Quality and Productivity Database

Descriptive Title of Proposal: Vision 2020: A Collaborative and Innovative Sustainability Strategy for McGill University
Year Submitted 2017
Person(s) Responsible for the Idea
Name / Nom Title / Titre
Francois Miller Sustainability director
Name of Institution McGill University
Office Address 1010 Sherbrooke W./O. #1200
Montreal, Quebec H3A 2R7
Map It
Telephone: (514) 398-4675
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.
Name (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Yves Beauchamp
Title (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) VP, Administration and Finance
Office Address 845 Sherbrooke Street West
Room 531
Montreal, Quebec H3A 0G4
Map It
Telephone: 514-398-6037
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.

McGill University’s Sustainability Strategy, Vision 2020, was the product of a deeply collaborative community engagement process initiated by McGill’s Office of Sustainability in February 2012. Between 2012 and 2014, over 1,500 people, representing a broad, diverse cross-section of the McGill community, were engaged in the creation of the Strategy at over 35 events, including world-café style discussions, flash consultations, and working groups with key members of the community. The aim was to foster relationships among McGill’s students, staff, and faculty and, in doing so, build momentum toward a sustainable future.

Following consultations, targeted action-planning, and endorsement from all three of the University’s student societies, the Vision 2020 Sustainability Strategy was formally adopted by the McGill administration in March 2014. The McGill Office of Sustainability and 26 partner groups/units across campus implemented 14 priority actions from 2014 to 2016, ranging from developing a sustainable labs program to creating green building standards. Now at the end of its first implementation period, the vast majority of the priority actions have been completed. The strategy was an overwhelming success, achieving both tangible sustainability gains and lasting relationships.

The innovative spirit of Vision 2020 allowed McGill to experiment with new kinds of collaboration, problem-solving, and decision-making on campus. We made mistakes along the way and documented these clearly so we (and other institutions) could learn from them. After all, the advancement of learning is part of our University’s mission. Our hope is to continue the Vision 2020 legacy by creating collaborative and representative plans for and from the McGill community for many years to come.

Criteria Please submit one paragraph describing how the proposal fulfills each of the evaluation criteria.

The planning and implementation of McGill’s Sustainability Strategy, Vision 2020, was meticulously documented to allow other institutions to learn from our experience (see 2013 Impact and Failure Reports). We consider our community engagement process a best practice for other higher learning institutions aspiring to create a variety of strategies—not just those related to sustainability—that reflect the needs and desires of their campus community at any scale.

The inclusive engagement process allowed for different stakeholders, including students, staff, and faculty, to be involved from the beginning. Together, they helped create a truly representative Strategy. The variety of event styles and sizes allowed different types of conversations to take place – from detailed discussions about the electrical operations of the University, to broad talks about how to best situate sustainability in curricula. For instance, weekly “Talking Tuesday” events took place for individuals to drop by and discuss their sustainability vision in an informal and welcoming setting. Once several ideas had been gathered, several large display boards were placed in high-traffic areas around McGill’s libraries for students to write comments and draw connections between suggested actions. Finally, targeted action-planning sessions with key stakeholders provided the technical expertise to define how our goals could become reality. The variety and depth of these consultations can certainly be replicated at other institutions interested in created meaningful, community-led strategies.  

Quality Impact

A myriad of concrete, successful actions have been implemented under Vision 2020, ranging from the creation of an extensive Energy Action Plan, to a guide on sustainable labs. For an institution as large and decentralized as McGill, Vision 2020 has managed to unify a wide variety of projects and goals under one main vision: “to be one of the best universities in the world by doing our best for the world”.

Overall, the implementation of these actions connected and enhanced different parts of the sustainability community at McGill. New partnerships were formed through the process that allowed for dynamic collaborations between disparate units. For example, at a Vision 2020 event, a group of students met McGill’s Hazardous Waste Manager and got excited about some ways to minimize hazardous lab waste. The group has since collaborated with the Department of Chemistry and the McGill Waste Project and received funding for a project titled “Reducing Chemical Lab Waste”.

The Vision 2020 Sustainability Strategy has been assessed in a few different ways. First, the McGill Office of Sustainability published the 2013 Impact Report, which evaluated the merits of the community engagement process. Second, the 2013 Failure Report shares some of Vision 2020’s missteps, oversights, and dropped balls, and is our humble contribution to building an organizational culture that encourages risk-taking, creativity, and continuous adaptation required for innovation. Third, the 2015 Progress Report assessed the completion of our Priority Actions.

Productivity Impact

The implementation of McGill’s Sustainability Strategy generated significant measurable impacts. First, the Office of Sustainability measured the implementation of all the deliverables included in the 2014-2016 action plan. In 2015 – halfway through the implementation phase – the average degree of completion of the 14 priority actions was 51%, as expected. Today, almost all of the actions are complete.

Also, thanks in great part to the implementation of Vision 2020, McGill significantly improved its overall sustainability rating. We tracked our sustainability performance following the Sustainability Tracking and Reporting System (STARS) methodology developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). STARS is a transparent, voluntary system for higher education institutions to understand their sustainability performance. In 2012, McGill’s score was 56.03, giving us a SILVER rating. In 2016, our score was 71.97, earning us a GOLD rating.

Finally, some specific actions under Vision 2020 also produced substantial results. For example, one of the actions stated is to “Develop an energy action plan”. Subsequently, McGill’s direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were reduced by 2.4% between 2014 and 2015 (from 38,558 to 37,616 tons of CO2 equivalent).


The Vision 2020 engagement process has set the standard for community engagement at McGill and beyond. It focuses on bringing students, staff, and faculty with different perspectives to the table to discuss pressing sustainability questions together.

Community Engagement and Failure Report: The McGill Office of Sustainability took its time with the community engagement process. For two years it gathered ideas and feedback from individuals in the McGill community to create a Sustainability Strategy that was truly meaningful and representative of McGill’s vision of the future. Overall, the engagement process was a success, as was documented in the 2013 Impact Report. However, the Office also invested time in reflection and group learning, culminating in the 2013 Failure Report that outlined some of the challenges and missteps that they experienced in the community engagement process. Writing the report was challenging, but it serves as a reminder that failures must be embraced rather than covered up if we want to build stronger and more innovative higher learning institutions. After all, learning is what universities are all about.

Adaptive Management and Distributed Leadership: The Vision 2020 model utilizes an adaptive management approach that allows the University to respond to changing priorities over time in two implementation phases. The Strategy consists of a long-term vision and goals across five categories (Research, Education, Connectivity, Operations, and Governance & Administration) outlining in broad terms what we aspire to achieve by 2020. Within each category are a series of specific priority actions to be completed in the first implementation phase (2014-2016). The second implementation phase (2017-2020) will include a new set of priority actions that reflect the University’s changing values. The Strategy structure also relies on a model of distributed leadership, i.e., it clearly outlines the responsible parties who will tackle each action, whether it be operational, academic, or student-led. By 2016, 26 different units from around the University contributed to the Strategy’s implementation, making sustainability an important component of McGill’s institutional fabric; not simply the purview of the Office of Sustainability.

Supporting Documents