculty, and staff members attended.

  • The biggest barrier to reducing emissions from buildings is funding. With increased funding, more efficient infrastructure could be build.
  • Stricter policies are needed that include regulations for new buildings and renovations for existing buildings.
  • Cultural shifts would help to mitigate building emissions, such as educating lab users about sustainable lab practices.

Air Travel

  • Most participants felt that policy changes were the most important leverage point for reducing emissions. Such a policy could determine when air travel is necessary, and make appropriate alternatives available when it is not.
  • Attendees believed that a culture shift is necessary to accept teleconferencing instead of traveling to a conference or meeting.
  • Some air travel is entirely necessary and funding is required to offset the emissions.

Commuting

  • Policy changes would create the biggest impact in reducing commuting-relating emissions at McGill.
  • Suggestions included having electric-vehicle-only parking spaces, parking fee increases, and financial incentives to carpool.
  • Increasing partnerships with organizations like the STM to offer discounted rates to students, as well expanding current options.

McGill’s Fleet of Vehicles

  • Funding is necessary to purchase vehicles that will have a lower impact on the environment.
  • Many suggested that the Macdonald campus shuttle bus should be a hybrid or electric vehicle, on both practical and symbolic grounds.

    Participants identified McGill’s major sources of emissions and possible reduction strategies during three meetings.

The Community Conversations illustrated that there is general support and interest for McGill to commit to carbon neutrality. However, there was some apprehension among participants concerning how significant and ambitious McGill’s path to carbon neutrality would be. Chief among these concerns is the level dependence of carbon offsets and the target date to achieve carbon neutrality.

Several participants also pointed out that if McGill is seeking to become a leader among its peers on climate action, any commitment to carbon neutrality should also be accompanied by divestment from fossil fuels. Some participants also raised questions about the ethics and reliability of carbon offsets. For instance, some argued that offsets simply allow organizations to buy their way out of emissions while continuing operations in a business-as-usual fashion.

The comments and concerns expressed at the Community Conversation events, along with those made at other community consultation events will inform the final 2017-2020 Climate & Sustainability Action Plan. This Plan is set to be released in September 2017  – stay tuned! You can follow the Vision 2020 process on social media or on our website.

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