Welcome to the TSSS Series on Canadian Women in CSR. Learn about their journeys, discover what inspires them and explore how they’re making a difference through their careers in sustainability. Please follow the link to read about other exceptional Canadian Women in CSR.
TSSS: Briefly describe your current role and responsibility and how many years you’ve been in the business.
Cara Clairman: I am the President and CEO of Plug’n Drive, a non-profit that is accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) through education and infrastructure. I came up with the idea while working as the VP of Sustainable Development at Ontario Power Generation and pitched the idea to the OPG leadership – if we could find a way to encourage people to adopt electric cars and plug them in overnight, we could increase the use of surplus base load electricity, providing the Province with significant environmental and economic benefits. OPG was supportive and Plug’n Drive was born!
TSSS: Have you always been concerned about environmental and social issues – where/when did your passion begin?
CC: I got interested in the environment in high school – I had a very passionate teacher that sparked my interest. I got my parents composting in the backyard and hauling our bottles and cans to a depot (dating myself as that was before there were blue boxes!). I started volunteering with some NGOs that were working on environmental issues – mostly focused on endangered species as well as waste issues. In fact, at that time my dad was working for Olympia & York, and I wrote a letter to the Reichmann brothers suggesting since they owned and operated office towers as well as a paper manufacturer, they could show leadership by creating a paper recycling program in their office buildings. They wrote me a terse ‘your point is well taken’ reply. I’m sure that made my dad very popular at work! By the end of high school I knew I wanted to work in the environmental field.
TSSS: What issue (and why) causes you the most concern and gets you up the morning?
CC: I have spent most of my adult life working on reducing emissions to air and water. I am very concerned about the impacts of climate change on the planet. Of course the planet will continue, but whether our species and many others will be able to survive and thrive is an open question. I think most people would agree that this is a pressing issue but many still don’t really know how to make a difference. I believe what I am doing now – promoting the use of electric vehicles – offers people a really tangible way to make a significant difference without a huge lifestyle change. And they can save money too! This is a classic sustainability winner, with environmental, social and economic benefits. It also is a way of working with business rather than fighting against business. So, I would sum up by saying that it is the exciting opportunity to make a difference that gets me up in the morning, rather than my concern about the problem, which is always there in the background.
TSSS: Can you share a recent accomplishment that you’re especially proud of?
CC: I had the opportunity to do a one-on-one interview with Steve Paikin on The Agenda. This was really exciting for me as I am a big fan of that show and of Steve. I was really pleased to have that opportunity to get the word out on the benefits of EVs to a wider audience and I felt very proud to have taken Plug’n Drive to a point where we are attracting this kind of media attention.
TSSS: What is the best advice you have ever received?
CC: Effort is more important than brains! I have found this to be true time and time again. Most jobs do not require a genius but instead someone who is dedicated, determined, hardworking and nice to be around. I definitely try to emphasize the importance of putting in your best effort on whatever you do with my kids because I know that will take them far in life. I also really love this quote from the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: “In the end, everything will be alright. If it is not alright, it is not yet the end!” This is a great quote for anyone in sustainability, because we are often pitching ideas or programs that may not get approved in the C-suite. It reminds me to never stop trying to achieve my goals.
TSSS: What one piece of wisdom would you like to share with the next generation of female sustainability leaders?
CC: I would recommend every woman take every opportunity to speak in front of people and get as much feedback as you can. Women tend to shy away from the spotlight and this is often the reason they don’t advance the way men do. Women have to embrace the stage – whether that stage is speaking to people in an elevator, at a meeting table or in front of a large audience. Learning how to speak clearly and with confidence is a critical skill in any job and can be learned and improved upon.
TSSS: If you had the power to make one major change at your company, in your sector or in Canada as a whole such that if we woke up tomorrow that change would be the new status quo what would it be?
CC: To embrace diversity! I think many of the industrial sectors suffer from the legacy of a homogeneous workforce. I believe diversity in the work force leads to more diversity of opinions and that ultimately better decisions are made. I would also encourage people to challenge the decisions made by leaders in their organizations. As a lawyer, I think debate is healthy and improves decision making. I find in large organizations there is often real hesitation for people to speak up when they disagree with senior executives. We need to foster a culture that allows people to feel empowered and safe to challenge the views of their supervisors. In the end, decisions may or may not be changed, but everyone will be better off for having considered other points of view.
CC: I love to hike. In Ontario I am partial to the Bruce Trail. My perfect day is a fall day in the country that involves a hike and then a nice meal on an outdoor patio with a view. Here is my family on a short hike among the California redwoods: