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Social change work is slow, and we’ve all heard stories of well-intentioned people burning out as they scramble to improve this big old world of ours. But what if this were different? In the fall of 2013, the McGill Office of Sustainability (MOOS) was fortunate to work with a social innovation group called Organization Unbound to explore this possibility by reimagining the way we think about and engage in social change. With the guidance of our two gentle and ever-curious facilitators, Jonathan Glencross and Lise Palmer, we were invited to focus on the people doing the work (in this case, us) through a six-month exploration of something they had called “expressive change”.


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Vision 2020 was incredibly ambitious, and as the whole thing draws to a close we’re in the mood for reflecting. As we collect the numbers for final reports, we’re reminded that Vision 2020 really was the largest, most far-reaching and collaborative sustainability project ever undertaken at McGill: it involved over 1500 participants engaged by an evolving team of 10 and a steering committee of 25. It featured 37 community events,17 new projects, 757 twitter followers, 10 210 blog views, 1460 newsletter subscribers… and 1 official Sustainability Strategy for McGill University. That last number, while the smallest, was pretty huge for us.


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The creation of the Local Action Research (LAR) internship came at a time when the focus of the Vision 2020 project was shifting from planning to action, and the question felt more important than ever. As the LAR intern working with Vision 2020 co-coordinators Josée Méthot and Jess Marais, I set out to develop a toolkit to inspire and enable action across the full breadth of sustainability, to establish a campus context of collaboration, accessibility, and transparency, and to share case studies of what works.

What made the process so fun was figuring out the steps, apparently invisible, at the beginning. How could we inspire and engage a community around a concept as slippery as sustainability?


The Sandbox

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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 Sandbox


I tumbled out of a summer internship in the Green mountains of Vermont just days before starting my full time job as Vision 2020 co-coordinator in the Office of Sustainability at McGill. For most of the summer I’d slept outside and hadn’t worn shoes, and so suddenly navigating the vibrant tangle of downtown Montreal in a heat wave to get to the 12th floor of a glass and concrete tower on Sherbrooke was just a little bit startling. Shoes were gently encouraged and there wasn’t much edible vegetation in sight, but I couldn’t help noticing some not-to-be-overlooked positive features of the space: plenty of light pouring in through tall, south-facing windows, temperature control, a steady flow of nibbled apple cores and spent tea leaves, and some of the most genuinely wonderful people I’ve ever met in my life. I tilted my head just a little to the side and saw that this was, as a matter of fact, a growing project waiting to happen.


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David Kalant, a member of the McGill Board of Governors, accepted our invitation to be one of the Keynote Listeners at Lift-Off: La Soirée Développement Durable on November 14th. What’s a Keynote Listener? For Lift-Off we decided to shake up the usual Keynote Speaker model by inviting important decision makers at the university to stand in as active listeners, open and receptive to the ideas of the community. Active listening is something we’ve been doing a lot of since Vision 2020 began, and we want to celebrate it as one of the most important skills we can cultivate – and encourage in our leaders. We hope to invite Keynote Listeners to future MOOS events, and invite others to try out similar models.