Young & relentless: Canada’s top 30 under 30 sustainability leaders of 2021
Original article can be found here. Adria Vasil and Alex Robinson | Corporate Knights
Meet the teens and 20-somethings proving that hope comes from taking action
Eighteen-year-old Swedish climate champion Greta Thunberg blasted world leaders for their “empty promises” at a Youth4Climate forum in Milan in late September.
“There is no Planet B. There is no Planet Blah. Blah, blah, blah.”
“This is all we hear from our so-called leaders. Words that sound great but so far have not led to action,” said Thunberg, calling out three decades of climate lip service as a betrayal of present and future generations.
She’s not alone. A fall survey of 10,000 youth aged 16 to 25 in 10 countries found “widespread psychological distress” and feelings of betrayal over inadequate government response on climate.
Faith in business is plummeting, too. According to Deloitte’s annual global survey of millennials and members of Gen Z, the number of youth who believe business has a positive impact on society is down to 47% in 2021, from 76% in 2017.
“We can no longer let the people in power decide what is politically possible,” said Thunberg.
Gen Z and millennials are done waiting. They’re channelling their anxiety over the state of the planet by holding those in power to account, redefining what’s possible and driving solutions.
On September 24, hundreds of thousands returned to the streets for global climate strikes in almost 100 countries for the first time since the pandemic began. A few days later, a sobering study published in Science underlined what’s at stake. A child born in 2020 will, on average, live through twice the number of wildfires and three times more droughts, floods and crop failures as people born 60 years ago.
Nonetheless, roughly half of young people polled by the Pew Research Center report feeling confident that we can reduce the effects of climate change. They’re doing more than any other generation to be part of the solution, whether they’re volunteering, attending rallies or contacting their elected officials. They’re also pursuing environment-related degrees and careers in record numbers.
And as this year’s 30 Under 30 list of sustainability leaders reveals, they’re pushing the corporations they work for to go greener, starting their own innovative companies and NGOs, and leading the change at every turn.
When Corporate Knights opened up this year’s 30 Under 30 nominations to the public in April, we received a record number of inspiring candidates. An internal team had a tough time narrowing the list of submissions down to a short list of 60. Then a panel of judges each submitted their top 30 picks and the votes were tallied.
The list is peppered with Indigenous leaders, renewable-energy champions, climate activists, cleantech innovators, social entrepreneurs, zero-waste advocates, researchers, engineers and more. Reading their stories will make you want to up your game and realize that, as Thunberg said, “Hope is not blah, blah, blah. Hope is telling the truth. Hope is taking action. And hope always comes from the people.”
Want to be on next year’s 30 under 30? We know there are armies of young people blazing the way. Visit corporateknights.com in April 2022 to nominate any change agents under 30 that you think should be considered for next year’s list. Judges Tabatha Bull President of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business
Jyoti Stephens VP of mission and strategy for Nature’s Path
Catherine Abreu Executive director of Climate Action Network
Adria Vasil Managing editor of Corporate Knights and bestselling author of the Ecoholic book series. Rosalie LaBillois 24, Eel River 3, NB, co-chair, Assembly of First Nations National Youth Council From a family of Mi’kmaq fishermen who live on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, Rosalie LaBillois was born and raised between her two communities of Listuguj, in Quebec, and Eel River Bar First Nation, in New Brunswick. “I was raised by parents and a family who committed to breaking cycles and healing intergenerational traumas,” says LaBillois. “Through our ceremonies, we understand who we are as the true stewards of this land.” Driven by traditional teachings, the co-chair of the Assembly of First Nations National Youth Council (now in her third elected term) has been a vocal advocate for sustainability, leading national youth gatherings on climate action and water protection. The Cape Breton University student is also the youth engagement officer at Ulnooweg Indigenous Communities Foundation. Says LaBillois, “Once we all understand that we have an equal responsibility to take care of this land, and