Greening the university’s events 

For most people, a switch to sustainable practices implies a lack of polish: paper is less glossy, and may have been already used; food options are restricted to what’s local, fresh and organic; SUVs are abandoned for public transit or a bicycle, and the list goes on.

When Advancement and Alumni Relations Event Coordinator Jill Smith set her mind to organizing last June’s President’s Circle event under the theme of sustainability, she faced a specific set of hurdles.

Gift bags assembled for the 2007 President’s Circle event Magnifying glass

Gift bags assembled for the 2007 President’s Circle event

“The donors who attend these events have a very traditional sense of how an event should appear and operate,” Smith explained. “The challenge was to make changes without it being obvious, creating an atmosphere that is similar to that of events in the past but making better choices in our suppliers by making ethical purchases.”

The evening was a great success, from the greenhouse plants used as décor to the fair-trade coffee donated for the evening. Everything used, whether or not it had been used before, was recyclable, biodegradable and came from nearby locations.

Smith worked closely with Sustainable Concordia when she planned the event, and two key members, Jenn Davis and Chantal Beaudoin, spoke at the event about their mission and the impact it has had here.

While on vacation during the summer, Smith thought a lot about the experience “and how much I really enjoyed the challenge.” A lot of what she had done was to work with suppliers to find better options and she learned along the way.

She returned to her department after vacation with a clear image for the future of events at Concordia. It was with this vision in mind that she created a detailed critical path to make all events coming from the department as sustainable as possible. “I was really gung ho, and the project was initially well-received.”

But change takes time, and some colleagues were less willing than others to rethink practices they had grown accustomed to. “I realize now an extensive plan was too much all at once, and hard to stick to. Progress is important even if it occurs in small doses.”

Smith has scaled back to replacing products wherever possible. Catered events offer regular and reusable plates and cutlery. For an event like Homecoming’s Family Fair Day, Alumni Relations chose to use biodegradable cups, plates and trash bags. “The cutlery was also biodegradable, made from potato starch.”


Concordia University