Top 5 tips for running sustainability events during COVID-19 (and beyond)
By Elizabeth Shirt, Managing Director – GLOBE Series
When I joined GLOBE Series as Managing Director in early 2020, I was super excited. I knew GLOBE had been producing sustainability and climate events for over three decades, and I wanted to be part of the next chapter. After all, we have no time to lose on the road to creating a net-zero, equitable future. I knew that GLOBE events would be where critical conversations and collaboration took root.
What I couldn’t have predicted was a global pandemic that shook the event industry – among many others – to its core. We quickly pivoted to offering virtual events, and were pleasantly surprised to find that many partners and clients were keen to engage us on everything from programming to technical platforms. Our event services are now a permanent part of what we offer.
After two years of virtual events, I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised by what came next: a huge pent-up demand for getting together in person. GLOBE Forum, which has happened every two years for the past 30, sold out for the first time in its history. We had thousands of people register for in-person and virtual programming. With all that behind us and a huge amount of work to do in the next decade, I’d like to offer our top learnings that you can apply to your own sustainability and climate events.
#1: In-person events aren’t dead
After two years of Zoom meetings from our home offices, I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised at the tremendous interest in getting together in person at GLOBE Forum. People REALLY wanted to see each other after all that time, and the importance of human connection really came through in both our ticket sales and the vibe at the event itself.
How do you make the most of this desire to connect, which in turn fuels more collaboration and innovation? When you’re creating your program, don’t just think about who’s on the stage, think about who is in the room. Consider how you can help your attendees connect with each other – not only in your official programming, but outside of it.
For example, at GLOBE Forum we offered recharge lounges, meeting pods, and multiple networking events. These are where the magic happens…where else can a Chief Sustainability Officer of a multinational company get the opportunity to talk policy with a federal or provincial policymaker? Or a small company with big ambitions become part of the climate conversation? There were so many instances just like this at Forum.
For the first time ever, we also hosted an in-demand “Meet the experts” session with our colleagues from The Delphi Group. This was another way that we leveraged our own connections to help other companies make connections that will help them do what they do even better.
#2: If you’re not thinking about equity and access, start now
You can’t get away with all-white manels anymore. We will and should be held accountable for the people on stage, virtual or otherwise. Plus, if we’re going to build a better future, we need to have all the voices at the table – taking into account age, racial and gender identity, and differently abled perspectives.
At GLOBE Forum, we set and met speaker diversity targets. We considered what it really means to acknowledge the land we are gathering on. We also made sure to create space for First Nations leaders — who represent peoples who called Vancouver home well before any of us lived, worked or played here — to open the event, welcome us to their traditional territories, and talk about why sustainability is fundamental to their communities (and has been for centuries).
Could we do better? Absolutely, and we will keep the pressure on ourselves to ensure all our events are as inclusive as possible. If you’re considering an event, we encourage you to do the same.
In terms of event accessibility, providing virtual and hybrid options was definitely a huge step forward for us at Forum. Fortunately, we were able to leverage the expertise we’d gleaned during two years of the pandemic. We also ensured our event was accessible to a broad and diverse audience by providing targeted discounts for students, not-for-profits and under-represented groups.
#3: It’s not easy being green….but do it anyway
Ensuring your in-person event is sustainable is more and more important to your stakeholders – and is even more important if your audience lives and breathes sustainability, as ours does. There are a bunch of things you can do to work towards net zero, such as:
- Select a green venue. For example, GLOBE Forum takes place in the Vancouver Convention Centre, which is the world’s first double LEED Platinum certified convention centre.
- Ensure your badges are recyclable.
- Offer catering linked to sustainable food sources and local suppliers.
- Consider going paper-free by offering your program online only.
- Consider a fully virtual event OR partner with a credible offsets provider to mitigate the emissions associated with in-person events. We partnered with Ostrom Climate at GLOBE Forum to mitigate our event-related emissions.
Our mission is to provide events that are as green and sustainable as possible. We still have some work to do, but asking the right questions from the start is key to making progress.