we come to work together, only then will we see real change.” Ashley Wang 24, Toronto, senior associate, SVX; co-founder, Inclusion in Impact Investing Despite corporate efforts to be more diverse and inclusive, the makeup of the financial services industry remains staggeringly homogenous, says Ashley Wang. “This is why launching Inclusion in Impact Investing (III) was one of my proudest moments to date. [It] combines my work in impact investing with my passion for creating space and belonging for underrepresented individuals.” When she was a teenager, Wang’s family moved from China to Canada, where her parents’ existing credentials were not recognized. “My family inspired my interest in sustainability work,” says Wang. The senior associate at SVX supports a network of more than 1,200 investors in mobilizing their capital toward profit and purpose. Outside of her work at SVX, Wang also co-founded the London Social Value Fund, Ontario’s first youth-led impact investment organization. Says Wang, “By directing capital from traditional financial markets to impact investing, we have the opportunity to get back to our original vision of serving our planet’s and people’s real needs.” Adam Noble 27, Lakefield, ON, CEO & founder, Noblegen “It started with my high school science project, and it’s still going,” says Adam Noble, founder of an innovative food tech company that’s raised $42.5 million in capital so far and employs more than 50 people in Peterborough, Ontario. “Never did we imagine that . . . we’d have a full-on meat analogue that tastes exactly the same as the meat it’s meant to replace.” Noblegen uses a microorganism called Euglena gracilis and starches from local corn and cassava to produce plant-based egg, meat, fish and dairy analogues free of genetic engineering. His next world-saving project: aligning with farmers. “We’re confident that we can enhance the farmer’s relationship with the natural world on a microbial level, and that will supercharge our role in the carbon cycle while continuing to feed the world in a much more sustainable way.” Noble’s winning approach: “Don’t be discouraged if you have to carry the weight of seeing the vision on your own. If you truly want to change the world, think big, and be patient.” Natalie Pecile 27, Toronto, senior sustainability manager, Restaurant Brands International Working for a company that has 27,000 restaurants around the globe, Natalie Pecile knew Restaurant Brands International had massive potential to spark progress in the fast food industry. Two years ago, she was offered a newly created role to develop a sustainability strategy for the parent company of Tim Hortons, Burger King and Popeyes. Since then, Pecile has helped establish global policies on deforestation, animal welfare and packaging, as well as brand-new science-based targets to reduce greenhouse gases by 50% by 2030. “My work mobilizing that potential and evolving this massive org from the inside out is a key piece of the puzzle for a more sustainable future that depends on fundamental change across every aspect of our societies,” says the 27-year-old. “If only you put your mind and your time to it, even our society’s greatest challenges can be tackled, by someone just like you, or me.” Calvin Yang 19, Berkeley, CA, CEO, Canadian Youth Alliance for Climate Action After co-organizing the largest climate protest in American history through Fridays for Future International out of New York City in 2019, Calvin Yang had his sights set on greening his home country of Canada. The young media coordinator founded the Canadian Youth Alliance for Climate Action (CYACA), a non-profit Gen Z–led lobbying firm dedicated to advancing non-partisan federal climate policies. “As a young Conservative, I recognize that climate change poses a significant threat to the future prosperity of our society and proactively work with Canadians across the political spectrum to address it together as a country,” says Yang. With a team of engaged young Canadians and industry professionals, CYACA has helped amend climate legislation such as Bill C-12 and partnered with IPSOS to launch a poll aimed at Gen Z voters. Says the University of California, Berkeley, freshman, “It is more important than ever for youth to become engaged in our democracy in this political climate.” Julie Reimer 29, Kingston, PhD candidate; national president & Atlantic director, Sierra Club Canada Foundation’s board of directors Julie Reimer took a winding and unexpected road to sustainability work. The 29-year-old PhD candidate says she grew up with a love for public speaking, studying and volunteering, but it wasn’t until later that she found her passion: the ocean. “Canada has the world’s