20/20 vision of a sustainable campus with Vision 2020

"Communities drag me in, especially those with ongoing arguments and a readiness for change."
David Gray-Donald, Sustainability Coordinator at the SSMU. / Photo: Owen Egan

By David Gray-Donald

Communities drag me in, especially those with ongoing arguments and a readiness for change. That makes the McGill community right now an ideal location for me in my role as Sustainability Coordinator at the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU). The position was created by students in the spring of 2011 to provide institutional memory at SSMU and to be a resource to help students achieve more through their on-campus efforts. I provide support through issue-specific projects, or by helping coordinate huge community collaboration efforts such as Vision 2020: Creating a Sustainable McGill, which is discussed later in this article.

After I graduated from McGill in 2010 (with a BA&Sc Environment and a minor in Biology), I worked in big city and small town Ontario, did a Project Management Certificate at U of T, and worked for the McGill Office of Sustainability in May 2011. It wasn’t my first time working in the Office of Sustainability. In 2009 and 2010, I oversaw much of the installation and operational planning for the Big Hanna composting system located just outside the Wong Building that composts kitchen scraps from dining halls around campus. In my more vocal days in 2007, I confronted Principal Heather Munroe-Blum, at a Town Hall meeting because the University hadn’t made composting a priority, as though that were the most pressing issue in the community.

In any case, I kept pushing, targeting more relevant stakeholders, made a class project in GEOG 302 out of my efforts, fundraised a big chunk of change from SSMU, Environment Canada, The Generations Pact, TD Friends of the Environment Fund and DAR, and saw the fruits of my labour arrive on campus in May 2010 after several years of dedicated effort.

But I’m weird, and most people won’t put in that much work into one task. However, some people will and lots more people are willing to put in some substantial effort to be part of bringing about beneficial change.

Vision 2020: Creating a Sustainable McGill is based on just that. People from all corners of McGill have been working to bring about change for a more sustainable community. Many of these efforts have been done in relative isolation, without top-down direction and without feeling like part of a larger community effort. Somewhat surprisingly, many projects have managed to thrive in these circumstances, potentially due to the ingenuity and persistence of the individuals and groups involved. Now, Vision 2020 is a year-long effort put together by students, staff, and faculty to ask “Where are we now?” then “Where do we want to be?” using a 10-year time frame, and finally “How do we get there?”

My current obsession here involves mapping out the entire community, formally and informally, trying to identify past and current champions of sustainability efforts, and trying to identify where connections should be sought out in the future.

The organizational structures and lines of influence here are extremely complex and equally fascinating to see with your eyes. I couldn’t possibly do an exercise like this alone, and it is proving to be a fun blend of disciplines, with professors from organizational behavior, geography and history currently involved, and many more being reached out to. Students and professors (and staff!) from all over the university have great insights and abilities on this sort of thing.

The same could be said of any issue on campus, and we can look critically with our academic strength at the issues of priority. Vision 2020 is in part about identifying what those priorities should be. Looking critically at various aspects of curriculum, research and operations here can be a great avenue for learning and self improvement, optimally at the same time.

If you have an idea or want to hear more ideas, and want to connect with great people in the community, join the online conversation at mcgillvision2020.com. Or participate in person at the Community Conversation to be held in the RVC Dining Hall on March 16, from 2-5 p.m.

 David Gray-Donald is Sustainability Coordinator at the Student’s Society of McGill University.