Meet the Canadian Top 30 Under 30 Sustainability Leaders (2017)

Originally published on Corporate Knights

The youth of today are lazy, entitled brats who don’t understand the value of a hard day’s work.

Or so we’ve been told.

Blaming the youngsters of today for ruining society is a tale as old as time, as assistant English professor Eric Weiskott explained earlier this year in an article for The Conversation. Dipping back into medieval England, Weiskott found the youth of the day being blamed for ruining poetry, storytelling, the notion of truth and even increased promiscuity.

In the same vein, one particularly derided listicle on Business Insider in August described millennials as killing countless industries, from home-improvement stores to casual dining chains.

But to turn that question around a bit, what are millennials into?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, kids are drinking, smoking and doing fewer drugsthan previous generations, as well as having less sex (although debatable whether it’s a bad thing or not).

At the same time, educational attainment has skyrocketed, with the number of students enrolled in Canadian universities more than doubling since 1980.

Polling data suggests that millennial values lean much more progressive on a number of key issues, particularly when it comes to gay rights, immigration, Indigenous reconciliation and environmental issues.

These issue-sets and desire to apply their values across their everyday lives are beginning to impact the political, cultural and economic landscape in a variety of ways.

To capture what this looks like in practice, Corporate Knights, with sponsorship support from insurance co-operative The Co-operators, decided to carry forward the annual Top 30 Under 30 in Sustainability into its third year.

It’s the belief of this publication that the power of markets can be harnessed to shape and grow an economy that is grounded in a golden rule: Business and society must succeed together. This vision of clean capitalism aims to sustain prosperity where it exists, and achieve it where it doesn’t.

Sustainable societies are ones that treat all of our sources of wealth – human, financial, natural, social and produced – with equal importance. On balance, when we enhance our various forms of capital on a net basis, we enhance our overall wealth. This year’s Top 30 Under 30 winners were judged on this basis.

A celebration of emerging leadership, each is pursuing a different avenue to push for systemic sustainability-oriented change. Some have started social enterprises of their own, while others are working within larger companies and organizations. There are ground-breaking female and male scientists, emerging Indigenous leaders, members of the business community and social activists alike. Drawn from across the country, the Top 30 Under 30 are collectively focused on a mix of intensely local, national and international issues.

The selection process began this spring, when we opened up nominations to anyone under 30 currently residing in Canada as well as Canadians working abroad. An internal team cut this number to a shortlist of 50, at which point a panel of judges each submitted their top 15 picks and the votes were tallied up (note: the list appears in no particular order). The judges were:

  • Katie Sullivan, managing director, International Emissions Trading Association
  • Troy Kolish, corporate citizenship advisor at The Co-operators Group
  • Karel Mayrand, director general, Quebec and Atlantic Canada, David Suzuki Foundation
  • Jeremy Runnalls, editor-in-chief of Corporate Knights magazine

We’re also pleased to once again partner with the Impact! Youth Program for Sustainability Leadershipto create opportunities for experienced professionals to mentor young leaders.


Jennifer Prospero, 29

Toronto

Jennifer has had remarkable impact in her career as a sustainability professional in the mining industry. She was an integral part of the original permitting team for the Mary River iron ore project in Nunavut, and was key in creating community buy-in through her organization and implementation of the community consultation program with the Inuit of North Baffin.

Jennifer has a track record of creating strong relationships between regulators, industry and local communities. At a young age, she chaired working groups that brought various players together to ensure Baffinland met its regulatory and social commitments, which continue to be international best practice.

Now, Jennifer is working for global nickel and cobalt mining company Sherritt, where she has significantly improved public sustainability reporting to align with global industry leaders and administered the international community investment budget. She also volunteers at Women in Mining Canada and the National Ballet of Canada’s young professionals committee.

“For a long time, industry was not as open about its challenges. But I have found that through listening to one another, multi-stakeholder solutions are possible and often successful. Groups that were traditionally oppositional are finding innovative and meaningful ways to work together for a sustainable future.”


Josh Walters and Benjamin Walters, 22 and 26

Toronto

Cousins Josh and Benjamin are the co-founders of a social enterprise called Feedback, a digital marketplace for surplus food that drives customer traffic to restaurants during off-peak hours to purchase, at a steep discount, food that would otherwise be discarded.

Recently, the duo won a grant at the Creator Awards sponsored by WeWork, an organization that awards $20 million per year to various entrepreneurs. The Walters received $36,000 (U.S.), which will be used to expedite the Feedback app’s development and begin marketing.