largest coastline, with ocean to the east, west and north,” she says. “We are a blue nation on a blue planet. Protecting the ocean is essential to humanity. Whether or not you feel connected to the ocean, it is our great unifier.” Her published research has focused on the potential of common tools, such as marine protected areas, to support underwater ecosystems. Reimer is now the youngest president and Atlantic director of the Sierra Club Canada Foundation’s board of directors. She also serves as an all-Atlantic ocean youth ambassador for the All-Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance. Sumreen Rattan 25, Surrey, BC, co-founder & COO, Moment Energy With a surge in the number of electric vehicles on the road, there are millions of batteries that will retire with no place to go – batteries that still have an average of 80% of original capacity. “It’s extremely important to have an end-of-life plan for EV batteries so they don’t end up in landfills and produce toxic waste,” says Sumreen Rattan. “By repurposing [them], we ensure that they are used in second-life applications and go through a circular economy.” Rattan is co-founder and COO of the award-winning start-up Moment Energy. Moment’s batteries are two-thirds the cost of alternative lithium-ion battery storage and are currently used to store energy for off-grid customers. As one of the few female graduates from Simon Fraser’s Mechatronic Systems Engineering program, Rattan is proud of having built the business from the ground up right out of university. She has advice for budding entrepreneurs: “Creating a positive impact and a successful business can go hand in hand. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.” Sage Lacerte 23, Victoria, founder & CEO, Sage Initiative As a Carrier woman from the Lake Babine First Nation in central B.C., Sage Lacerte had a bold idea for “rematriation,” a return to a way of life connected to Mother Earth. In 2019, the 23-year-old birth doula founded Sage Initiative, Canada’s first and only Indigenous womxn’s impact-investment collective: each year, 10 Indigenous womxn meet for six months of trauma-informed training in investment literacy and Indigenous commerce. By investing up to $50,000 annually in Indigenous-owned, mission-led businesses, “we are working to reverse the current paradigm that centres [on] white men by resurfacing the critically important leadership roles womxn have in our economy,” says Lacerte. “There is a gap in the ecosystem that we are working to mend. Reconceptualizing money through a matriarchal lens changes its function to one of facilitating relationships between us rather than dividing us.” Phil De Luna 29, Toronto, director, National Research Council; former MP candidate, Green Party of Canada Phil De Luna knows firsthand what happens when an entire community is dependent on one industry. “My father, an autoworker, lost his job when Ford closed their assembly plant. I see the same thing happening in heavy emission industries today.” De Luna has spent his entire career helping Canada decarbonize, starting with his PhD in materials science and engineering at the University of Toronto, where he discovered new renewable ways to convert carbon dioxide into fuels and chemicals. He was soon recruited as the youngest-ever director at the National Research Council of Canada, where he leads a $57-million collaborative research program. The Governor General’s Gold Medalist put his dream job on pause to run as a Green Party candidate in Toronto-St. Paul’s in the 2021 federal election, all to help push for more aggressive climate action. “We need to do everything we can to diversify and create a more sustainable economy for Canada, to ensure families have green jobs that will last.”
Julianna Greco 28, Toronto, co-founder & head of growth, Suppli As a foodie and an environmentalist, Julianna Greco was often conflicted about ordering takeout. “Locally, Toronto serves approximately 39 million takeout meals per year, which conservatively means we are tossing 78 million pieces of waste each year,” she explains. “What’s worse, only 9% of what we place in our recycling bins actually gets recycled.” She and a friend started a reusable-takeout-container service to help the restaurant industry eliminate single-use containers. Suppli’s business model took off during the pandemic as takeout orders spiked. In the 10 months since it launched, Suppli has partnered with 25 local restaurants to save almost 10,000 single-use takeout containers from landfill. Greco’s long-term vision, besides expanding Suppli’s circular economy model into more Canadian cities: “I hope future generations will wonder what a single-use takeout container was!”