#4: Go beyond a chatfest…link your event to outcomes and action
The learnings and best practices that people can glean from speakers and fellow attendees at events have a lot of value. However, with less than a decade to make urgent progress towards a net-zero future, we need to go beyond talk to action and impact. This is also what will make your event that much more compelling than another Zoom webinar.
At GLOBE Forum, we not only offered GLOBE Advances – deep-dive workshops on our key themes – but very intentionally built our program around the 10×10 Action Plan: the 10 actions in 10 years we need to take to get to net zero. The 10×10 will be developed out of the discussions that took place at GLOBE Forum and will specify WHAT needs to happen and WHO needs to do it on the road to net zero. These actions will be unpacked at future GLOBE events with the goal of ensuring accountability and impact. Read more about the 10×10 here.
#5: Take 5 after your event is over
There is nothing quite like putting on an event. It’s a high-intensity and high-stress undertaking. It’s really important to acknowledge that and to build it into your calendar in a way that won’t over-tax your team – such as ensuring they can take a breather when the event is over. Think about what’s going to be your best quarter for planning, your best quarter for implementation, and your best quarter for recovery.
It’s also important to define rules of engagement when things get stressful and so that you can stay true to your culture and values. This can really sustain you when the team is going a million miles an hour in a high-intensity environment.
Are you thinking about offering an in-person, hybrid or virtual event, workshop or presentation? We can help!
For more information about how we can partner with you to deliver your next sustainability event, reach out to our Senior Manager, Event Partnerships, Caroline Vanesse, directly at email@example.com.
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Water in Canada: A Vision for 2050
By Alan Shapiro, Director of Foresight Canada’s waterNEXT network and Bo Simango, CEO and Co-Founder of Aquafort
It’s been said that if climate change is the shark, then water is its teeth. From flooding and drought to ocean acidification and coastal erosion, we are already seeing these impacts unfold across Canada and around the world. Inevitably, impacts are never isolated to a single Earth system. The complex web of relationships that defines our water, energy, and food systems–known as the water-energy-food nexus–means that the security of one cannot be achieved without also investing in the other two. The collective health of these systems provides a necessary foundation for community well-being, economic prosperity, and reconciliation.
What does a net-zero 2050 mean for water in Canada? In its simplest form, the future we envision for water is sustainable, secure, and equitable. In a world where Canada has achieved its 2050 goals, that future should include:
- Ensuring every water system across Canada, in particular rural, remote, and Indigenous communities, provides safe, clean drinking water.
- Strong data and research around the water issues we face, both in 2050 and beyond.
- A commitment to necessary funding, developing strong regulations, and enacting proactive measures to address these issues in real-time.
- Support for technological and social innovation ecosystems that cultivate climate solutions.
- A global leadership role in water technology, innovation, and conservation, with recognition of Canada’s privileged position as a developed economy.
- Viewing all water-related policy, investment, and action through the lens of sustainability, equity, and reconciliation.
We are not alone in imagining this future. Our Living Waters, a national network of freshwater organizations, has set the ambitious goal of seeing all waters in Canada in good health by 2030. This means that water in Canada is safe for swimming and drinking and contaminant-free; fish are flourishing and are healthy to eat; the flow of water in rivers and lakes supports life, recreation, and a healthy environment; and aquatic bugs that form the base of the food chain are thriving in all of the waterways in Canada.
However, as a recent article from MakeWay makes abundantly clear, we’ve got a lot of work to do:
“There are more than 200 federal departments and agencies in Canada, with more than 20 of these departments having freshwater responsibilities and over 75 interacting with water in one way or another. Canada has specific agencies for fish, agriculture, and natural resources – all of which impact and rely upon water – yet we do not yet have one for our most abundant resource.”
Two new high-profile federal initiatives–the Canada Water Agency and Blue Economy Strategy–offer opportunities to advance national conversations around the future of Canada’s freshwater and ocean resources. Likewise, multiple funding announcements over the past year, including for land and water conservation, Indigenous protected areas, and First Nations drinking water bring much needed resources to water systems that have historically been under-funded and under-supported. These commitments are steps in the right direction, but more action is needed to draw on the full range of economic and policy tools at our disposal in Canada.
