Launched as part of McGill’s Bicentennial celebrations, impact200 is a sustainability challenge aimed at turning student ideas into concrete projects to make the world a better, and greener, place. The objective is to address, in particular, the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals designed to protect the planet, improve lives and end poverty.
The response from McGill students was impressive: 44 teams of between three and six members submitted proposals following the original call for entries in late 2020. Of those, 10 were named as finalists this past April.
The projects focus on alleviating environmental and social problems in myriad ways. These initiatives include everything from converting harmful excess algal bloom into biomass and transforming solid waste into nutrition; to purifying contaminated water and developing a solar mobile refrigerator for clinics in remote regions. The common thread tying all impact200 finalists together is to make the world a better place.
Each finalist received funding and expert mentors to help develop a proof-of-concept during the summer. The impact200 initiative would not have been possible without the generous financial support of the Sustainability Projects Fund, the Faculty of Science, and the Faculty of Arts.
Leading up to the announcement of the winning project in December, we will feature each of the 10 finalists in the Reporter.
Today, we speak with Simon Cleghorn (U1 Civil Engineering), Co-Founder, Outreach and Coordination Specialist, of the 200 Urban Garden, a project looking to establish 200 new gardens in Montreal by turning under-utilized pockets of land into lively green spaces with themed gardens.
Could you describe the 200 Urban Garden Project?
With 200 Urban Garden, we hope to create a network of equitable and multifunctional green spaces that promote a culture of sustainability throughout the city. Urban centres, such as Montreal, often have large amounts of unused and barren land. Simultaneously, these cities also tend to have much lower amounts of green space per person than what is recommended by public health organizations like the WHO.
Our team aims to take under-utilized pockets of land and revitalize them, creating vibrant gardens. These green spaces will work to improve the mental health of visitors by providing an outlet to individuals who may otherwise be surrounded by concrete.
Our proof-of-concept Wong Garden was constructed this summer, which produced a wide variety of produce from ghost peppers to herbs to watermelons, and utilized hydroponics, solar panels, and rain barrels in its operation. When the spaces are complete and the weather is nice, they are open to use for McGill students or groups hosting workshops.
How many people are on the team?
Six! The team consists of Thinh Bui (U4 Chem. Eng.), Quang Anh Nguyen (U4 Chem. Eng.), Stephanie Mok (PhD. Chem Eng. 21), Sophia Roy (U4 Chem. Eng.), Anita Nagarajan (MSc. 2 Bioresource Eng.) and myself, Simon Cleghorn (U1 Civil Eng.).
Which of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals does this project address?
Our project addresses a large number of the Sustainable Development Goals, but it primarily addresses #3 Good Health and Well-Being; #11 Sustainable Cities and Communities; #9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; and #12 Responsible Consumption and Production.
200 Urban Garden contributes to Good Health and WellBeing by providing a healthy outlet to students, as time spent in green space has been directly proven to benefit mental health. Furthermore, the project addresses Sustainable Cities and Communities by increasing the proportion of natural environment in our urban centres, which reduces environmental concerns such as Urban Heat Island effect, erosion, and air pollution. Industry Innovation and Infrastructure is addressed as the gardens are used to showcase innovations in green technology, bringing these innovations to the attention of students and advertising them.
What was the genesis of the initiative?
200 UrbanGarden began with three Chemical Engineering classmates who wanted to create a system of sustainable urban gardens for the Impact200 competition. First, they learned of another individual, Stephanie Mok, who was already working towards a similar goal and had been granted access to a plot of land on downtown campus. These parties then agreed to join forces in pursuit of a common goal: making Montreal greener. Then, through imapct200’s online platform, team mates Anita and Simon saw the project description, applied enthusiastically and were accepted onto the team. The six McGill students and alumni have been working together on 200 Urban Garden since September 2020.
Could you tell us a bit about the mentorship phase of the impact200 competition? How did it work, how beneficial was it?
We have been extremely fortunate to speak with several export mentors throughout the last few months as we formed our ideas. Throughout the drafting and brainstorming process, we received tremendous guidance from Tatiana Estevez Carlucci (Founder of Permalution), Ahmed Hanafy (Senior Consultant at Dunsky), Professor David Wees (McGill Dept. of Farm Management and Technology, McGill Dept. of Plant Science) and Professor Irene Gregory-Eaves (McGill Dept. of Biology).
We then began working with David Marshall, manager of sustainability and public affairs at Resolute Forest Products. David is a McGill graduate as well and has significant experience in sustainable development, and has been an extremely valuable asset to our team.
Finally, we are also now working alongside J. Adam Dudeck, a Senior Campus Planner here at McGill. Having Mr. Dudeck to turn to at times of confusion, or when running into issues with logistics, has been beneficial to the highest degree. As we build urban gardens, we are altering the landscape of the area, so having the perspective of an Urban Planner is very valuable.
What are the biggest challenges the team has faced and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenges we have faced as a team have regarded logistical issues with the garden space. Initially, we were granted access to a plot of land along Rue Penfield. Unfortunately, since one side of the land bordered on city property, we would have had to go through a very lengthy application process, and this would not have allowed for us to complete a proof-of-concept garden in the timespan of the impact200 competition. We instead decided to find another plot of land on campus and adjust our design to the new space. In general, being flexible and maintaining a “can-do” attitude has allowed us to overcome our issues.
When working towards a large goal in a project with many stakeholders, compromises will often have to be made in order to continue moving forward. As long as the true vision of the project is maintained, this is in the best interest of the team. This takeaway was very valuable for us as a team to learn, as we enter the workforce and try to create positive change in the field of sustainability.
Where does the initiative stand at present?
After a very successful first season as 200 UrbanGarden and the construction of the Wong Garden, we are now in process of publishing our online urban-gardening resource hub. Over the next academic year we will transition into a club-style initiative, with involvement opportunities available to any interested McGill students. The team will be responsible for maintaining the Wong Garden next year, as well as hopefully scaling up to create more sustainable gardens!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Best of luck to all impact200 teams in the final round, we are honoured to be competing alongside each and every one of you!
Watch the videos of all the Finalists of the impact200 Bicentennial Student Sustainability Challenge and vote for your favourite project. Winners will be announced on December 2. Vote here.