Hawa Keita 27, Montreal, executive director, CEED Concordia Born in Senegal and raised in France, Hawa Keita took on the position of executive director of CEED Concordia in Montreal at a time when the activities of the organization suddenly became untenable. The non-profit offers Concordia and Ugandan students three-month internships on sustainable community projects in northern Uganda. On the heels of an Ebola outbreak in Uganda, the global COVID-19 pandemic quickly brought the organization to a standstill. Within the span of a year, Keita pivoted CEED’s activities to keep it from folding: she expanded CEED programs into three more countries (Ghana, Senegal and Colombia), brought in new programs for online international collaboration, and launched a national entrepreneurship training program for students that incorporates social justice and environmental business ideas, all while growing CEED’s annual income by 50%. What motivates Keita? “I believe no matter where we are from, we must have the same chances and opportunities. We can achieve a lot together if we view ourselves as one global community.” Brock Battochio 28, Halifax, engineer & co-founder, Planetary Hydrogen Humans will have to figure out how to remove massive amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in coming years if we’re going to stand a chance of mitigating the effects of global warming. That’s where Brock Battochio and his colleagues come in. At the age of 26, Battochio co-founded a cleantech firm called Planetary Hydrogen, which has patented a device that captures carbon dioxide from the air and stores it in seawater while generating clean hydrogen. Battochio says the company uses an approach called “ocean air capture” that permanently sequesters carbon dioxide while reversing ocean acidification. “There are a range of [climate] solutions, and truthfully, we need them all, but we see the oceans as the highest-scale, highest-impact solution to addressing this problem,” he says. The company counts Shopify among its first customers, and Battochio is leading the technical development of a demonstration plant, expected to open next year. Michael Vegh 26, Bella Bella, BC, Haíłcístut implementation manager, Heiltsuk Tribal Council When Michael Vegh returned home to his coastal First Nation community of Bella Bella this summer, he was tasked with implementing his Nation’s reconciliation process. “‘Haíłcístut’ means ‘to turn things around and make things right again,’ which is the Heiltsuk perspective on reconciliation,” explains the 26-year-old environmental studies grad. Vegh will be implementing $65-million worth of funding for 53 unique projects. “When these projects are completed, dozens of homes will have received critical renovations, new home-ownership will increase, our language will be thriving, hundreds of jobs will be created, we will manage our own seas, and we will have laid the foundation for Heiltsuk self-governance.” The former climate action coordinator for Coastal First Nations is also the lead author of the Haíłzaqv Clean Energy plan. “It’s so fulfilling to bring all this experience home and work for my own Nation,” Vegh says. “I am fortunate to have many mentors who always show me what it means to uphold our Gvi’las [laws] and create a better world for future generations.” Christine Ward 26, Calgary, sustainability start-up specialist, Radicle consulting firm Christine Ward specializes in coaching early-stage cleantech companies. “I have coached over 80 start-ups in Calgary to assist them in raising capital.” Ward leads the solar and renewable energy team at Radicle, a leading Canadian sustainability consulting firm, and, as she explains, these are early-stage businesses that will “make up the future of the Calgary economy by creating jobs in new industries to pull Calgary through the energy transition.” Ward uses almost all her spare time to empower womxn and increase diversity in spaces that are typically very “one-tone.” As an outspoken queer woman, Ward says her approach involves fighting for a seat at the table and gaining access to rooms, then pulling underrepresented individuals into those spaces. “I want to see more womxn in leadership and on boards, shattering statistics,” she says. “I want to look back when I’m in my 60s at Calgary’s green economy and thriving technology ecosystem knowing that I made a positive impact.” Jeremy Clarke 29, Cobourg, ON, president, Simple Life Homes Jeremy Clarke started Simple Life Homes as a general contracting company specializing in sustainable housing back in 2012. It became clear to Clarke and his team that just slapping solar panels onto a roof doesn’t make it more efficient or particularly “green.” In 2017, they started building prefabricated high-performance all-natural homes made from wood products that sequester carbon and that are insulated to Passive House standards – homes that are 90% more energy efficient than the average Canadian house. In eastern Ontario, the former VP of Sustainable Cobourg, a local environmental group, is best known as an articulate spokesman for the Passive House movement: “Our homes are storing carbon in the materials they’re built with, helping to drive our carbon footprint down today, which is critical if we’re going to have a chance at