Where are we with Vision 2020?

The Sandbox

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The Vision 2020 Sustainability Strategy Progress report is finally out! We sat down with MOOS Manager Francois Miller to chat about how far we’ve come and where we’re going.

Sustainability certainly isn’t a new concept for McGill. But are we addressing the full-scope of sustainability – social, environmental and economic – with our efforts today? How close are we?

It is not an easy task to assess how these three dimensions of sustainability are taken into account within the complex functioning of our institution. However, a good starting point is the 2014-2016 Vision 2020 Action Plan, which seeks to integrate sustainability into five broad categories: research, education, connectivity, operations, and governance & administration. Our first progress report indicates that the implementation of the 14 priority actions of Vision 2020 is progressing very well, which is encouraging.

 

How has the idea of social sustainability evolved, and how do you talk about it at MOOS?

The most accepted definition of sustainable development comes from the Brundtland Report ‘Our Common Future.’ Sustainable development was defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Even today, this definition is the most widespread. However, if you keep reading the Brundtland Report, it mentions that “two concepts are inherent to this notion: the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the poor, who should be given the most priority; and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of our techniques and of our social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.” So sustainable development has always had a crucial social component.

What distinguishes our Office is the effort that we make to promote the social dimension of sustainability. And that message is getting through. The best example I can find to illustrate this is the list of projects approved by the Sustainability Projects Fund Working Group. We fund projects which represent a broad vision of sustainability – including the provision of a Family Resources Coordinator and an anti-oppression program for students.

 

According to the AASHE STARS review mentioned in the strategy, McGill is a mid-range silver. How are we doing about sustainability when compared to other institutions?

First, for those who are less familiar with AASHE STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System), it’s a scoring system used to assess the sustainability performance of universities. Each institution must collect nearly a thousand data points divided into 4 categories: academic, commitment, planning, and operations & administration. For McGill – like many other universities – the first challenge is to collect relevant information, as it’s often scattered across departments or simply nonexistent.

So how do we perform compared to other institutions? I think it’s all a matter of context. Obviously, McGill has many advantages which position us at the forefront, like our Sustainability Projects Fund of $850,000 (one of the largest funds dedicated to sustainability in North America), our green, pedestrian-friendly downtown campus and our unique food management systems. On the other hand, our climate, the diversity of our institutions and facilities, and our historic infrastructure are all factors to consider while making direct comparisons. We received the Silver rating in 2012, but in the coming months we hope to re-evaluate how we position ourselves, keeping in mind that our data collection will be more thorough and the implementation of the Vision 2020 Sustainability Strategy could have a positive impact.

 

How much progress have we made when it comes to the five categories of Vision 2020? What about the 14 priority actions?

Looking at our Progress Report, the first thing to note is that we’re on track. Halfway into the implementation phase of the 2014-2016 Action Plan, our deliverables are advanced to about 50%. We also see that progress varies depending on the category. The thing to understand here is that the percentages put forward in our Progress Report do not reflect the performance of McGill University in general, but the level of achievement of the specific Vision 2020 deliverables.

To give an example, we’re at 30% in the Research category. This means that on average, the deliverables under this category are one-third completed. In no way does this imply that McGill is under-performing in the field of sustainability research. In fact, it’s quite the contrary.

 

The two questions asked during V2020 were – “is this possible?” and “is this enough?” What are your current thoughts on those two questions?

This issue is fascinating because it appeals to our ability to find a balance between ambition and pragmatism. To the question “Is it possible?” I would answer: certainly. As I mentioned previously, the Progress Report of Vision 2020 shows us that we are on track with the implementation of the 14 priority actions.

Now is this enough? More difficult to say. Has enough effort been made to mobilize the McGill community? Certainly. Do the vision and goals of the strategy propose a framework ambitious enough for our institution? Absolutely. Are the priority actions transformative enough to achieve the vision and the goals? Probably not. And that’s why in the next few months, MOOS intends to start working on the next action plan that will cover the 2017-2020 period.

The main thing we can celebrate about Vision 2020 is the fact that a large, diverse community of people passionate about sustainability came together to write a crucial visioning document – and that the same spirit of community participation and engagement is still alive today!

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