Developing sustainable solutions | Dossiers | McGill University
Wind turbines on grass field

Developing sustainable solutions

How can we promote prosperity today while protecting the planet for future generations?

That’s the challenge of sustainability, and McGill researchers from the sciences and humanities are working together to find solutions — monitoring environmental changes out in the field, developing more eco-friendly technologies in their labs, and teaming up to explore ways to steer the economy onto a greener path.

With help from the student-supported McGill Sustainability Projects Fund, the University has also taken big strides toward making its own operations more environmentally friendly – with ambitious goals for the future, including a target of carbon neutrality by 2040.

These efforts are winning international recognition. McGill was named Sustainability Institution of the Year for 2019 by the UN Environment Programme-endorsed International Green Gown Awards. It also became a founding member of the University Global Compact, which brings together universities around the world committed to advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

For a look at a just a few of the many McGill projects aimed at making our world and our own campuses more sustainable, scroll down:

Sustaining landscapes

Landscapes provide us with food, energy and clean water. Improving the web of human connections through infrastructure, transportation and telecommunications has clear benefits. But how these man-made links affect ecosystems remains poorly understood. McGill researchers are working to shed light on the key factors involved, and to identify ways to promote human well-being without undercutting the benefits we derive from nature.

Understanding climate change

From the Arctic tundra to the tropics, McGill researchers are discovering clues that point to the effects of climate change on both wildlife and human inhabitants – past, present and future.

Back on campus, one statistical analysis all but rules out the possibility that global warming is just a natural fluctuation in the earth’s climate. And another provides a new tool for gauging the impact of climate change on plants, based on data compiled by citizen scientists over the past two centuries.

Toward a greener economy

Can small and medium-sized businesses shift the planet’s trajectory toward more sustainable prosperity? Do public policy makers need to re-think the way they measure well-being? McGill experts from a wide range of fields are teaming up to explore those and other approaches to steering the economy onto a more environmentally friendly path.

Meanwhile, researchers from the University’s engineering and chemistry labs are developing more sustainable methods to provide the materials of modern society – from biodegradable plastics and better solar cells to carbon-negative concrete blocks. And one team is exploring the novel possibility of using metal powders as recyclable fuels (as pictured above).

Toward a greener campus

McGill’s ambitious efforts to make its campuses more sustainable have earned kudos from a range of international environmental groups. The Sustainability Projects Fund — supported by a student fee that is matched dollar-to-dollar by the University – in October marked its 10th year of providing seed funding for student, staff and faculty projects that work towards fostering a culture of sustainability on campus. For example, a $250,000 fleet electrification project funded by the SPF directly contributes to the University’s goal of attaining carbon neutrality.