Feedback has nearly 50 restaurant partners in the Toronto core alone, and launched its mobile app in September. The enterprise has the potential to divert close to 3 million kilograms of CO2 emissions in Toronto alone.

In addition to reducing food waste, Josh and Benjamin have partnered with multiple local charities to donate meals based on each order made through the Feedback app, allowing users to track the direct impact they are having on food security in their local communities.

“When developing Feedback, we focused on coming up with a solution that made sustainability convenient, valuable and even cool! We are very optimistic that by doing this, we can help our society develop habits that will create long-lasting impact.”


Leah Davidson, 23

Washington, D.C./Sherbrooke, Quebec

Leah is passionate about innovative and immersive approaches to environmental education. In high school, she received a scholarship to travel to Antarctica on an educational expedition with Students on Ice.

Inspired by the beauty and fragility of this remote ecosystem, she published the first youth arts-based anthology focused on Antarctica, which is now used as an educational resource by the International Polar Foundation. She also delivered more than 50 presentations, including for TEDx and the International Polar Year Conference, and launched a global youth-driven campaign called Act for Antarctica, which integrated the study of climate change into over 30 school curricula and partnered with more than 15 green businesses.

At the University of Pennsylvania, Leah co-founded the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, an interdisciplinary research and academic program bridging art and sustainability that has led to an academic minor, three tenure-track faculty hires, annual research fellowships, an artist-in-residence program and curated community events such as a faith and environmentalism conference. This program has raised over $1.5 million and received support from the President’s Climate Action Plan.

Leah has recently worked for various UN agencies as a writer/blogger on climate change and environment for UNICEF, a researcher on innovation in international development for UNDP and as a delegate/speaker at the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development in Japan.

“Every time I show a video of frolicking Antarctic penguins to a group of elementary school children, I see their eyes light up with glee. This excitement for learning and innate desire to connect with nature makes me optimistic about the future.”


Nabaa Alam, 24

Calgary, Alberta

 Nabaa’s work has the potential to change the future of Alberta and Canada’s energy profile through his design of an innovative biofuels plant in Edmonton. This new renewable energy process essentially converts canola into marketable products: renewable diesel, renewable gasoline and biojet fuel.

A pilot plant is scheduled to be commissioned by the end of 2017, when the plant is expected to convert 10 million litres of canola into various fuels. The Alberta government hopes to then upscale the process to 240 million litres annually by the end of 2018.

Nabaa teamed up with SBI BioEnergy to secure $10 million in provincial funding. The project has also received $1.86 million in funding from Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions and the Alberta Innovates Technology Futures. Shell has purchased the technology licensing rights and is currently evaluating its potential to expand across Canada and the globe.

In his free time, Nabaa has been helping redevelop the community and environment in the aftermath of the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire. Nabaa helped raise $10,000 from private sponsors in the first week and has since planted 1,000 trees in the area. He also sponsors and trains new immigrants and entrepreneurs who are aligned with his vision of developing innovative solutions and leveraging technology to change the world and build a more sustainable future.

“When trying to make a difference in the world, there are going to be challenges and failures along the way. But invest your time and energy not in what is current, but what can be.”


Puninda Thind, 25

Brampton, Ontario

According to the United Nations, real estate accounts for approximately 40 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In her job, Puninda manages programs across North America that have proven to reduce emissions and energy consumption and to build awareness and education around environmental responsibility.

Currently the sustainability manager at Bentall Kennedy, one of the 30 largest global real estate investment advisors, Puninda has led implementation of a number of portfolio-wide initiatives that promote sound and sustainable investment. These include Bentall Kennedy’s award-winning ForeverGreen Tenant Engagement program, its green building certification and corporate sustainability reporting efforts. Previously, she worked as a sustainability professional at the Sustainability CoLab – Sustainable Waterloo Region, Environment Canada and Microsoft Canada.

Outside of work, Puninda has pursued her love of writing as an environment correspondent for South Asian Generation Next, a Toronto-based newspaper. She has also reported from the UN climate change conference, COP19, as part of University of Waterloo’s academic delegation.

“Sustainability means acknowledging that we are a part of the environment. It is about re-examining what we value, fostering justice and equity, and putting in place the necessary incentives to drive change.”


Robyn Ashwell, 29

Vancouver

Robyn has spearheaded the development of an innovative sustainable enterprise in Vancouver. As co-founder of Shift Delivery, Robyn has brought together an energetic team and created a culture that places great emphasis on social sustainability in addition to the ecological sustainability inherent in Shift’s business model.

