I had the pleasure of meeting Stéphane Béranger, Sustainable Development Coordinator at the Université de Montréal. A nested unit under the Vice-President Finance and Infrastructure. Since 2016, the Sustainable Development Unit welcomes 3 interns each year.
1- Tell me about the Université de Montréal Sustainable Development Unit.
Sustainable development has been part of the organization chart of the Université de Montréal since 2010. At that time, we were integrated under the Vice-President for Student Affairs (and Sustainable Development). This follows a request from students who wanted the UdeM to integrate more sustainable development into its activities. One of their first requests was for the withdrawal of bottled water on all campuses that became effective in September 2013.
In our unit, we have 2 counselors and 1 coordinator, myself. We are a small team, but we rely on our network of key people in all services. These champions are important allies who help us greatly on certain issues.
2- What studies lead to a career in sustainable development?
We have quite different backgrounds within the team. Among our advisors, the first has a bachelor’s degree in environmental geography and a master’s degree in environment. The second has a degree in biology and an individualized master’s degree in environment and sustainable development, with a specialty in biodiversity. For me, it’s a bit of everything, a master’s degree in chemistry, a D.E.S.S. in management and a short program in sustainable development and corporate social responsibility.
3- How is the reception of high school interns?
After a few years, we learn how to adapt our activities to the young people we receive. The content of our activities must be accessible
Last summer, we welcomed trainees for a week where we touched many things: urban agriculture, academic projects, food projects, etc.
One of the activities of that week was to vegetate a slope on Darlington Street, an activity that was done with SOVERDI, the Côte-des-Neiges borough and the Châteaufort community gardens (note: twoStudent Business partners!). To carry out this activity, we had received a truckload of dirt and we had to move the load with wheelbarrows. We expected to do two or three round trips to help the team with the trainees. Finally, they wanted to continue, they made many trips and then they planted trees. We spent the afternoon outside! I felt a little bad they had pushed wheelbarrows, but obviously, they liked to work with their hands. They had big smiles and were very tired at the end of the day. They were however present and on time the next morning.
4- Have you kept in touch with your interns over the years?
We have not kept in touch, but they know very well that they are welcome if they want to come back to us or if they have questions in preparation for their studies. If they want to meet people in particular at the university, we can make arrangements.
An article about their presence appeared in the newspaper UdeM News, when we read it, it reminds us of these good times.
5- Would you recommend the Student Business program to other organizations?
Yes, and I even started doing the work internally by looking for services and departments that would be ready to welcome young people.
I recommend it, because it pushes people to step back, to question themselves, to reflect on their practice and their work, to simply explain what they do. It is an interesting approach that does not require more work but provides an external perspective on our activities.
6- Was there something that surprised you about the next generation of workers?
What I remember is that they do not let themselves be dictated. They negotiate! (Laughs) If they do not agree, they know how to say it. I was surprised. I remember at their age, it was more ” it’s an adult who tells me, so I’ll do it ”, but it also depends on the characters.
7- How did your choice of studies go when you were their age?
He was not at all determined. I thought of horticulturist, then I did biology. I ended up in chemistry and I came here where I did research on electric vehicles. If at 15 I was told “you will be a chemist and at 40 you will be in sustainable development”, I would not have believed.
I sailed according to what was available to me and according to what my report card allowed me, if it was again, I would have liked to have people who help me to have clear ideas earlier, but it is not easy to touch everything and to have clear ideas at that age or even to ask someone for advice.
8- What message would you send to young people who are wondering what to expect from a career in sustainable development?
Working in environment and sustainable development is in a way preparing a better future. A society where it will be good to live. It is a way of defining the society in which they would like to live.
From the point of view of the next generation, there will have to be a jump in society and the next generation will, I think, be its best craftsman.
9- Are there key subjects to push in high school?
We need more and more people who have quite a wide experience. For example, talking about sustainable development is about knowing and understanding laws. We are on the right side. It is also necessary to know how to present financial results, to ask for money, it requires management skills and in particular, to master the accounting discourse sometimes referred to as ecological accounting. You have to know how to write well, how to put together an argumentation. That makes me say that there is a lot of politics in sustainable development: to convince people is work. You also need to know about science: climate change is not that easy to understand.
In fact, it requires a very varied training that does not exist yet. Maybe one of our young Student Business will become Minister of Education and have the vision to set up such training!
This article is part of a series of portraits of mentors 2017 that will be published punctually by the summer.