Catalyst Awards celebrate sustainability stars

The 3rd annual Catalyst Awards were handed out on April 3 at a gala event. The Catalyst Awards celebrate sustainability achievements by members of the McGill community including students, staff and faculty.
Catalyst Award winners (from left to right): Selina Liu, Marina Privorotsky, Susanna Klassen, Diana King, George McCourt, Jerome Conraud and Marc- Étienne Brunet. Award winners William Agnew and Samra Lakew are not in the picture. / Photo: Owen Egan.

By Julia Solomon

Sustainability work can be a risky business. At least so said Martin Krayer von Krauss, Manager of McGill’s Office of Sustainability, at the 3rd annual Catalyst Awards Gala to celebrate sustainability achievements on Wednesday, April 3. Referring to efforts ranging from McGill’s early sustainability commitments such as signing the Talloires Declaration, to the passage of the McGill’s Sustainability Policy in 2010, to embarking on the Vision 2020 sustainability planning process, Krayer von Krauss said, “C’est sur qu’il y a tout le temps de gros risques associés à ce genre d’entreprise: Les gens viendront-ils? Seront-nous en mesure de converger?”

The answer on Wednesday night was a resounding yes. People came, they celebrated, they toasted the award winners and each other for the progress that McGill has made on sustainability over the past several years.

In their own individual ways, each of this year’s Catalyst Award winners demonstrates the courage that Krayer von Krauss was referring to — the willingness to take risks, to experiment, to ask challenging questions and tinker with the status quo in pursuit of their answers. The results of their dedication speak for themselves.

Samra Lakew (Catalyst Award for Student Collaboration on Sustainability with the Administration)

Lakew co-founded McGill’s Team for the Solar Decathlon Competition, a competition involving 20 intercollegiate teams individually designing and building a fully functional, net-zero energy solar house to offer sustainable solutions for the housing market. She co-founded the team in early 2011 and quickly gained the support of 100 students, merging the team with another from École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS). With the support of Professor Subhasis Goshal, Associate Dean of Student Affairs from the Department of Civil Engineering, Professor David Covo of the School of Architecture and Professor Daniel Forgues of ETS, the team began work on the proposal to be submitted for entry.

Lakew’s team autonomously developed the knowledge and resources required to build an ecological house, began fundraising efforts, gained support from the Montreal Biosphere for $300,000 and made efforts to integrate students from multiple faculties into the project. This project will continue to educate engineers and open careers in sustainable development to McGill students.

William Agnew (Catalyst Award for Applied Student Research (ASR) on Sustainability)

Agnew’s involvement began when he volunteered with the Food System Project, working on local food, food procurement and transparency in the McGill food system. In 2010, a McGill School of Environment applied student research group, including Agnew and seven other students, started researching sustainable seafood certifications and criteria. The group suggested several sustainable seafood certifications, including the Marine Stewardship Certification. Since then, McGill Food and Dining Services (MFDS) has shifted completely to only purchasing seafood with recommended criteria. In 2012, Agnew took on the role as advisor and as Internal Auditor for MFDS.

In pursuit of Marine Stewardship Certification, they were able to get Aramark to agree to the process and got the MFDS supply chain certified, encouraging both GFS Canada and Sysco Canada to become certified as well. Agnew was directly involved in training over 100 staff during the certification process. McGill has become the first campus in Canada to be MSC certified, joining the ranks of UC Berkley and Cornell University, signifying that MFDS supports and rewards sustainable fisheries, sustainable seafood companies, scientists, and conservation groups.

McGill Farmers’ Market: Susanna Klassen, Diana King, Carol Fraser, Marina Privorotsky, Selina Liu, and Allison Jones (Catalyst Award for “Lessons Learned” in Sustainability Efforts)

Since its founding in 2008, the McGill Farmers’ Market has become a fixture on campus. This complex, student-run, multi-stakeholder project works to ensure local food is available to the downtown campus, with a vision of community-building, education, and sustainability. Their two main challenges have been, first, to find a structure of ownership that reflected the collaborative nature of the project, and second, to become self-financing.

The project has developed a structure with student coordinators, an advisory committee, and general meetings, allowing for deep and broad community participation. No single group “owns” this project.

Also, the project has weaned itself off of Sustainability Projects Fund funding and is now self-sustaining. Through a combination of fees and fundraising activities they have covered the difference between their prior revenues and their expenses, learning to balance their budget and become truly sustainable.

George McCourt (Catalyst Award for Staff contribution to Sustainability Efforts)

Professor McCourt has demonstrated his commitment to sustainability through teaching, by applying these concepts on campus and to the institutional framework of the university, and by encouraging his students to do the same. He has supervised projects on Seafood Certification, Sustainability in Curriculum, Water Management on Campus, and Sustainable Thompson House, which have all contributed to progress in sustainability on campus.

McCourt has made long-lasting impacts on students, going far beyond his formal roles of a teacher and supervisor, and acting as a mentor and as a resource. He is a pioneer for integrating sustainability into the curriculum, sharing with his students a ‘big-picture’ philosophy of sustainable learning and living, in addition to course material.

Jerome Conraud (Catalyst Award for Staff contribution to Sustainability Efforts)

After hosting a Sustainability Xchange on climate change, Conraud encouraged anyone interested to contribute to a report including scope 3 emissions related to commute or business travel, leading into a Greenhouse Gas working group for investigating McGill’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Conraud has initiated, mentored and empowered projects which have provided the opportunity for students to cultivate their passion for sustainability. Conraud supervised the intern who built the Pulse Energy Dashboard, and has mentored projects such as the McGill Energy Project. He also supervised another intern who helped determine baseline water usage on campus. Conraud also enlisted seven students to help assess the McGill Food and Dining Services’ carbon footprint and develop strategies to reduce it. Finally, Conraud is a large contributor to the Sustainability Working Group within McGill’s Facilities Operations and Development Department.

Marc-Étienne Brunet (Emerald Key)

Brunet has shown incredible dedication to promoting sustainability both at McGill and the community at large. He was an Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) sustainability coordinator, presenting opportunities to get involved on campus to first year students, connecting stakeholder groups in the faculty, and implementing a system to eliminate the use of roughly 25 000 disposal cups per year in the student bar. He co-founded the McGill Energy Project (MEP) to connect different sections of the university and convene conversations around using applied research to push the universities energy system in a more sustainable direction. Related projects have included the development of an energy systems map at McGill through consultation with over 40 stakeholders on campus, designing a thermal solar heating system for upper residence, informing decisions regarding energy management software, investigating energy consumption in labs and optimizing the operation of the major boilers on campus.

By giving students the experience of transforming their campus’ energy system for the better, they can graduate with the skills and confidence needed to make lasting positive change in their future endeavours. Having completed the groundwork of energy research at McGill, other members of the McGill community can continue using applied research to add to the model in future years, potentially lowering McGill’s footprint. Brunet continues to contribute through the MEP, promoting CodeJam events to inspire engineers to solve some of McGill’s most complex energy problems.