Celebrating sustainability at McGill

McGill Bicentennial’s Sustainable Futures Festival encouraged community members to lead a sustainable life and contribute towards a green future
As part of the Sustainable Futures Festival, 5,000 plants were given away at the downtown campus, Macdonald Campus, the Gault Nature Reserve, Quartier des Spectacles, and the Welcome Hall Mission

McGill’s 200th anniversary is not only an opportunity to reflect on the past, but to look to the future – and sustainability is at the heart of that reflection. The Bicentennial’s Sustainable Futures Festival took place from September 12 to 16, encouraging community members and inspiring the next generation to lead a sustainable life and contribute towards a green future.

Plum trees in your neighbourhood

To kick-off the Sustainable Futures Festival, nearly 100 elementary and high schools in the Greater-Montreal area planted a plum tree or two with their students. This experience inspired the next generation of sustainability change-makers to learn more about actions that contribute to a green planet, as well as allowing students and their families to witness its evolution. The tree giving initiative symbolizes the love of learning that McGill has instilled for generations.

“As part of the Bicentennial’s Sustainable Futures Festival, and in partnership with the Macdonald Campus Farm, I planted two plum tree shrubs today at the school where all my four kids went,” says Francis Desjardins, Director, Labour and Employee Relations. “It’s really close to my home so I will be able to watch them grow, make sure they are given proper care, and maybe, grab a plum or two in the upcoming years, when going for a walk.”

Over 5,000 plants distributed to Festival goers

Throughout the week, the Bicentennial Office, in collaboration with McGill’s Office of Sustainability (MOOS), the Mac Campus Farm, and Buildings & Grounds Services, handed out thousands of potted plants at the downtown campus, Macdonald Campus, Gault Nature Reserve, Quartier des Spectacles, and the Welcome Hall Mission. The tradescantias, asclepiads, and plum trees were grown at the Macdonald Campus Farm, contributing to the goal of building a sustainability culture at the University and inviting colleagues and communities to reconnect safely on campus after two years of working remotely.

At the Esplanade Tranquille in the Quartier des Spectacles, McGill, in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal and the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership, distributed 1,000 plants to downtown workers on Thursday, September 15. To mark McGill’s longstanding roots in the city’s center, Montrealers gathered to receive their own plant.

Collaboration beyond our campuses

McGill’s Bicentennial milestone is an important occasion to highlight the importance of collaboration in sustainability, locally and beyond. The Festival was a major collaborative endeavour, creating new connections between people, and building a shared sense of community and identification with McGill. During the Festival, collaboration occurred beyond our campuses with events such as: the Career fair, with organizations travelling to meet McGill students; the Faculty of Dental Medicine and Oral Health Sciences celebrating its partnership with the Welcome Hall Mission (WHM); and, the Bellairs Research Institute open day in Barbados.

To recognize the longevity and sustainability of its partnership with the Welcome Hall Mission, the Faculty of Dental Medicine and Oral Health Sciences donated two plum trees and indoor plants. The tree planting took place on Friday, September 16, with Dean Elham Emami and members of the Faculty present alongside WHM CEO Sam Watts and other WHM representatives. “We know that a person’s oral health has an impact on their overall health and wellbeing. Our partnership with the Welcome Hall Mission allows us to offer essential dental care for those who cannot afford it and is rooted in our values and mission of social responsibility and community service,” says Dean Emami.

The Bellairs Research Institute of McGill University, located in Barbados, opened its doors to the public, inviting the community to discover what this unique teaching and research facility has to offer. The Institute gifted palm trees, grown on site, to schools in Barbados.

A series of sustainability conversations

For the first time since it launched in the fall of 2020, faculty and students collaborating as part of the McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative’s CleanTech research theme were able to come together in person for panel hosted by MSSI. Panelists from Anges Québec, Cycle Capital, Sustainable Development Technology Canada, and the McGill Engine Centre for Technological Innovation and Entrepreneurship shared their experience and offered advice for how to build relationships with investors, benefit from start-up incubators, and transition from academia to entrepreneurship.

On Wednesday, September 14, members of the McGill community came to the Thomson House Ballroom to discover just some of the many sustainability-related research initiatives and student groups on campus. In the end, more than 160 students, staff and faculty showed up for the Sustainability Soirée, and the excitement in the air was palpable. More than 20 teams filled the room, eager to share the latest findings of their MSSI-funded research or answer questions about an initiative they had launched with the support of the Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF).

The atrium of the McCord Museum was abuzz the evening of Thursday, September 15 as more than 70 members of the McGill community gathered to celebrate the University’s sustainability champions, the 2022 recipients of the Catalyst Awards for Sustainability. The 2022 awardees embrace McGill’s ambitious yet realistic approach to sustainability challenges. In their own ways, the three winners – undergraduate student Quang Anh Nguyen, Professor Catherine Potvin, and impact200, the Bicentennial Student Sustainability Challenge – fostered community and encouraged long-lasting change by establishing new projects the three winners encouraged other McGill community members to become engaged and feel empowered to make a difference on campus and beyond.

“It was so exciting to gather in person to celebrate our community for the first time in three years,” says Executive Director of Sustainability Francois Miller. “Sustainable change at McGill is driven by our staff, students, and faculty members. It is our pleasure to honour them in this way.”

Other events during the week included the Desautels Faculty of Management’s panels and workshops to integrate sustainability into teaching, the 9th Annual Trottier Symposium on Sustainable Engineering, Energy, and Design under the theme of Confronting Climate Change with Design for Resilience, a Sustainable Foods Workshop by MealCare McGill, as well as tours of sustainability planning in McGill’s infrastructure with Facilities Management and Ancillary Services.

Initiatives launched during the Festival

The Sustainable Futures Festival coincided with a number of sustainability-related achievements on campus: MOOS launched the Sustainability Education Fellows program, which assists faculty and grad students in embedding sustainability in curricula; the approval of the 300th Sustainability Projects Fund-supported initiative; the kick-off of McGill’s first Climate Crisis and Climate Actions course, among others.

MSSI opened applications for its 2022 Ideas Fund — five awards of up to $40,000 in seed funding for research that explores bold and novel ideas with the potential to significantly impact a sustainability-related challenge. Applications are due November 6.

“We have always known that the McGill community is passionate about sustainability and motivated to create lasting sustainable change, but it is rare to witness the buildup of this energy within one week,” said Miller. “We are grateful for all who came together to celebrate our community’s accomplishments and took this opportunity to envision McGill’s sustainable future.”

This article was written in collaboration with Kelsey Litwin, Communications Officer, MOOS, and Katya Teague, Communications Officer, MSSI.


1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Luis Miguel Castaño Bonilla
1 year ago

I’am grateful to McGill University for allowing me along with my wife to volunteers at the festival of sustainable futures.