Shift Delivery partners with businesses to deliver their products in downtown Vancouver using heavy-duty cargo tricycles. It began as a class project at Simon Fraser University, and thanks to the vision and passion demonstrated by Robyn and her co-founders, has grown into a successful sustainable business.

In six years, Shift has made over 150,000 deliveries with trikes instead of trucks or vans, partnered with dozens of local businesses and currently employs 12 staff. Shift is structured as a worker cooperative, meaning it is democratically owned and operated by its employees. The empowerment, collaboration and creativity required to enact this structure inspires Robyn’s work.

“Pursuing sustainability means striving to make communities and societies resilient, inclusive and fair.”


Charlie Andrews, 27

Toronto

An artist, orchestral musician and corporate social responsibility professional, Charlie is active in pushing for creative, sustainable and ethical business practices.

Through a wide range of experiences, Charlie currently works in corporate social responsibility at SOCAN Foundation and is a board member for the Greater Toronto Area Telus Community Investment Board and WorkInCulture. Commended for exceptional results, she has been the recipient of a number of awards, including the Top 40 Under Forty by Northern Ontario Business Awards in 2013 and, in 2016, the Vital People Award from Toronto Foundation and the Alumni Leadership Award from Laurentian University.

Additionally, Charlie is passionate about human rights, social justice and community arts. In 2015, she led a community arts project that resulted in the creation of the Pride House Anthem, which was premiered at the Pan Am Games.

During that time, she completed her fellowship with the Association of Fundraising Professionals, which focused on diversity and inclusion in philanthropy. In 2016, she was awarded the Nathan Gilbert fellowship through the Laidlaw Foundation to research and advocate against the lack of inclusive spaces in publicly funded schools in Ontario. Recently, she completed her Cultural Leaders Lab fellowship, which was a leadership incubator created by the Toronto Arts Council/Banff Centre for the arts.

“Corporations that embrace sustainable practices will have a significant competitive advantage, and there is now an abundance of opportunity for corporations to be social and sustainable champions in society.”


Apefa Adjivon, 19

Toronto

Moving to Canada as a refugee from Sierra Leone, Apefa has had the opportunity to experience life in both the western and developing worlds. Recognizing the difference in the treatment of women between the two countries, she has dedicated her life towards improving the lives of women internationally.

In the previous year, Apefa advocated for children’s and women’s rights through Plan International and Because I am a Girl and was selected to represent Canada as a delegate to the Youth Assembly at the UN.

At the UN, she was invited to pitch her idea at the Social Venture Challenge – a centre for girls in low-income communities named the Pearl Project, which pairs girls with mentors and skill-based opportunities to help them achieve their goals. Apefa and her Pearl Project were awarded a Resolution Project Fellowship and start-up grant. She was subsequently selected by the UN and British Council to receive social enterprise training, and was the youngest chosen to present her startup at the Youth Innovation Summit at Parliament.

Apefa was also one of few first-year students chosen to represent the University of Toronto at Parliament as a participant of the Women in House program.

“It does not matter where you come from or who you are. The people who change the world are the ones crazy enough to believe that they can.”


Colton Kasteel, 21

Vancouver

Colton’s passion for sustainability and environmentalism focuses on promoting and implementing market-based solutions to environmental degradation and climate change.

In his second year at UBC, Colton co-founded the Environmental Policy Association to address a lack of dialogue on campus regarding economic and policy-based solutions to climate change. While abroad at the National University of Singapore, he served as creative officer for the country’s largest student-run environmental group, NUS Students Against Violation of the Earth, promoting zero-waste and low-carbon lifestyles.

Currently, his primary focus is on Gathering Voices Society, where he works to build out workshops, in partnership with the Ahousaht, Tla-o-qui-aht and Yunesit’in First Nations, aiming to foster economic, social and ecological resilience in First Nations communities. This is achieved through environmental stewardship programs that combine traditional ecological knowledge with market-based tools.

In addition, Colton manages the UBC Alma Mater Society’s Sustainability Projects Fund, administering a $115,000 budget dedicated to funding student-led projects that reduce the environmental footprint at UBC. He spends his remaining time promoting social sustainability as a community engagement assistant at Reconciliation Canada.

“Despite the risks that climate change poses, we have the tools to solve this crisis. From grassroots organizations and up, sustainable alternatives to our current lifestyles are rapidly emerging.”


Uytae Lee, 24

Halifax

Uytae is a community advocate working to make complicated local planning issues accessible to all citizens. He is the co-founder and voice of PLANifax, a non-profit organization committed to honest communication between government, advocacy groups, private organizations and the public.