combatting the warming of our planet.” Clarke’s next goal: scaling up carbon-conscious housing. “We’re actively working to get more design-and-build partners to use our systems so we can scale together.” Heather Shilton 28, Iqaluit, NU, director, Nunavut Nukkiksautiit Corp. Developing renewable energy in Canada’s Arctic comes with its own set of challenges. As the director of Nunavut Nukkiksautiit Corporation (NNC) – Nunavut’s first 100% Inuit-owned renewable energy developer – it’s Heather Shilton’s job to overcome these roadblocks. “The people of Nunavut pay some of the highest electricity prices in the country, and the territory is currently entirely reliant on diesel fuel shipped from the south for electricity generation,” she says. She explains that local off-grid communities don’t have equitable access to the clean, affordable and reliable electricity that folks in grid-connected communities do. “This is a barrier I hope to help remove.” The 28-year-old worked to develop locally owned clean energy projects in Ontario before she moved to Nunavut to support Inuit-owned renewable-energy and energy-efficiency initiatives. Says Shilton, “It’s critically important when thinking about sustainability in Canada to prioritize and centre Indigenous voices as well as those who are most impacted by climate change.” Madison Savilow 25, Calgary, chief of staff, Carbon Upcycling Technologies; venture lead, Expedition Air There’s a lot of pressure on consumers to make the most sustainable choices, but, as Madison Savilow notes, consumers aren’t responsible for most global emissions, “nor do they have the resources to make large-scale impact on their own. I want to empower consumers to put the pressure back onto companies to incorporate carbon-sequestering materials into their products.” The Alberta cleantech entrepreneur and chief of staff at Carbon Upcycling Technologies (a Carbon XPrize award-winning Canadian carbon utilization company) founded Carbon Upcycling’s consumer product brand, Expedition Air. Expedition Air is dedicated to selling products made from captured carbon emissions and has facilitated the start-up of more than five companies, and counting, companies that now rely on captured carbon materials. “I hope that Expedition Air becomes a one-stop shop for consumer-facing companies to access decarbonization solutions and materials.” Aliya Hirji 16, Toronto, youth organizer, Shift Action; youth coordinator, Fridays for Future Toronto Aliya Hirji has always had a love for the environment and social justice, but it took her a while to realize these two passions intersected. The high school student and activist has been engaged in the youth climate-strike movement and pushing for systemic change to ensure a safe climate future. Over the last year, she has been mobilizing other students and teachers to call on the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) to divest teachers’ retirement savings from fossil fuels (see p. 33 for more on that). “No longer should our money be invested against a livable future. Together we must demand divestment from climate destruction at every level,” she says. Hirji and other campaigners have successfully pushed OTPP to commit to being net-zero by 2050, as well as some interim targets. She considers this a great start but knows there is so much more to do to ensure these promises are kept. Austin Zacharko 24, Edmonton, energy management engineer, Capital Power Sustainability has always been a polarizing topic in the oil-producing province of Alberta, where Austin Zacharko was raised. “I was able to see both sides,” says Zacharko, a Métis Canadian, though the avid rock climber and backcountry skier began to realize the status quo was no longer protecting the province from the impacts of climate change. His interest in renewable energy led him to a degree in engineering at the University of Alberta, where he co-founded the Indigenous Engineering Students Association. Today, when he isn’t working as an energy management engineer with Capital Power, supporting the company’s wind, solar and thermal assets, Zacharko is helping a local food bank become solar powered. He also volunteers with two national youth sustainability groups, including as co-director of Leading Change Canada’s steering committee. “As the ones inheriting this world, our voices should matter in the decisions that get made today that will impact us for the rest of our lives,” Zacharko says. Brianna Brown 28, Vancouver, co-founder, Decade Impact Brianna Brown co-founded Decade Impact, an impact strategy consulting firm, to help Canadian businesses develop holistic strategies that unlock social and environmental impact. “I started my undergrad in political science and economics in 2011, in the midst of the Occupy movement. I saw a huge disconnect between the theories being taught in the classroom and the movements that were happening on the street.” Brown became fascinated by the role of business. “It is so influential, but it didn’t seem to be engaged in the issues I cared about.” Brown pursued business to start bridging this gap. She specializes in the B Corporation certification process, and in 2019 and 2020, her company, Decade Impact, was responsible for half of all B Corp certifications achieved in the province of