SPF celebrates a birthday, Catalyst Award winners announced

The Reporter talks to Lilith Wyatt, Projects Co-ordinator in the Office of Sustainability, about the first year in the life of McGill's Sustainability Projects Fund, and reports on the first every Catalyst Awards to acknowledge individuals who have gone above and beyond to advance the sustainability movement at the University. Scroll down to read about the new Awards' first winners.


“We always knew that students would be heavily involved, but the enthusiasm shown by staff shows that we’re just starting to tap this potential,” says Lilith Wyatt of interest in the year-old Sustainability Projects Fund. / Photo: Adam Scotti

Financial support from students, administration has already launched 32 projects

By Neale McDevitt

Although it will go unnoticed by most people, April 9 marks the anniversary of one of the most ambitious initiatives in McGill’s history. That date one year ago marked the very first deadline for submissions for the newly created Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF).

The SPF ushered in a new era of co-operation between students and administration in the creation of a fund that finances sustainability projects across both University campuses. The SPF is worth some $800,000 per year over the three-year trial period that began in the winter semester of 2010, and is accessible to everyone in the McGill community.

The student contribution consists of a 50-cent per credit “non-opt-outable” fee for the duration of the trial that is matched dollar-for-dollar by the University, and governed by a consensus-based parity committee with equal representation from both parties.

Lilith Wyatt, Projects Co-ordinator in the Office of Sustainability, has overseen the SPF’s day-to-day operations since its inception. “To date, we’ve had 99 applications for projects – I so want to be able to say 100 – and 32 have been approved for more than $650,000,” she said.

Current projects range in size from the very small to the very ambitious. The very first project to receive SPF funding, the Apartment Gardens initiative, encourages members of the McGill community to grow their own food by balcony gardening simply by handing out free plants and information on urban agriculture.

All projects great and small

In contrast, one of the larger projects includes a sustainability audit of Thomson House. “This is a wonderful learning opportunity for architecture and engineering students,” said Wyatt. “But it is also an interesting case study for Facilities, Operations and Development because, like so many of McGill’s buildings, Thomson House is a heritage building.”

One of the interesting aspects of the project proposals is that virtually half have come from the University’s staff members – surprising considering that sustainability efforts at McGill have historically been largely student-driven. But Wyatt, for one, isn’t that surprised. “Right from the outset of the SPF, the intention – or at least the hope – was that it would unleash the latent talent at McGill,” she said. “We always knew that students would be heavily involved, but the enthusiasm shown by staff proves that we’re just starting to tap this potential.”

Because SPF is not a standard granting organization, it has its distinct advantages. For one, Wyatt believes in having applicants bounce their ideas off of her so she can help guide them in the early phases of preparing their proposal.

No shortage of feedback

Once the application has gone to a SPF Working Group (which includes McGill students, staff and administrators), the review process is relatively quick, with successful applicants receiving appropriate funding to initiate their projects. Rather than just a straight acceptance/rejection format, the Working Group will also provide valuable feedback and guidance to all applicants.

According to Wyatt, this personalized touch – imbued with respect for the people willing to make the effort to apply – is indicative of the spirit that lies at the very core of the SPF. “We want every experience with the SPF to be a good and meaningful one,” she said. “If you can envision what sustainability should feel like when you get there, then that’s exactly what the process of working towards sustainability has to feel like as well.”

For more information about McGill’s sustainability efforts, go to www.mcgill.ca/sustainability/

New awards celebrate students and staff who promote sustainability

By Neale McDevitt

Four students and two staff members have been named recipients of the inaugural Catalyst Awards presented by the Office of Sustainability as announced today. “The purpose of the awards is to acknowledge individuals who have gone above and beyond to advance the sustainability movement at McGill,” said Lilith Wyatt, the Office’s Projects Coordinator.

The Emerald Key Award, worth $2,000, goes to a student who has advanced and institutionalized sustainability within environmental, social, and/or economic spheres in a meaningful way within the McGill community. “The one who shone above the rest,” said Wyatt. This year’s winner is Jonathan Glencross, a student at the School of the Environment.

The award for Student Collaboration on Sustainability with the Administration ($750) goes to a student who has worked to make change through meaningful collaboration with the administration. This year’s winner is Sarah Archibald, U2 Bachelor of Agricultural and Environmental Science.

The award for Applied Student Research “ties in directly to the mandate of McGill,” said Wyatt. “Those teaching and learning components have been part of our sustainability movement right from the beginning.” This year’s winner is Dana Lahey, BA joint-honours in Sociology and Anthropology.

The Student Lessons Learned in Sustainability Efforts award ($750) is given to acknowledge the lessons learned from our failures. “Challenges not surmounted often provide the shoulders for next year’s projects to stand on,” said Wyatt. This year’s winner is David Morris, chemical engineering, who has helped refine the implementation and integration of the Big Hanna industrial composter on the downtown campus.

Finally, the Catalyst Award for Staff goes to staff members who go beyond their mandates to integrate sustainability into operations and the culture of McGill. This year’s co-recipients are Emmanuelle Lapointe, Architect, Design Services, Facilities Operations and Development; and Oliver de Volpi, McGill’s Executive Chef.