Green Light

George and Martha Butterfield
Photo by Chris Wahl

The new Butterfield Environment & Sustainability Stream launches this fall.


By Cynthia Macdonald


Over the last decade, Trinity has pursued a path of environmental action that now serves as a model for other institutions across Canada.

You can see that dedication in a plethora of original projects around campus and beyond. There’s the rooftop garden at St. Hilda’s, the Larkin Building’s emissions-reducing solar panels, and the urban beehives that pollinate trees and plants on Philosopher’s Walk. In recent years, Trinity has also radically changed its approach to water consumption, heating and cooling, and kitchen waste reduction: Since 2008, energy consumption has decreased by 25 per cent, and water consumption has been significantly reduced.

So it’s only natural that this spirit of environmental care should now be seriously informing academics at Trinity, too. This fall, the Margaret MacMillan Trinity One Program will introduce the Butterfield Environment & Sustainability Stream, an exciting complement to the already impressive roster of streams the College offers in its signature program for first-year students.



Since 2005, Trinity One has offered incoming students the opportunity to pursue their earliest studies in a small class environment. Here, they participate in debates, meet experts effecting change in the outside world, and learn advanced presentation skills. They receive a level of personal attention and feedback rarely available to learners in their first year of university. Through two intensive seminar courses, they receive an unmatched foundation for future academic pursuits.

Currently, there are five Trinity One streams: International Relations; Ethics, Society & Law; Policy, Philosophy & Economics; Anne Steacy Biomedical Health; and Anne Steacy Medicine & Global Health. Because of the streams’ interdisciplinary nature, environmental considerations have always been integral— so much so that it is now generally accepted that environmental subjects deserve a stream of their own.

There is no question that ecological degradation is one of the most pressing challenges of our time. With limited resources, a growing population and the effects of climate change now glaringly obvious, students are more concerned than ever about what they can do to make a difference.

A global survey by the World Economic Forum has revealed “climate change/ destruction of nature” as the top concern among 18- to 35-year-olds. Michael Kessler, the Raymond Pryke and Director of the Margaret MacMillan Trinity One Program, says these issues are not new. “These problems may have seemed on the horizon for previous generations of students studying environmental issues. For a student today, these are problems that will seriously affect the quality of their lives, and those of their children,” says Kessler.

“In recent years we’ve started asking: what sort of thematic unity is there to the programs we offer? We want our streams to reflect the kinds of values that we in the College have. And we know that environmental issues are important to many of our students.”

Indeed, a number of Trinity’s green initiatives have been student-led, including the solar roof on the Gerald Larkin Building and the College’s composting program. In recent years students have successfully argued for the Lug-a-Mug program (using reusable cups at events), and implemented a sort of moving portable sink known as the “hydration station” to eliminate the need for plastic water bottles. Says alumna Larissa Parker ’16: “Trinity is definitely the place for environmental innovation and leadership.”



Green blood certainly runs in Parker’s veins. After studying public policy in Trinity One and later pursuing environmental studies at the University of Toronto School of the Environment, she went on to complete a master’s in environmental governance at the University of Oxford. During her time at Trinity, Parker began her involvement in the yearly United Nations Climate Change Conferences and was selected to attend the United Nations climate negotiations in Paris with U of T. She remains involved in the negotiations today, and currently works at a project-oriented startup called the Youth Climate Lab, which aims to amplify climate action.

Parker first became interested in ecological matters in high school but her environmental leadership started at Trinity. While at the College, Parker joined and ultimately became president of the Trinity College Environmental Society. “When I started university, not many people were interested in climate change. Fortunately, with the help of our advocacy efforts, this changed and students voted to contribute a portion of their tuition fees toward the club, a practice that continues today.”

Parker also joined another important group—the Trinity Environmental Protection Committee, which brings together the provost, alumni, professors and students several times a year to discuss green initiatives. On that committee, Parker came in contact with one of Trinity’s most dedicated green alumni: George Butterfield ’61.

As environmentalists, George and his wife, Martha ’63, have always been ahead of their time. In 1966, not long after they graduated, the newlyweds got together with Martha’s brother Sidney Robinson ’61 and organized a student biking trip to Europe. One trip has since turned into hundreds—with the result that today, Butterfield & Robinson is one of the world’s premier active-travel companies (one with a small carbon footprint, to boot).

