Vision 2020: Asking ourselves the big questions

Initiative challenges McGill community to imagine a more sustainable future

By Julia Solomon

What do YOU want McGill to look and feel like in the year 2020? This is the question that Vision 2020: Creating a Sustainable McGill is asking the McGill community. Or, perhaps more accurately, that the McGill community is asking itself.

“Vision 2020 is a very collaborative effort,” says Amara Possian, Vision 2020’s Project Manager. “It’s a chance for people from all across McGill to come together and imagine the future. Staff, students, professors and administrators are sharing these big, hopeful ideas that just don’t get talked about in everyday conversation.”

Making time and space to talk about those big ideas is especially important now, says Possian, who is a recent McGill grad (BA ’11, Middle East Studies and Political Science) and a community organizer focused on environmental issues. She came back to McGill in winter 2012 to work on the Vision 2020 project.

 Sustainability blueprint

“Universities are great places to experiment and ask the tough questions that, ultimately, society will need to answer,” Possian says. “The McGill community faces a lot of challenges right now and there isn’t just one way to address them. Part of what appeals to me about the Vision 2020 process is the opportunity to experiment with new and creative kinds of collaboration, problem-solving and participatory decision-making on campus.”

So what is Vision 2020? Possian laughs when asked this question and admits that it’s a common one. “Vision 2020 is grappling with some pretty fundamental questions like what do we mean by sustainability? What is the role of universities in society? It can be a little hard to get your head around.”

What it’s about, according to Possian, is developing a vision, goals and an action plan that will set McGill’s sustainability strategy for the next decade and beyond. This means far more than figuring out how to compost more waste or make buildings more energy-efficient, says Possian, though that’s certainly part of it. “We talk about three dimensions of sustainability – social, economic and environmental. The plan Vision 2020 puts forward will try to integrate all three. And it will do it in a way that takes the whole university into account – we can’t exactly have deep conversations about teaching and learning or university operations without considering governance structures or what it feels like to be part of this community.”

Midway point

The Vision 2020 process is currently about halfway done. A situational analysis mapping out McGill’s current sustainability efforts and contrasting them with peers and best practices has already been completed, as have a variety of public events and working group sessions focused on building a sustainability vision and goals.

Now that the fall semester is underway, Vision 2020 has another full slate of events planned to bring the community together around the vision and goals that are emerging from the process. “This is not the kind of thing where a few of us get together and write some document behind closed doors,” says Possian. “We want it to be as transparent as possible, and very accountable to the community. Anyone at McGill should feel comfortable contributing, and we hope that everyone will be able to see their ideas and aspirations reflected in the plan we end up with.”

Here are some of the events where you can share your own ideas with Vision 2020 this fall:

Talking Tuesdays; Tuesdays 12:00-1:00, square in front of James Administration building. The goal is to create a welcoming space for students, faculty, staff and administrators to talk and learn.

Sustainability Fair; Friday, Sept. 21, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Lower Field

Learn more about Vision 2020 at and check out the Vision 2020 blog, video, social media and more at