The Sustainability Projects Fund looks toward another decade of creating a sustainable campus

New ‘Big Wave’ funding stream, Greening McGill campaigns to further embed sustainability in McGill’s DNA
Francois Miller, Sustainability Director at the Office of Sustainability, addresses the crowd during the October 10 celebration of the Sustainable Projects FundKelsey Litwin

Your friend has invited to you an event on campus. You walk in and are asked how you got to McGill that day, so that organizers can calculate the event’s carbon footprint using mc3gill.ca.

After making your way over to the refreshments table, you grab an apple that came from the Macdonald Campus Orchards and fill a reusable glass, supplied by Plate Club, with water.

As the presenter gathers attendees around for the start of the event, they announce that it has been certified a Gold-level McGill Sustainable Event.

While each project mentioned in this order of proceedings may not appear to have a direct link, each one, at one point or another, received funding from McGill’s Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF), which celebrated its 10th anniversary on October 10, in a special event in the Trottier Building Mezzanine.

Addressing the crowd, Principal Suzanne Fortier, applauded the student-University partnerships at the heart of the SPF and emphasized the importance of the smaller actions, supported by the Fund, that contribute to real change on campus.  “When you have a lot of tiny projects, it adds up and makes a difference,” Principal Fortier said. “It shows that we can all take part in this. We can all make a contribution.”

Largest fund of its kind

The SPF’s mandate is to build a culture of sustainability on McGill campuses through the development and seed-funding of interdisciplinary projects. The fund creates opportunities for the McGill community to actively engage in sustainability initiatives on campus, empowering individuals to be change agents in their own studying and work environment.

“Students wanted to feel more engaged. Students wanted to feel like they were contributing to something,” Jonathan Glencross, a McGill alumnus and key player behind the SPF’s creation, told the crowd.

“They were paralyzed by writing essays about the Amazon 5,000 miles away and not having any skills to do anything about the situation. You had professors who felt paralyzed by the lack of attention and enthusiasm in their classrooms,” Glencross continued. “Those two needs could be easily resolved by having meaningful projects scoped right here.”

In the decade since the landslide student referendum during which the SPF was first approved, it has grown to become the largest fund of its kind in Canada, now valued at $980,000 per year.

In that time, the SPF has supported more than 215 projects, having allocated more than $8 million.

With its next 10 years in mind, the SPF hopes to inspire community members to embed sustainability into their work and academic lives.

Over $100,000 Big Wave funding stream supports transformative projects

The SPF is celebrating its 10 years by launching a new funding stream focused on enabling large-scale, transformative projects that have the goal of making McGill’s campuses a greener, more sustainable, healthier place to work, study, and live.

The Big Wave stream supports projects requiring between $100,000 and $400,000 dollars.

While the SPF has supported large-scale projects in the past, such as the Gault Nature Reserve Community Access project, the Big Wave stream will now allow project teams to receive funding for the planning and design of their projects.

The idea, the SPF Governance Council determined, is that for projects to truly transform McGill’s campuses, they need to be conceived with long-term sustainability in mind.

Greening Indoor McGill 2.0

The first SPF-funded project, launched shortly after the Fund itself in 2010, had a simple ask. For $330, the Apartment Gardens project would “give individuals on the downtown McGill campus an opportunity to have a small home garden, right in their window or on their balcony” by inviting members of the community to pick up leafy vegetable seedlings at the McGill Farmer’s Market for free.

A few years later, the Greening Indoor McGill team carried forward with a similar mentality, and worked to “promote the use of indoor plants to improve air quality and promote a healthy aesthetic through the greening of indoor environments for McGill faculty, staff, and students.”

As the SPF looks towards its next decade, it is first heading back to its roots. On October 24, the SPF, in partnership with SSMU, PGSS, and MCSS, will be distributing free houseplants to any McGill student, staff, or faculty with a vaild McGill ID.

Expanding the SPF’s vision for a socially and environmentally sustainable campus

In celebration of its 10th anniversary, the SPF is also looking to expand a few of its past popular projects: Gardens Inside 365 and Hydroponic McGill, and the McGill Spin Bike Gardens.

While they all create small green spaces across McGill’s campuses, the indoor hydroponic garden towers at the heart of Gardens Inside 365 and Hydroponic McGill, and the spin bike zones that make up the Spin Bike Gardens also further social sustainability.

“Visitors are enthusiastic about the growth and progress the little plants make, and being greeted with budding plants is always a fun welcome,” Rachel Desjourdy, Access Advisor with the Office for Students with Disabilities, previously said of the garden towers.

The logic behind the indoor hydroponic garden towers, Desjourdy said, was to “create community, promote wellness and sustainability on campus.” In hosting workshops around the tower, whose grow lights help to combat the adverse effect of the lack of sunlight during the dark winter months, the project addresses social sustainability.

The Spin Bike Gardens similarly allow McGill community members to take mental and physical health breaks by providing them with centrally located silent spin bikes located in zones delineated by walls of plants.

“Whereas cardio normally requires an often unavailable 2-hour window taking into account travel and time to change, [the Spin Bike Gardens] will make it realistic for a user to jump on a nearby bike within a window of just 15 to 20 minutes,” the initial project application read.

To further the success of these projects, the SPF will be installing several more across campus. Any faculty, staff or student group who wishes to install a hydroponic garden tower or a Spin Bike Garden in their space is invited to express their interest by visiting mcgill.ca/sustainability/spf10.

The total number of towers and Spin Bike Gardens installed will be determined based on the amount of interest expressed by the McGill community.

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