B.C. Says Brown, “Small business owners are some of the most innovative and solutions-oriented people out there.” Faith Edem 27, Ottawa, policy analyst, Environment and Climate Change Canada Change agent Faith Edem was born in Nigeria, a country rich in non-renewable fuel sources. “I gained a strong understanding of the impacts energy industries can have on the biodiversity and emission production of a country,” she says. An undergraduate course at the University of Toronto on corporate social responsibility changed her worldview: “I frankly did not know it was possible to hold polluters accountable.” Now Edem, a policy analyst with Environment and Climate Change Canada, develops national climate and energy policies that will help Canada transition to an inclusive, net-zero-carbon economy. “What drives my sustainability work is my commitment to accountability and underrepresented perspectives in the sustainability space,” says the co-author of Our Climate, Our Stories, an anthology by Canadian BIPOC youth. “Those who are represented the least are often affected the most by climate change when we examine global impacts.” Julie Segal 26, Montreal, senior analyst, impact investing at the McConnell Foundation “I never thought I would work in investments,” says Julie Segal. “I’m first and foremost an environmentalist.” Through her work in impact investing, the 26-year-old Montrealer has so far shifted more than $32 million to investments in projects with positive social or environmental outcomes. “Each project is important on its own. But these investments are also edifying. They demonstrate practical alternatives for how our capital markets and economic system can advance the society we want.” While managing the McConnell Solutions Finance Accelerator, Segal has been recognized as a Young Impact Leader for her work developing a strategy for a just transition across the foundation’s portfolio of assets. “I’m proud to bring the perspective of environmental justice to spaces where it is typically ignored,” Segal explains. Segal also helped found two community non-profits, launched a climate-action think tank in Outremont, Montreal, and helps engage youth in sustainable finance issues through the Youth Climate Lab. Adriana Laurent Seibt 27, Vancouver, co-founder, UBC Climate Hub; campaigner at Leadnow Growing up in Honduras, Adriana Laurent Seibt witnessed firsthand the devastating impacts of climate change on low-income, unhoused, Black and Indigenous, women and queer folks in her coastal community of La Ceiba. “After we were hit by two back-to-back hurricanes in November 2020, I managed to fundraise close to $40,000 to buy food, medical supplies, baby formula, water, clothes, and to help rebuild homes,” says Laurent Seibt. “My love for my community sustains my involvement in the climate justice movement.” After moving to Vancouver, she co-founded the UBC Climate Hub, where she mobilizes thousands of students to advocate for climate policy solutions and racial justice. The young Black Hondureña also leads UBC’s Indigenous Engagement Working Group, is a youth representative on the Government of British Columbia’s Climate Solutions Council, and acted as consultant on the City of Vancouver’s Climate Justice Charter. “I want youth leaders to know that another world is 100% possible,” she says. Kris Kolenc 28, Toronto, manager in research & sustainability, REALPAC From the time Kris Kolenc started playing with Lego, he had a keen interest in buildings and the environment. So it made sense that the 28-year-old went on to work in the world of green real estate. In his role at the Real Property Association of Canada (REALPAC), he helps more than 120 Canadian commercial real estate companies strengthen their ESG performance – a particularly important job, given that buildings make up around 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As the chair of REALPAC’s ESG committee, he also works with governments to help shape sustainable real estate policy. Kolenc says that while working in the sector can be challenging at times, given resistance to tackling the climate crisis, the demand for sustainability professionals is higher than ever before. “Opportunities in sustainability and the need for climate action [have] never been stronger,” he says. “Now is a great time to get into the field.” Mina Papic & Brad Moore 26, Vancouver; 29, Victoria, sustainable infrastructure consultants, Stantec As the typical lifespan of roads and bridges can be decades long, there are huge environmental implications for the way we design and build them. Civil engineers Mina Papic and Brad Moore know this well: they co-lead a sustainable infrastructure team for Stantec, a design firm ranked by Corporate Knights as one of the most sustainable companies in North America. “The decisions we make today affect the quality of life of future communities and our collective emissions profile for generations to come,” says Papic, who is also an advisor to non-profit Greenroads. Their team helps guide green strategies on infrastructure projects, from high-speed rail and roads to marine and wastewater projects. “Making informed decisions that seek to improve the sustainability of our infrastructure will continue to provide benefits for years to come,” says Moore. In