PLANifax makes local issues more tangible and understandable by telling these stories through video. Informed citizens know how their cities work, and how to get involved to steer the growth and evolution of their communities in a positive manner.

Since starting PLANifax in 2015, Uytae has partnered with numerous organizations to produce over 50 videos explaining issues such as coastal sea-level-rise policies, future transit plans, affordable housing and accessibility, to name a few.

“I really stuck with the idea of sustainability because it means having empathy for others and the planet.”


Gabriel Meunier, 26

Montréal/Lanaudière, Quebec

During the day, Gabriel works as the project manager for energy and climate change at the Lanaudière Regional Environmental Council, while in the evening sitting down with citizen groups.

Gabriel has chaired the Équiterre de Lanaudière Action Group for several years. Dozens of the group’s actions have helped to increase awareness of sustainability issues among the region’s population. He is also a director of Bécik Jaune, a community-based self-service bicycle project, and joined the organizing committee for the provincial consultations regarding pipeline issues and the arrival of the oil sands bitumen in Quebec.

In 2015 Gabriel was honoured at the Gala Florilège organized by the Forum Jeunesse de Lanaudière for his commitment and perseverance to environmental issues in the area.

“It will be difficult to induce the profound changes that our society needs by acting alone. It is rather by helping to build solidarity within communities, where everyone will come to put the shoulder to the wheel, that we will succeed in making change.”


Hayley Carlson, 26

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan is home to some of the last remaining native prairie in the world, an ecosystem Hayley grew to love while working over summers with rare species like the Ord’s Kangaroo rat at the province’s Ministry of the Environment.

Now the policy coordinator for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, Hayley interacts with governments, business, academic organizations and the general public to set the province on a more sustainable path. She previously worked as a climate analyst with Agriculture Canada, monitoring impacts of climate on agriculture.

Outside of work, she is also an organizer with Climate Justice Saskatoon (CJS), running a weekly radio show with programming about environmental and climate topics and holding focus groups and workshops with members of the local community to learn more about how people think about climate change.

Studies show Western Canada has some of the lowest levels of climate literacy in Canada, and Hayley hopes CJS’s work with the community will help to develop more effective communication tactics for target audiences around climate change.

“Many environmental problems we experience today are consequences of decision-making that has favoured one way of seeing the world, and discounted other views. Sustainability is about remaining open to new narratives, especially those that have been marginalized. Every perspective adds more to the story and allows us to make better choices.”


Mikhail Smilovic, 29

Victoria/Montréal

Mikhail is trying to tackle one of humanity’s greatest challenges: how to grow enough food for a growing population, and how to do this without continuing to dry the world’s rivers, lakes and aquifers.

Trained as a natural scientist, mathematician and artist, Mikhail recently completed a PhD at McGill University investigating initiatives to produce more food with less water and has been awarded a prestigious Canadian NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship to continue to fund his research. His work has led to the development of a new method to determine irrigation scheduling to maximize the amount of food produced per drop of water, available for different crops and regions.

Convinced that local communities need to be part of the change and offer their voices as part of the solution, Mikhail has facilitated events across Canada to encourage dialogue on sustainability and change, including water tastings, curated galleries and performances, and story building.

“Be kind, be patient and get out of your own way.”


Natalia Mykhaylova, 29

Toronto

With a background in engineering, chemistry and design, Natalia is focused on tackling a major unmet need in society: access to a reliable, low-cost and high time-resolution device for measuring the air we breathe.

Her PhD work at the University of Toronto involved the development of novel devices and adaptable wireless networks for air pollution monitoring, and creating air quality sensor networks for the 2015 Pan Am Games.

One software solution she designed, Ease, makes use of traffic data to reduce city congestion and the associated carbon emissions. Ease was a first place winner at Climate Hack-to-Action sponsored by Brookfield Institute, as well as a winner of Toronto Climathon.

More recently, Natalia started a research initiative to develop technologies that would not only track air pollution but also purify the air we breathe. She co-founded Cleanopy and has developed a unique portable device for children that offers continuous indoor and outdoor protection from air pollution. She also founded WeavAir, which develops sensor modules that improve indoor air quality and energy efficiency of HVAC systems.

“By setting up infrastructure to provide public access for environmental monitoring tools and encouraging citizen science, we not only democratize access to knowledge but also increase the number of engaged and empowered citizens contributing to the revitalization of their communities and a more sustainable society.”


Edward Tian, 17

Toronto

As the Secretariat General for the Southern Ontario Model UN Assembly, Edward is at the forefront of providing young people with a forum for meaningful dialogue on sustainability in their communities.