The Butterfields have also been moving forces behind several sustainable initiatives in Toronto, including the Green Carpet Series, a mid-2000s fundraising vehicle that promoted green lifestyle choices in areas such as fashion and cuisine.

With the launch of the Butterfield Environment & Sustainability Stream in the Margaret MacMillan Trinity One Program, the couple builds on more than 50 years of careful environmental stewardship. Their generous $1.25 million gift to their alma mater will further enrich their green legacy for generations of Trinity students to come.

“It was important that this gift help to educate young people on the complex issues of environmental stewardship. We want them to be equipped with the tools they need to see the challenges we are facing from a variety of perspectives,” says Martha Butterfield. “We believe the Trinity One Program is the perfect fit for a multi-faceted approach to preparing tomorrow’s environmental leaders.”

Trinity One’s interdisciplinary offering is ideally suited to providing that multi-faceted learning. The Butterfield Environment & Sustainability Stream will offer two yearlong seminar courses: Ethics, Humans & Nature, which will focus on the ethics of human interactions with nature; and Environmental Science & Pathways to Sustainability, which will introduce students to fundamental issues in environmental science with a focus on human impacts on physical and biological systems, and on identifying pathways to sustainability.



Traditionally, U of T students have not had access to intense forms of environmental study until late in their undergraduate program. In establishing this stream, Trinity has partnered with the University’s School of the Environment to equip aspiring environmentalists with core thinking skills before they declare a major. “This provides a great opportunity for students to gain early exposure to environmental studies and to meaningfully participate in small environmental classes that aren’t normally available to first-year students,” says Parker.

Says Trinity Provost Mayo Moran, “Globally relevant institutions like Trinity College can and should play a vital role in educating future leaders in sustainability and the environment. With this new stream Trinity is stepping into that leadership role. It will also be the only program at U of T that allows first-year students to look at environmental issues from both arts and sciences perspectives.”

In keeping with Trinity One’s holistic philosophy, “all of our co-curricular events are intended to bring students from different streams together to think about important issues,” Kessler says. “Adding this new stream will mean that students in other streams will also get a chance to think about environmental issues as we bring in speakers to talk about current research and policy surrounding sustainability, food security, ethical consumerism, and so on.”

“Universities are often too rigidly divided by discipline,” says Kessler. “In Trinity One we teach students to be intellectually flexible, and to be able to think across disciplinary boundaries. It’s sort of like being multilingual.”



Hundreds of years ago, environmental education simply meant a bucolic escape from the cramped world of indoor learning. However, since the dawn of the environmental movement the field has undergone a transformation. Where once it merely taught students to appreciate nature, now it urges them to preserve it as best they can. It’s a tall order, given the obstacles presented by governments, industry and individuals.

Kessler realizes this. “In designing the courses, we talked about how much to focus on catastrophe,” he says. “In our other streams, for example, we deal with questions of genocide, human rights abuses, and the next human health disasters. It’s important to understand the terrible outcomes humanity is facing— but also to get students thinking about how to reverse them.”

For her part, Parker is equally optimistic.

“The rhetoric around climate change can make it easy for young people to fall into the trap of thinking that there is nothing they can do,” she says. “But I think the biggest mistake is thinking that an action or goal toward sustainability can be too small to make a difference. Any action— big or small—can make an impact. And it’s your own hope and drive for change that will contagiously inspire others to do the same. This stream will ensure that Trinity students will be even more equipped to lead that change and inspire each other.”

Equally important to George and Martha Butterfield is that their gift is invested in a way that reflects their lifelong commitment to the environment, and that students understand that the courses are funded by sustainable investments. To that end, Trinity College has partnered with Greenchip Financial, a firm that invests only in companies that provide products and services that improve the efficiency of natural resource use and address environmental challenges.

Thanks to a concerted effort by students, alumni and faculty, Trinity continues to lead the charge toward a greener tomorrow. With the new Butterfield Environment & Sustainability Stream, students may now participate in that effort from the moment they walk through the College’s doors.

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