the coming years, the duo hopes to help a growing number of communities integrate sustainability as a critical component of the engineering design and construction process. *Mina is no longer employed by Stantec. As of October, 2021, she is a sustainability project manager at WSP. Oriana Cordido De Sola 24, Fredericton, business development manager, Naveco Power It wasn’t until Oriana Cordido De Sola arrived in Canada from Venezuela at the age of 18 that she was exposed to the idea of entrepreneurship. She left Venezuela because she had always wanted to study abroad, and the humanitarian crisis in her home country had left few opportunities for young people. Since arriving in Canada, she has applied her twin passions of entrepreneurship and sustainability to her work. “It doesn’t matter what industry you work in, as you can always find the best green practices that are applicable to the company you are a part of,” she says. The 24-year-old has helped develop a small-scale 20-megawatt wind farm at Fredericton’s Naveco Power since she started working there as a student in 2017. Cordido De Sola has also led the charge to install a large array of rooftop solar panels in New Brunswick. George Radner 25, Vancouver, executive director, Be The Change Earth Alliance Ask George Radner why the work he does is important and he’ll tell you about a letter that a girl named Natalie wrote to Vancouver city councillors urging them to take climate action. It was her 14th birthday, explains Radner, but instead of celebrating with family and friends, she asked local politicians to help her secure a safe future on this planet. “Be The Change Earth Alliance provides youth like Natalie tools to navigate climate anxiety, and the skills and support to take meaningful climate action.” His team has provided learning resources to more than 15,000 high school students, teachers and community members to take personal and collective action on climate change in the last two years, and they’ve diverted at least 200 tonnes of CO2 emissions in the process. Radner offers some words of caution for budding young sustainability leaders: “Don’t try to do it all alone. Find a community of kind people whom you enjoy being around.” Brandon Hebor 29, Toronto, AgTech entrepreneur, founder of Boreal Greens Co. It started as a pilot project in a 150-square-foot custom-built shipping container turned greenhouse. Brandon Hebor designed and built the “urban farming unit” using a novel vertical design to grow greens and vegetables less than two kilometres from downtown Toronto. Through his social enterprise, Ripple Farms, Hebor grew almost 3,000 kilograms of food and fish from shipping container farms. He also led a team to facilitate educational workshops for more than a thousand students using the high-tech farm as a teaching ground. As a consultant with Crop Coach Canada, Hebor has worked with Indigenous groups on Manitoulin Island and community food centres in the GTA and beyond to help bring agriculture projects to life. He has just launched his newest venture, Boreal Greens Co., growing local herbs and greens using “controlled environment agriculture.” “I see food as the medium through which all people on earth can connect the health and resilience of our bodies and minds to the earth.” Sophia Yang 25, Vancouver, founder & executive director, Threading Change Sophia Yang wears many hats. When she isn’t moonlighting as a techno DJ, the 25-year-old works as a community organizer, fashion justice activist, equity consultant and entrepreneur. Yang, who was born in China and moved to Canada when she was eight years old, founded a youth-led non-profit called Threading Change that seeks to make fashion more ethical and circular. The organization is guided by what Yang calls the six Fs: a feminist, fossil-fuel-free fashion future. She says she was inspired to launch Threading Change when she attended the United Nations climate negotiations as a youth delegate in 2019 (COP25). “I noticed that the only voices on the fashion world stage were the exact companies that were releasing the most emissions, with no representation from the Global South, youth or garment workers,” she says. Yang has since been busy training the next generation of fashion leaders and raising the voices of garment workers around the world. Sophie Merritt 27, Vancouver, sustainability manager, MEC As the sustainability manager at one of Canada’s biggest outdoor companies, Sophie Merritt spotted the opportunity to influence more than 200 outdoor brands to create system-wide change throughout the industry. Thanks to Merritt, MEC (formerly Mountain Equipment Co-op) launched ambitious plans last spring. MEC’s in-house label and all partner brands have aggressive new targets on sustainable materials, fair wages and reducing waste to go circular. New climate targets are in the works. “This work is important because . . . it inspires other companies and consumers to act more sustainably,” says the 27-year-old skiing and surfing enthusiast. And she says that work is fuelled by everyday Canadians pushing their favourite brands to do better. “The pressure you are putting on governments, companies and peers is creating change. I see it every day, so keep fighting for a just and responsible future for all!”