Previous to this role, Edward represented over 330,000 young Torontonians as one of the voices on the Toronto Youth Cabinet, the official youth advisory body to Toronto City Council. For three years with the cabinet, he was a champion for creating youth spaces, rallied community organizations and spoke to city council against the closure of youth shelters.

After working on the Toronto Youth Equity Strategy, Edward started Envision City, an organization that worked with young people across his community to develop sustainable solutions to real-world city planning challenges, such as animating an under-utilized parking lot and developing an electronic voting system to promote recycling cigarettes.

He was also recently tasked with spearheading a series of youth consultations for the UN Human Settlements Programme’s Inclusive Cities Summit to ensure that the voices of youth, in developing a sustainable urban future, are heard on the world stage.

“Some things are meant to be eliminated, while other things, rich with heritage, remain vital to our communities. I’m not certain which is which, but sustainability is about finding the balance.”


Photo Credit: Jessica Laforet

Rudayna Bahubeshi, 28

Toronto

Rudayna is deeply committed to advancing equity and inclusion, and knows that a more sustainable future requires addressing systemic racism, creating equitable opportunities and recognizing the often overlooked capacities and knowledge of historically marginalized populations.

She is a manager at Inspirit Foundation, a grant-making organization focused on advancing inclusion and addressing discrimination based on race, ethnicity and religion, as well as a CivicAction DiverseCity Fellow.

Leveraging both her expertise and lived experience, Rudayna works with decision-makers and leaders to develop strategies for meaningfully supporting youth facing barriers. As a member of the Premier’s Council on Youth Opportunities, she is able to advise the provincial government on policies affecting young people. In the last year, she was also an advisor with the Wellesley Institute, a nonprofit think-tank focused on social determinants of health, seeking to support young people experiencing systemic inequities.

Rudayna was one of 25 young people from around the world brought to Berlin in 2015 to develop a youth-focused climate action plan to present at COP21. As a champion for more inclusive civic discourse, her work has included leading programming for Women in Toronto Politics.

“Justice and equity are critical to creating sustainable, livable communities – whether you’re doing work to alleviate poverty, advance climate justice, improve education, etc… We need to centralize the most vulnerable populations and co-create solutions.”


Photo Credit: The Telegram

Joshua Green and Zachary Green, 27 and 24

St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador

When Joshua was working as an energy consultant for homeowners, he came to the realization that the smart thermostats available on the market were not applicable for homeowners with high voltage heating systems (HVHS). It turns out that one in three homes in Canada has an HVHS and cannot use smart thermostats designed for central heating systems like furnaces or heat pumps that are dominating the market.

Seeing the opportunity to enter this space, Joshua partnered up with his brother Zachary to create Mysa. With over 1,000 pre-sold units, they are empowering people all over North America to lower their energy consumption and their bills.

Joshua and Zachary recently secured $600,000 in private equity funding to assemble a passionate team of engineers, software developers, and marketing professionals, all under the age of 30. The team will soon begin shipments of Mysa.

“Few people change their behaviour for environmental reasons. You’ll only reach the masses if your product is appealing for other reasons such as convenience, nice design and cool technology, while still achieving your broader mission.”


Kevin Yuen, 27

New York City

Kevin is a recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) design fellow who uncovers intersections between biology and design to address critical sustainability issues facing our globe today.

He currently works as a business strategist at Modern Meadow, a startup that bio-fabricates leather in a laboratory. Imagine a future where animal products do not need to be extracted from raised livestock, but rather can be grown in vitro to be biologically identical to traditional products?

During his time at MIT, Kevin served as the director of collaboration for the Cellular Agriculture Society, where he spearheaded ideation and partnership efforts to transform unsustainable production systems in food and fashion with biotech.

With a dual background in biomedical sciences and business from Western University, Kevin leverages a multi-disciplinary approach to design living factories. He started his career at Innosight, a consultancy advising Fortune 50 companies on disruptive innovation principles and growth strategies. In 2016, he was selected as an IDEO fellow at Food + Future, an incubator with the MIT Media Lab to prototype new ventures addressing food access and transparency.

“Empathy can bring user experience to new heights that scientists and investors alone cannot. As we strive to develop sustainable systems, we need to challenge assumptions, address personal pain points and emphasize collaboration at every stage.”


Justin Fisch, 27

Barss Corner, Nova Scotia

A lawyer by trade and outdoor adventurer by passion, Justin works in renewable energy and environmental law and in his spare time, makes his way to the Arctic and Antarctic regions as a naturalist and lecturer with Quark Expeditions. When not fighting for environmental sustainability or on a ship heading toward the poles, Justin can be found teaching environmental law to budding conservationists at the University of Ottawa.

