Building upon the 2014-2016 Sustainability Action Plan, the new agenda not only addresses general sustainability within the institution, but incorporates an additional focus: climate change. The plan signifies McGill’s commitment to leading-by-example in the realm of global climate action.
The plan is driven by two fundamental goals. The first is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040, meaning that McGill will remove as much greenhouse gas from the atmosphere as it produces. The second objective is to receive the highest possible sustainability evaluation by 2030, as gauged by The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). McGill has already attained a Gold Level rating from AASHE, which is the second highest possible ranking.
Underlying these long-term goals are 22 short-term actions that will lead the university closer to achieving the plan’s larger targets. The actions can be sorted into five categories: Research, Education, Connectivity, Operations, and Governance and Administration. These actions serve as the critical mediators in transforming vague ambition into concrete mobilization.
The event was organized by the McGill Office of Sustainability, which emphasized that implementing these actions will require significant collaboration across campus. Organizations like the McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative, a multi-sector support system for interdisciplinary research and projects, will play a large role in realizing this plan.
Transformation to carbon neutrality will be central to McGill’s future organizational and development policies. As noted by Vision 2020 Coordinator Amelia Brinkerhoff, “We want McGill to feel and look carbon neutral.”
The initial plan in 2014 focused on energy usage, and its implementation accomplished an impressive 34% reduction in McGill’s emissions. Transitioning to carbon neutrality, however, will require a complete rethinking of the school’s energy and travel systems. This will include energy-recycling mechanisms and the development of infrastructure to increase sustainable transportation around campus. For example, a portion of the University Centre will soon serve as McGill’s Bike Centre – a secure bicycle parking lot and gender-neutral shower facilities – to encourage members of the McGill community to cycle to campus.
While the 2020 plan is comprehensive and commendable, realizing its vision in praxis will require campus-wide participation. Accordingly, the school has set up several structures to facilitate this. The Sustainability Projects Fund provides financial support to student-led initiatives, and notably, is the largest fund of its kind in North America. Provided with a vast pool of resources, research opportunities, and support from world-renown academic leaders, McGill students are encouraged to contribute to achieving carbon neutrality.
The event concluded with an important message from facilitators: while a ubiquitous commitment to sustainability and climate action is the first step, it is the process of materializing these pledges that will be essential for meeting the plan’s goals. The design of the event itself reflected this idea successfully. Inclusivity was apparent, with an intergenerational group of attendees from all facets of the McGill community present. Moreover, accessibility was deliberately considered. The plan has already been translated into three Indigenous languages, and organizers ensured that the space in which the launch was held was physically accessible. Efforts were made to ensure that the event itself was entirely carbon neutral, which demonstrated McGill’s commitment to materializing their vision of holistic sustainability.
Joelle Moses is a contributing climate news writer.