By Monica Allaby
On Tuesday, April 3, the McGill Office of Sustainability hosted its eighth annual Catalyst Awards Gala. Each spring, the Catalyst Awards recognize students, staff, and faculty who have made meaningful and enduring contributions to the sustainability movement at McGill University.
More than 100 people gathered at the McCord Museum to celebrate both groups and individuals for their dedicated efforts to make the University more sustainable. The Gala itself achieved a gold certification from McGill Sustainable Events.
The evening began with opening remarks from Principal Suzanne Fortier. She highlighted a number of important sustainability initiatives on campus, including the recent announcement that McGill plans to ban all non-reusable plastic water bottles by May 2019. She then expressed gratitude towards the students spearheading sustainability projects on campus. “I would like to thank the students in particular who are working on these issues. You and your generation have really taken leadership on sustainability,” she said.
Following remarks from the Principal, Office of Sustainability Director Francois Miller presented the seven awards.
The Catalyst Award for Research & Education went to TeamMTL, a collaboration of students and faculty members from McGill and Concordia. TeamMTL participated in the international Solar Decathlon China 2018 competition, in which teams designed and built net-zero energy, single-family homes designed to the highest standards of sustainability. This project has brought together over 100 students from more than 10 departments working to design, prototype and build the next generation of urban housing.
The team’s proposal, the Deep Performance Dwelling, is a high-performance row house designed to address both quantitative and qualitative notions of sustainability. One of the team’s key priorities is raising awareness of climate change, renewable energy, and sustainable building innovation. Over the past two years, TeamMTL has continuously promoted its research efforts in achieving a more sustainable world through a series of events to educate both the universities’ student bodies and the general public on sustainable design.
The Sustainable Orientation Project earned the Catalyst Award for Operations for its efforts to improve the sustainability of the 2017-2018 student orientations, in order to normalize such practices for first-year students as they enter the university. The project managed to include sustainability in training, logistics, and marketing materials to promote sustainable habits and programs at McGill. The project worked with all student faculty organizations to increase the sustainability of their events.
Because of these efforts, each faculty had a frosh sustainability coordinator. The post-frosh survey included questions about sustainability, and answers showed positive results. Some faculty orientation events followed the Sustainable Event guide, and all frosh bags were made from jute, a renewable and low-impact vegetable fibre. In addition, the Sustainable Orientation Project worked with the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) to create a sustainability-themed student handbook that integrated information on living sustainably and getting involved in sustainability initiatives at McGill.
The Catalyst Award for Connectivity & Governance went to the Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF) “Yes” Teams. In Fall 2017, the SPF was up for referendum by SSMU and the Macdonald Campus Students’ Society (MCSS). Two undergraduate students, Chi Pham and Jay Jeong, led campus-wide campaigns to encourage their fellow students to vote for the continued funding of the SPF. The referendum passed with 81% support from SSMU, and 98% from MCSS.
The two-week campaigns reached over 15,000 students, while fostering a close collaboration between the Macdonald and downtown campuses. As of April 2018, the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) also voted in favour of continuing funding for the SPF. With the confirmed support of all three student societies, the SPF will continue for five years, ensuring support for a new generation of sustainability leaders at McGill.
Louise Lockhart received the Staff Catalyst Award. As a full-time nurse with McGill Health Services, Lockhart is passionate about addressing the social factors that often impede one’s health. She strives to address some of these barriers in her work with the Spin Bike Garden Project, a project aimed at promoting mental health at McGill by making physical activity breaks more accessible to students, faculty and staff.
During her time at McGill, Lockhart also co-created “Exercise for Mood” with McGill Counselling Services, a nine-week program designed to help students who have struggled to incorporate exercise into their lifestyle. Lockhart sees student patients full-time in clinic appointments, where she is intentional about educating each patient so that they are best equipped to manage their health and to prevent health struggles, ultimately reducing suffering and increasing autonomy.
Julia Freeman, a Faculty Lecturer at the McGill School of Environment (MSE), won the Faculty Catalyst Award. Freeman is the coordinator of the undergraduate field study “Montreal’s Urban Sustainability Experience” (MUSE), where students get their hands dirty learning about the city’s natural history and sustainability challenges.
Beyond her roles in teaching and mentoring, Freeman has served the McGill community as an Action Team member for McGill’s Climate & Sustainability Action Plan, and as a former member of the ECOLE Project’s Board of Directors. She was also a member of the Sustainability Project Fund Working Group between 2014 and 2016. Freeman is currently Chair of the Undergraduate Academic Committee for the School of Environment where she is responsible for overseeing the MSE undergraduate program.
The Emerald Key Award for student contribution to sustainability went to Amir Nosrat, a PhD student in the Desautels Faculty of Management who is researching the impact of climate risks on business practices and businesses’ ability to access finance.
During his time at McGill, Nosrat has served as the Environment Commissioner for the PGSS in 2015 and 2016. As part of his mandate, he represented graduate students at the Sustainability Projects Funds and supported various initiatives to promote environmental sustainability on campus. Notably, Nosrat facilitated conversations between different stakeholders on campus for McGill to hire a climate officer and to commit to carbon neutrality.
Chuck Adler received the Distinguished Contribution Award for his 20-year service as Director of Campus and Space Planning. Adler’s legacy at McGill includes many projects that transformed the University’s campuses into more sustainable and human-centered spaces.
Adler was integral in leading the decision to transform the downtown campus into a pedestrian campus. His leadership also resulted in redesigning key areas to create more functional green spaces that better encourage social interaction and exchange—an idea which continues to be realized across McGill’s exterior spaces. Adler mentored the Office of Sustainability throughout its establishment and development, and can proudly share in many of its achievements over the years.