Fostering bold ideas for sustainable change

A student planting a tree

The Sustainable Future Program (SFP) consists of a suite of undergraduate courses focused on providing students with the opportunity for interdisciplinary, student-led, community-based, and experiential education focused on sustainability.

The United Nations 2015 adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) changed the way the world defines, reports and acts on sustainability.

Tackling these complex global problems will require people skilled in critical and creative thinking who are able to put ideas into action in a collaborative manner.

“Ideas are the first step to creating solutions to society’s most complex social and environmental challenges,” says Kate Whalen, associate director of the Academic Sustainability Programs Office. “And every big change starts with a bold idea.”

Students are encouraged to think up these bold ideas and are taught how to put them into action through a McMaster SUSTAIN course exploring the SDGs.

For instance, a cohort of students brought a community fridge to McMaster’s campus after pitching the idea to a panel of university decision-makers. Making food available to peers experiencing food insecurity was identified by the students as advancing SDGs 2 (Zero Hunger) and 3 (Good Health and Well-being).

“We helped turn the idea into a reality,” says Alisha, a McMaster student who took the course last fall. “The campus fridge and pantry are now located in a public setting and makes food available to anyone who needs it at any time.”

The course, which is open to students from all academic backgrounds and all levels of study, uses interdisciplinary teamwork and innovative teaching methods that are practical, effective and fun.

“In one of our first classes, we played a game to learn about how the SDGs interact on a global scale,” says Mohammad, a student who took the SUSTAIN 2SD3 course in the spring of 2021. “We role played as country leaders to get a global perspective and experience what it’s like to make tradeoffs and find synergies to advance the goals in an inequitable world.”

The course is one of the newest in a suite of undergraduate courses focused on sustainability that are open to all students from all faculties and focus on community-based and experiential learning.

Implemented by the Academic Sustainability Programs Office and hosted and supported by the Arts & Science program, the Interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainability provides an opportunity for students to explore diverse aspects of sustainability in a holistic way by taking courses from different faculties and programs.

In addition to the creation of the SUSTAIN 2SD3 course, the Academic Sustainability Programs Office is offering more sections of existing courses and expanded enrolment capacity to meet increasing demand.

Highlights of the growth and evolution of the program and the office’s effort to give students the tools to create positive, sustainable change can be found in their annual report.

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