Seeing the need to work internationally and across political and geographical borders in the name of sustainability, Justin strikes a careful balance between focusing his efforts on improving sustainability in his own community, while simultaneously acknowledging the important role of global factors in shaping a sustainable future. Justin has spent his young professional life encouraging Canadian youth to connect with the beautiful environment in their own backyards while serving Parks Canada as its youth ambassador.

He is also completing a documentary titled Hello Ukkusiksalik (currently in post-production), filmed in the remote and threatened arctic tundra of one of Canada’s newest parks, Ukkusiksalik National Park in Nunavut. The film explores the conservation efforts of Inuit peoples while simultaneously uncovering the opportunity the park has to safeguard Inuit traditions, connect youth to their culture and create sustainable tourism-based economic opportunities for the local community.

“Find your sustainability passion, and share it with others. Big things will come of it. A first time bike commuter will someday become Canada’s leading advocate for sustainable cycle-ways. A fledgling canoeist will evolve into Canada’s leading conservation writer. A beginning swimmer will one day protect our most pristine of waterways. Sustainable leadership always starts with just one experience.”


Steve Lee, 25

Toronto

Steve is a climate change activist, a policy advocate to the UN and a global speaker. He is the executive director of the Foundation for Environmental Stewardship and its 3% Project, which mobilizes Canadian youth through national tours across hundreds of schools. It provides youth-friendly and holistic education on climate change and empowers them to take action on solving climate change in their local communities today.

A prolific global speaker, Steve has represented the Canadian youth at over a dozen international forums. He is a voice to the voiceless youth globally in policymaking as a member of World We Want 2030 Policy Strategy Group, UN Major Group for Children and Youth, UNEP Tunza, UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development, and more.

Also an entrepreneur, Steve was a partner of RevIT² Solutions, a market research consulting firm for private investment firms, and the CEO of Steve’s Guidebook, a publishing company for university-level calculus and biology study guides.

“Although we are the final generation who can solve climate change, I am quite concerned that we are no better off than the previous generations in our capacity to deal with its effects. We must exercise the muscle for sustainability problem-solving skill to make it our generation’s core competency.”


Larissa Parker, 23

London, England

Passionate about the intersection of human rights and environment, Larissa recently finished her MSc in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance at the University of Oxford, where she focused her studies on climate change adaptation, traditional environmental knowledge and loss and damage.

Larissa recently returned from Rarotonga, Cook Islands, where she conducted her dissertation fieldwork, researching marine non-economic loss and damage and place pathology. Specifically, she looked at the impacts of climate change on people’s sense of place, livelihoods and traditions. Larissa is currently working for the Risk and Resilience Programme of the Overseas Development Institute, which focuses on providing research and policy advice on systemic, inclusive and just approaches to build resilience against climate-related risks and other hazards on poverty and development in developing countries.

But this only describes what she has been up to in the past year. Larissa has held jobs in both the civil service and government, working for the Ontario Energy Board, as well as a Toronto city councillor and in a federal MP’s office. As one of three Canadians to receive a Jaimie Anderson Parliamentary Internship, Larissa assisted with work on Canadian Indigenous issues, researching and advocating for Indigenous rights to land, water and education.

“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. Instead, be confident and resilient. Any action – big or small – can make a difference; but most importantly, it’s your own hope and drive for change that will contagiously inspire others to do the same.”


Robyn Seetal, 29

Calgary, Alberta

As a consulting manager within Deloitte’s sustainability and climate change practice, Robyn enables her clients to manage social and environmental risks and drive sustainability performance. She supports companies that are struggling to develop Canada’s energy resources in a way that is sustainable while managing the needs and expectations of Indigenous communities and key stakeholders such as landowners, government and investors.

Robyn has served as a co-judge for the CPA Canada Award of Excellence in Sustainability Reporting and is the co-lead of the corporate workstream of the Natural Capital Lab, which aims to propel Canada and its vast natural capital to a position of global leadership on the measurement and management of natural capital assets. She directly identifies opportunities to integrate these assets into corporate decision making, and is at the forefront of global thought leadership on this subject.

As well, Robyn is the co-founder and chair of a renowned youth leadership development conference that was founded in 2009. In 2017, her passion for impact investing led her to join the founding board of a local investment cooperative called Local Investing YYC, which provides capital to local business generating valuable social, environmental and financial returns. Robyn is also the youngest board member of the Trans Canada Trail.

