Sustainability is often wrongly dismissed as a synonym for environmental conservation and preservation. This narrow definition casts a dangerous blind spot on the economical and social factors that also make up the definition of a sustainable system.
McGill’s Office of Sustainability (MOOS) defines sustainability as “working together toward a shared vision for a flourishing future in a manner that integrates social, economic, and environmental dimensions.” Sustainability is therefore a very broad and inclusive concept.
To illustrate this better, let’s consider the following scenarios:
SCENARIO #1: Growing bananas without pesticides and selling them on the market for a high enough value is VIABLE – but what about fair wages for the farm workers? (Missing the SOCIAL consideration.)
SCENARIO #2: Selling the bananas for a good price and ensuring that farm workers are paid fairly is EQUITABLE. But what about the water pollution and soil erosion being caused by industrial agricultural practices? (Missing the ENVIRONMENTAL consideration.)
SCENARIO #3: Growing bananas without pesticides and giving farm workers a fair wage is BEARABLE. But what about the fact that there’s no market for the bananas at that high price? (Missing the ECONOMIC consideration.)
“Only by considering all three elements do we approach a scenario that has long-term viability and that works towards a flourishing future for both people and ecosystems. Sustainability, therefore, cannot be seen as a factual concept but rather, like democracy, an ethical concept that is largely dependent on the context.” – MOOS
McGill has recently seen a surge of emerging sustainability projects and ideas. The best example of which is the Fair Trade project that led to the gradual takeover of fair trade products across all non-franchise cafes and vendors on campus.
To encourage similar projects, the Sustainability Project Fund (SPF) was created by MOOS to aid students with a unified vision for a sustainability plan. Thus, with the increase of awareness on sustainability on campus, the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) initiated the Sustainability Action Plan.
From there, the Sustainable Thomson House project developed and began with a building audit of the PGSS headquarters. Another great spin-off of the Sustainability Project Fund (SPF)* took form in the McGill’s Sustainable Lab Program, with the logo “Shut your sash” to promote better practice around chemical-containing fume hoods and instill better recycling practices.
With many more projects and developing ideas, there became a need for “eco-ambassadors” for sustainability among graduate students. Under the leadership and guidance of the PGSS Sustainability coordinator, Shona Watt, a small committee of graduate students has begun initiating momentum to engage fellow grad students, raise awareness on sustainability and reach out to the entire McGill community.
The Graduate Advocates for Sustainability (GRAS) are also currently developing a comprehensive 101-type guide on accessible locations on campus, green spaces, recycling and composting, resources for counseling and lists of organizations responsible for social equity.
GRAS is seeking to recruit enthusiastic McGill students to their budding dynamic team. If you are interested in working towards a more sustainable campus, have more questions about sustainability on campus, or looking for a new cause to join and meet great people, GRAS may be the right place for you. Look out for their Facebook and Twitter page, and their new upcoming guidebook at the beginning of the Fall semester.
*erratum: the sentence mistakenly referenced the Shut your Sash Project as “a spin-off of the Sustainability Action Plan” but it was actually through the Sustainability Project Fund directly.