Welcome to the TSSS Series on Canada’s Top 30 Under 30.
Learn about who and what inspires them and their vision for a more sustainable world. Each week two new profiles will be shared – take a moment and get to know the next generation of Canadian Sustainabilty Leaders. Thank-you to Kruger Products for supporting this initiative.
TSSS: Why does the sustainability sector resonates with you. Where/when did your passion begin?
Cindy Chao: Ever since I was young, I always wanted to effect large-scale positive change in the world. I always thought that I would do so by becoming a doctor – but as I reflected on my undergraduate studies, I realized that a doctor is often reacting to an illness, and that fields such as research, public health and epidemiology would be better career paths if I wanted to contribute to proactive betterment of global health. I didn’t feel that I had a personality fit to these fields and since I always had an interest in environmental issues, I turned my attention to becoming a “doctor of the Earth”. When I graduated, I weighed my options between starting off in the public, non-profit and private sectors. I concluded that the private sector needed the most support “from within” and that the career path would likely be accelerated compared to the other options. Further, my undergraduate education criticized capitalism without ever offering a solution. Given the reality of the system we live in and the current lack of a better system, I felt strongly about moving from academically criticizing the private sector to actively working with them to find practical solutions to minimize environmental and social impacts during the interim.
TSSS: Describe your current role, how you ended up doing that work and your vision for the future (for your company/yourself/the planet).
CC: I started a Masters in Environmental Science after graduating and began conducting several informational interviews with people in the field of sustainability and grew increasingly excited about working in corporate sustainability consulting. As part of my Masters co-op term, I started working with the Ontario Hospital Association on reducing the energy and waste impacts of the province’s hospitals. Then I made a personal decision to move abroad to experience living in a different culture. I was able to satisfy my cultural curiosity and career aspirations in sustainability by spending about a year working for Sustainability Excellence in Amman, Jordan, focusing on sustainability strategy and reporting in the Arab world. During my time there, I received an offer to join Deloitte Canada’s Sustainability and Climate Change practice and made the decision to return home.
I am currently a senior consultant with Deloitte in Toronto, where I focus on sustainability strategy and implementation, shared value assessments, environment, health and safety, and climate change in both the private and public sectors. Most recently, in collaboration with the Interamerican Development Bank, I have been involved with developing inclusive value chains in Ecuador in the steel and textile industries. Today, I feel lucky that I am able to work for a team where I can live my passion every day.
My vision for the future includes transitioning to a global circular economy. I also envision humans measuring success using quality of life rather than standard of life indicators and countries measuring success using a gross national happiness index rather than gross domestic product.
TSSS: Tell us about someone (mentor, friend, family, teacher, hero) who affected your sustainability journey and how. What is the best advice you have ever received?
CC: My grandmother is my inspiration and my hero. She has always taught me to respect the environment and engrained the principles of conservation into our lives since childhood.
From a career perspective, I feel truly grateful to have been able to lean on many individuals along the way, whether it was for a 5-minute chat at a conference or an ongoing learning journey (as it was with Brad Zarnett, with reading deadlines, case questions, discussions and all!). The best career advice I have ever received is the age-old saying “choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day”.
TSSS: Describe your perfect day.
CC: My perfect day involves exploring a foreign country, starting the day with a hike or other moderate outdoor adventure activity (e.g. mountain biking, abseiling, etc.) and being reminded of just how beautiful the world is. This is followed by spending the afternoon recuperating at the beach or another water body (e.g. lake, hot spring), and walking the local streets in the evening, taking in the sights, flavors and sounds of a culture that I don’t fully understand. Here’s a photo of myself abseiling a canyon during my time in Jordan!