Should We Renew the Sustainability Projects Fund?

10 Apr, 2013

McGill’s Sustainability Projects Fund is up for renewal in the ongoing SSMU special referendum that ends on April 13th. The fund, which awards money to projects that encourage sustainability on McGill’s campus, is partly funded by a non-opt-outable student fee of 50 cents per credit (with a maximum of $15/year). This amount is then matched by the McGill administration. According to the fund’s latest annual report, it has collected a total of $2.5 million since its inception.

“McGill has the right people and the right ideas to encourage sustainability,” said SPF Administrator Lilith Wyatt. “The SPF doesn’t go around convincing people to think ecologically or change the way things are done. Our job is to provide the money, knowledge and network of connections to those people who have the ideas and might already be doing these things.”

In addition to being equally funded by students and the administration, the SPF Working Group accepts project proposals and consists of equal numbers of students and faculty. The group’s composition is stipulated as three undergraduate students (two appointed by SSMU and one by MCSS), one graduate student (nominated by PGSS), and four administrative or academic staff (nominated by the administration).

Wyatt credits the joint student-administration approach as crucial for SPF’s appeal. “Changing the long term sustainability of the university will never happen if it’s only the students or only the faculty. It needs both.”

The SPF was founded in 2010 in a joint effort by all three of McGill’s highest governing student organizations: SSMU, Macdonald Campus Student Society (MCSS), and the Postgraduate Student Society (PGSS). Under SSMU bylaws, new projects need to be renewed by referendum three years after their launch. “The first time it’s approved is a three year pilot period so we knew we would be back here in three years,” explained Wyatt.

In that time the SPF has funded 99 projects and had over 180 applicants. Original projects were mostly centered on food. Perhaps the most visible of these is the student run Farmer’s Market that runs on McTavish during the summer and fall months.

The SPF also funded the ‘Egg Grader Project’ that allowed Macdonald Campus’ poultry unit to grade its own eggs for use in residence dining halls, rather than shipping them off to be graded and then buying them back. The ‘Egg Grader Project’ was itself inspired by an earlier plan, “McGill feeding McGill,” which has seen the Mac campus provide 60 tonnes of food a year to dining halls downtown.

‘Shut Your Sash’ is another sustainability project that aims to raise awareness of waste from fume hoods in McGill laboratories. “Shut Your Sash’ cost $4000 to set up,” said Wyatt, “but it saved $77,000 a year by getting people to reduce fume hoods when not in use.”

Any member of the McGill community can propose ideas to the working group at any stage of the process. “It’s not so competitive like other grants,” said Wyatt. “Our job isn’t to reject or accept so much as it’s to give feedback and help you.”

Incoming ideas are judged by a committee based on a series of fixed criteria that aim to measure their contribution to sustainability. Applications must shift business as usual at McGill, engage the community, change behaviour, and have a clearly communicated purpose. Applicants are also required to give their own possible indicators for their projects’ success.

“All projects are different,” said Wyatt. “They could be kilograms of food, the number of students, the number of jobs generated, or the number of blog hits. We want to understand what success looks like for them.”

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