A Big Moment for Sustainability at McGill… Clarifying our Definition of Sustainability

The Sandbox


By: Josée Méthot

A year and a half ago the most common question we heard on campus was probably “hey, what’s Vision 2020?” After engaging thousands of students, staff and faculty in the process of envisioning a sustainable McGill and laying out the steps it’ll take to get there, we think that question got answered. But now that our intensive community consultation process has wrapped up and wound down, the question we keep hearing is “hey, where did Vision 2020 go?”

The truth is we’ve been delving deeply into the realm of governance at the university since the Lift-Off celebration last fall, learning from our friends in administration exactly how to advance the community-sourced Sustainability Strategy towards official McGill approval. This journey has taken us out of McGill’s hallways and common spaces and into its board rooms and offices for focused meetings with the people who will be moving forward the individual actions described in the document.

It’s been an intensive period of learning, and one that’s required equal parts grit and good humour from everyone involved. After submitting a draft of the Sustainability Strategy to the senior administration team in November, 2013, we received some very constructive feedback that highlighted some areas in need of change. First, the number of proposed actions was overly large (51!) and their scope was very, very broad. While composting and energy efficiency are easily recognized by a general population as key topics in sustainability, issues like accessible gathering places, French language acquisition and the regular publication of Failure Reports are not always understood as relevant to the sustainability movement. And secondly, while the Vision and Goals for sustainability at McGill were appropriately holistic, the actions that followed needed to be more focused, concrete, and time-bound.

It didn’t take long to realize that this was an invitation to strengthen the Strategy. We got back to work with the guidance of our amazing Steering Committee of students, staff and faculty, focusing on refining our list of priority actions and clarifying our definition of sustainability. We met with stakeholders, gathered more feedback, got the wording right and set deliverables for the next two years rather than five. The result: a shorter, more focused, and, well, strategic strategy.

Where we had initially included 51, we now have 14 priority actions. These were selected on the basis of the following criteria:

  1. Their clear linkage with sustainability and/or their provision of an entry point to further the understanding of sustainability at McGill;
  2. Their ability to fill an identified gap in sustainability at McGill;
  3. The commitment and approval of key implementing partners;
  4. The feasibility of deliverables being accomplished in 2014-2016.

And where are the dozens of other actions? Many are thriving beyond the official limits of the Sustainability Strategy, advanced on the ground by countless individuals, units and faculties. Others will no doubt reappear in future iterations of the document, moving us closer to the holistic vision of sustainability in researcheducationconnectivityoperationsand governance and administration that we know we’re ready for.

For now, we’re anticipating the big day when this second incarnation of the draft Sustainability Strategy is brought forward for official approval. We’re feeling energized by the process and excited that the Strategy is backed by more support than ever. Check it out here, refresh yourself on the vision we created together, and stay tuned for the big news later this month…

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