Back to the Basics with the SPF

The Sandbox

SPF Working Group members are seen above. You can find out more about their interests, domains, and careers online!


What is the SPF, according to you?


Kim: The SPF is a tool for being an agent of change in your own environment. It really looks for projects which will help McGill become a more sustainable university.

Krista: The image that always comes to mind when talking about the SPF is a spark. The SPF is an opportunity for someone to take ideas from the classroom and make them happen.


Who is an ideal or good SPF application?

Shona: Anyone who has an idea and is willing to cooperate with other people. Participants of the SPF have to not only consider the details of project, but also see the bigger picture and what else the project ties into. It’s interesting that even though the Fund has a mandate, the criteria are open to the idea of sustainability in any form or direction. In that sense the SPF is open to the community and is very adaptable.

Kim: The SPF projects that are the most successful – the ones that we notice have an unexpectedly huge impact – comprise people who are looking to learn. Applicants are usually curious to grow through the process of implementation – through learning by doing, sharing with other people, and being creative about all aspects.


It sounds like you’re continuously redefining sustainability – what are your thoughts on that? 

Shona: Sustainability in the past was limited to environmental definitions. But in the past few years, especially after Vision 2020, there’s been a lot of focus on integrating social and economic sustainability.

Kim: Over time, there’s been a focus on involving stakeholders who we might not intuitively think would be interested. One element that evolved over time was saying “yes – your project relates to sustainability, but it’s not just about sustainability as a concept or as a result.” Sustainability is also manifested in the way you manage the project – in the process.

Krista: We’re asking questions like, “how will this be institutionalized?” How can this project last longer than the term of the project team?


I noticed you had a focus group for feedback. So how are you making the new application more inclusive and how are you using that feedback?

Kim: There are three main reasons why we changed the application process. The first was practical. We found that when the Working Group members assessed a project, they’d often need more information than was available on the application. The new application reduces the number of questions that go back-and-forth, and it identifies the answers we really need. The second reason is transparency – we wanted to make sure that we were accountable to project teams by being clear and transparent about our evaluation criteria.  A third reason for changing the application is to help us accompany project teams better as they elaborate their project in more detail.

Krista: We want to make sure that people know that we’re here to support them and that we’ll assist them with their ideas and projects. We’re always around to help them fill out the forms, answer questions, and to help them get to where they want to be.

Kim: In addition to transforming the application form itself, we’re preparing tools for budgets, tools for HR, and some tools to facilitate more effective project management. We also made a new Working Group webpage so that people could see everyone on the Working Group. We’re a little more accessible this way.


What’s the common thread, or X factor amongst the members of the Working Group?  

Kim: I think one thing they have in common is their interest in sustainability. They’re all interested in seeing McGill evolve. I think they’re all interested in working together, too. There’s a lot of mutual respect amongst members. They also share an openness to learn – they all come from different programs and departments. The diversity of the Working Group allows us to have feedback from experts in the field. The members who might not know the topic as well will ask questions – they all share information in a very collegial manner. Everyone comes out having learned something!


What is your vision for the SPF?

Kim: If I were to aim really high, I’d want other universities to look at McGill and say, “That’s such a model for sustainability.” We want everyone who participates in the SPF to absorb the principles behind the Fund so that they can apply what they’re learned in their workplace and environment inside and outside McGill.

Krista: I agree. We’re all working towards a community and a network – we’re hoping that no matter where they are, the participants of the SPF still have this learning experience in common.

Shona: The SPF really makes sure that we meet people where they’re at – we meet them at their definition of sustainability, but we also aim to enhance their idea of what it is, whether we’re talking environmental sustainability, accessibility, or community engagement. The SPF aims to bring people to a deeper understanding of sustainability so that they can incorporate it into their lives.


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