“Sustainability is increasingly used as a buzzword, but to me, it’s more than that – it’s an active mindset and a way of being. Sustainability is about understanding that everything is interconnected, and making the conscious choice to have a net zero or positive impact on our environment and society.”


James Dekker, 26

Vancouver

James is a globally-focused business and human resources professional, currently working as a talent development manager at HSBC. In this role, he is dedicated to recruiting and developing emerging and talented students and recent graduates into the business.

At HSBC, James has been involved in a number of initiatives that support sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion, including the launch of the Indigenous Canadians Employee Resource Group and establishment of key external partnerships with nonprofit organizations that align with the strategic priorities of the bank.

James is active in his community, sitting on the board of directors for the Indigenous-led charity Indspire and the Ch’nook organization at UBC. He is a member of the Pine Creek First Nation and has demonstrated a true passion for working with youth-focused organizations that support young talent and Indigenous advancement.

“Take time and reflect on the social issues that you’re passionate about most. Look for opportunities to get involved in initiatives that align with those values and take action with both passion and a positive attitude.”


Amelia Mary Brinkerhoff, 24

Montréal

Amelia is a recent graduate of the McGill School of Environment, where she focused on systems thinking, urban sustainability and food systems. Eager to learn from and be engaged with the Montréal and McGill communities from the start, Amelia collaborated with McGill’s head chef to create the new position of student sustainability coordinator for McGill’s Food and Dining Services.

During her three years in this position she established long-term commitments around waste, procurement and engagement practices and proved to be a key force behind a culture of sustainable food at McGill. After receiving McGill University’s Catalyst Award in 2016 for this work and other contributions to the McGill sustainability community, Amelia was hired to craft the university’s new Climate and Sustainability Action Plan. In this role, she facilitates complex, inclusive conversations about strategic decisions and climate action, and aims to strike the balance between earnest ambition and on-the-ground realism.

For a number of years, Amelia has volunteered with the Montréal community organization and food hub Santropol Roulant. She was recently elected to its board of directors, is active with the Montréal YMCA, YWCA and Native Women’s Shelter and recently joined the Food Secure Canada Youth Caucus.

“While certain political forces seem to pull us back, I do think that we’re getting better at having difficult conversations, at deep thinking and learning, and at realizing that sustainability means tackling a full range of problems in order to build more equitable and inclusive societies.”


Nivatha Balendra, 22

Montréal

Nivatha has always been curious and interested in exploring new answers to big questions. Her science fair journey started at the age of 13 and her research has garnered her numerous accolades in the years since.

Recognizing the lack of environmental solutions for cleaning up oil spills, Nivatha’s research involved a novel species of bacteria she discovered and its effectiveness in the bioremediation of oil particles. The young scientist isolated this particular strain of Pseudomonas bacteria from local soil samples she collected around Montreal. In recognition of her work, she received the World Economic Forum Prize at the Intel International Science and Technology Fair to travel to China for the forum.

Nivatha has also founded the International Young Scientists Mentorship Program, a student-led non-profit organization focused on motivating and supporting youth to participate in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities and provide opportunities for their scientific enrichment.

At age 20, Nivatha was diagnosed with cancer, Stage IV Hodgkin lymphoma. After undergoing six months of chemotherapy, she has been a year in remission. It made her realize how precious time is and has redoubled her drive to achieve these dreams.

Having cancer as a young adult, however, poses its own obstacles. As a result, she is currently working on developing a young adult cancer awareness program that will target university students and staff in the hopes of raising awareness and gaining psychosocial support for others facing cancer through university.

“Don’t wait for the right moment to pursue your goals. Go for it – there’s no better time than now.”


Maya Burhanpurkar, 18

Barrie, Ontario

As a young scientist, Maya has a dream to continue to combine art with science to spread the message of conservation far and wide.

Fresh off a gap year before beginning studies at Harvard University, Maya’s beginning scientific work has ranged from prototyping an “intelligent” antibiotic to discovering new properties of potential Alzheimer’s drugs. More recently, alongside professor Steve Mann (known as the father of wearable computing) at the University of Toronto, she led a project that uncovered a new principle of Newtonian physics.

As an advocate for climate change awareness, Maya travelled to the Arctic to produce an open source documentary about climate change featuring author Margaret Atwood, astronaut Chris Hadfield, famed explorer Wade Davis and Nobel laureate Brad Bass. The documentary, 400PPM, was recently awarded the prestigious international Gloria Barron Prize. Currently, Maya is creating an international Climate Ambassador program inspired by the documentary due to popular interest.

