Improvements to waste systems can have almost immediate economic, social and environmental benefits, but they often require multidisciplinary, collaborative and organized approaches. Thus, the position of Zero-waste Coordinator was born out of the Sustainability Projects Fund in order to smooth McGill’s transition to a zero-waste campus.
This May, Kendra Pomerantz joined the Office of Sustainability as McGill’s first Zero-waste Coordinator, a job which involves collaborating with multiple stakeholders to set in motion the initiatives outlined in the McGill Waste Reduction and Diversion Plan. Operating under both the Office of Sustainability and the Buildings and Grounds unit, Pomerantz will aim to synergize the logistical and strategic components of waste reduction at McGill. Each step she has taken in her academic and professional life, from researching food systems as a McGill undergraduate to aiding in the compost site design for Compost Montreal, has led her to this role.
Pomerantz received her Bachelor of Arts from McGill in Economics and the Earth’s Environment and, like many undergraduates, she was involved in numerous groups across campus. Most notably, she was the manager for the McGill Food Systems Project, which organized Applied Student Research (ASR) projects, in collaboration with McGill faculty and administrators, with the goal of improving the social, ecological, and economic sustainability of the McGill food system. Through her management of the McGill Food Systems Project, Kendra also engaged in her own research on the disposal of organic waste at McGill, an integral part of any food system.
In ENVR 301, Environmental Research Design, Pomerantz’s group identified the desire of McGill cafeterias to improve their composting system. Her group was asked to study the organic waste flows throughout the cafeterias, to investigate the various options to divert their waste, such as reinstating Big Hanna, hiring Compost Montréal or transporting the organic waste off the downtown campus to MacDonald campus, and to provide their recommendation. Their final recommendation was for Big Hanna to remain in operation and be serviced by Compost Montréal.
For her honours thesis, Pomerantz used Compost Montréal as a case study in her analysis of environmental and business decision-making, asking, “How do you balance economic and financial considerations with environmental impact and other criteria that are not necessarily financial?” Her research changed, however as Compost Montréal entered a time of crisis: the compost site to which the company regularly provided organic material was being converted to a parking lot for the equipment of the construction on the Turcot interchange. They needed a Plan B, and Pomerantz delivered, developing a multicriteria decision analysis tool to evaluate their options.
“It was neat because by the time I left, I really had quite a network. I started to be asked, ‘We need a student representative for such-and-such committee, could you come and do consultations?’ I really liked that a lot because I think it helped me understand a bit more about how things happen in the university context, how decisions are made, who you need to speak to for what, and how an institution of this size [sic] runs,” said Pomerantz.
It is no surprise then that she got hired to work for Compost Montréal, doing “a lot of everything” during a time of site transition. The company works with the city at many levels, mobilizing citizens and managing stakeholders’ needs and wants, so creating a new compost site was no simple task. Compost Montréal sent Pomerantz to New York to take a course on compost site design. Upon completion of the course, she returned to Montreal to work with the many stakeholders involved, suggesting and helping develop a more spatially efficient compost site design, the finished product of which is located near the Turcott Interchange on Boulevard Notre Dame.
Despite such successes in creating change and solving complex, systemic issues, Pomerantz wished she could do more. There were so many people who had great ideas at McGill and in the broader Montreal context.
“It frustrated me that I didn’t have more concrete skills to apply those ideas and be able to say ‘We want to do this. What do we have to do to make this happen?’ That was a skill I really wanted to develop,” explained Pomerantz.
She decided to go back to school at Université Laval to earn her M.B.A. specializing in Environmental and Social Corporate Responsibility. While she earned her masters, she also worked in the administration, supporting an interfaculty committee in identifying and organizing a database of sustainability courses and programs across the university. Her soon-to-be-published capstone research project for her masters was on the ideological approaches and theoretical applications used in tracking criteria, building an inventory, and managing systems for educating in sustainability.
Each step in Pomerantz’s journey lent her indispensable expertise in systems thinking and strategizing. While this operational role is new territory, her ambition to successfully fulfill the duties of Zero-waste Coordinator is evident. She plans to improve data on McGill’s waste system; to identify the most viable actions that will have high impact with minimal barriers to execution; to learn from other universities’ efforts, successes and challenges in achieving zero-waste; and to draw from the many perspectives of and to mobilize the passionate, multicultural community at McGill.
If you have a waste-related initiative at McGill or would like to be involved in improving the system, send Kendra an email at kendra.pomerantz [at] mcgill.ca