As an advocate for girls in STEM, she has also served as the president of a national non-profit which provides science outreach to over 120,000 youths across Canada.

“A new generation must take charge, because together we can achieve anything.”


Photo credit: Jackie Davies

Caitlyn Baikie, 25

Nain, Nunatsiavut, Newfoundland and Labrador/Gatineau, Quebec

Born and raised in Nain, Nunatsiavut, Caitlyn has almost a decade of experience under her belt in Arctic social and physical sciences through various programs and work experiences. She currently works as a manager for Students on Ice while completing her undergraduate degree in Geography and Aboriginal Studies at Memorial University.

She is an alumnus of the kANGIDLUASUk student program which operates out of the Torngat Mountains National Park, and was a research assistant for the Arctic Inspiration Prize-winning project SakKijanginnatuk Nunalik initiative, a collaborative sustainable communities initiative between Memorial University and the Nunatsiavut government.

Caitlyn also has a keen interest in government policy, taking various summer internships with the Nunatsiavut government’s Executive Council. This allowed her to better understand the implementation of the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement, while working closely with elected officials and community members of Nunatsiavut. Most recently, she participated in the 2014 Victoria Strait expedition, which located Erebus, one of Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated ships through the Northwest Passage.

This year, Caitlyn was appointed an official ambassador for the Canadian government department of Heritage Canada 150 initiatives, where she has been engaging in grassroots conversations about reconciliation.

“Being sustainable means that I am able to harvest and eat traditional country food with my family while practicing and learning about our traditional Inuit knowledge.”


Chloe Dragon Smith, 27

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

Chloe is a Metis woman of Chipewyan and European heritage who grew up close to her Indigenous cultural values and learned traditional skills for living on the land. This northern upbringing shapes her values today. Chloe is a trained canoe instructor, an open water scuba diver, an avid hiker and a hockey player.

While educated in science, she has found her niche in working with people on the social/cultural benefits of the natural world. Currently, Chloe works with the Canadian Parks Council as an executive project leader. She is co-chairing an intergenerational citizen working group called Connecting a New Generation with Nature. The working group has created a document called The Nature Playbook: Take action to connect a new generation of Canadians with nature. It was adopted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as a global best practice, which led to it being featured at the 2016 World Conservation Congress.

Today, Chloe continues to share The Nature Playbook at conferences around Canada, while working on new collaborative projects with the Canadian Parks Council. In April 2017, she was named the first Young Woman for Nature, by Nature Canada’s Women for Nature. She was also appointed by Canada’s minister of the environment and climate change and Alberta’s minister for environment and parks to the National Advisory Panel for Canada Target 1 – the conservation target aiming to protect 17 per cent of Canada’s land and water by 2020.

“Sustainability to me means balance. That means living in harmony with all systems and making decisions to actively maintain that harmony.”


Audrey Morin, 24

Montréal

Audrey is a champion of Canada’s natural spaces and the manner in which we perceive them. As a Master’s candidate at the University of Québec at Montréal in Tourism Development, Audrey is exploring the promotion of tourism in Québec’s most remote outposts, contrasting this with a natural resource-based approach to development.

In doing so, she is breaking down long-held preconceptions about how ecotourism development is seen and its saviour context, critically analysing the opportunities and returns for transitioning communities, notably those of the Côte-Nord region in Québec.

In her past work, Audrey has contributed to The Starfish environmental magazine, educated for Parks Canada, participated in Students on Ice Arctic Expeditions, taught for an environmental education organization in the Saguenay and contributed her volunteer labour to dozens of people and other organizations across the country.

“I’ve met so many inspiring people in my life, but what makes them special is their ability to be themselves and to do what it means for them and not what society dictates.”


Mac Balacano, 28

Winnipeg

Mac has developed a specialty integrating sustainability into telecommunications products and services.

He was responsible for BlackBerry’s first life cycle analysis on BlackBerry smartphones, and has gone on to create Bell MTS’s corporate social responsibility policy and report, its supplier code of conduct and a wireless device recycling program. In addition, he has also steadily improved Bell MTS’s CDP Climate Change disclosure.

Mac’s passion has also translated over to tackling various social issues in his community, volunteering on the board of directors for six organizations in Winnipeg that focus on caring for individuals with disabilities, providing social housing programs, helping new immigrants find professional work and various youth engagement programs.

“Focusing on the greatest aspects of our humanity (such as passion, creativity and love) and pairing that with sound business practices and the latest technology is what will help us build a truly sustainable society.”