In addition to stewarding and restoring the health of our waters, Canada also has an important opportunity to play a global leadership role in water technology and innovation. These tools are only one part of the solution to the complex challenges presented by climate change, but they can serve to advance our central values of sustainability, security, and equity.
Water innovation can offer a range of environmental benefits, and the connection between water technologies and net-zero should not be overlooked. Freshwater and oceans represent a significant and largely untapped opportunity for energy savings, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and renewable energy generation.
The technologies of tomorrow are already in development and aquaculture offers just one example. As the fastest-growing food sector in the world and burgeoning industry in Canada, aquaculture has seen significant technological advancements from Canadian companies that support environmentally conscious fish production. Aquaculture is a resource-intensive industry, and these innovative technologies can be the difference between the expansion of ocean-based fish farming that can be harmful to aquatic environments and the transition to sustainable, land-based fish farming. Canadian start-ups such as Aquafort AI are meeting challenges in acute production through a combination of artificial intelligence, sensor data integration, and predictive analytics to help land-based farmers maintain fish and ecosystem health.
As we head into a federal election where climate is taking center stage for the first time, we have an opportunity to chart the course for a net-zero future by 2050, and beyond.
Alan Shapiro is the director of Foresight Canada’s waterNEXT network and principal at water and sustainability consultancy Shapiro & Company. You can find him on Twitter @watercomm.
Bo Simango is the CEO and Co-Founder of Aquafort, a technology startup serving the aquaculture industry and board member with Sierra Club Canada Foundation. You can find him on Twitter @BoSimango.
A Five-Point Plan for Canada to Reach Net Zero by 2050
By Phil De Luna, Green Party of Canada Candidate for Toronto-St. Paul’s
I have spent my entire career developing technologies to help decarbonize Canada. It started with my PhD in Materials Science & Engineering at the University of Toronto, where I discovered new renewable ways to convert carbon dioxide into fuels and chemicals. From there I co-founded a venture, Team CERT, to scale that clean technology out of the lab and became a finalist in the Carbon XPRIZE. I joined the National Research Council of Canada as its youngest-ever Director where I built and led a $57M collaborative R&D program to develop made-in-Canada technologies for decarbonization. Along the way, I have studied, discovered, developed, funded, mentored, and advocated for the development and expansion of cleantech.
At some point on this journey, I had a realization – technology alone is not enough to get us to net-zero. You can have the next breakthrough hydrogen catalyst or the cutting-edge carbon capture material, but unless you have the finances to scale it and the policies to support it, it will end up on the shelf. Together, technology, policy, and finance are the three levers needed to affect change. Thankfully, many institutional investors, corporates, and governments have recognized this need and are shifting money away from fossil fuels and into cleantech. For example, venture capitalists are expected to complete $7.7 billion worth of cleantech deals in the U.S. this year, up from $1 billion a decade ago. However, this transition is not happening fast enough, as it typically takes 20 years from invention to impact with clean technologies based on materiology, like hydrogen or batteries.
Following record-breaking heatwaves and the recent wake of fires across North America, the urgency to act on climate change is becoming more pressing every day. Unfortunately, many governments are not on track to meet their Paris Agreement climate goals and many, including Canada, continue to invest in fossil fuel infrastructure like pipelines. The International Energy Agency (a traditionally conservative organization) recently published a report showing that net-zero by 2050 is not possible with the continued development of fossil fuel infrastructure and extraction. Their analysis noted that achieving net-zero by 2050 can only be done with an unprecedented, warlike effort to expand clean technology infrastructure. And only governments and policies can work at the scale needed to jump-start this transition. We have innovators developing the technologies. We have investors recognizing the opportunity of this transition. We just need the political will to get it done.
Continuing my career-long goal to help make Canadian industry cleaner and more prosperous, I am now running to become a Member of Parliament in Toronto-St. Paul’s for the Green Party. I’m running because we must move faster to combat the threat of climate change and create new sustainable avenues to renew our society and economy. I’m running because we need more diversity in parliament and more science in policy. I’m running because I want to lower the barriers for other non-traditional candidates to consider running — because a diverse government is a robust and resilient one.
My platform is currently focused on three pillars: supporting our essential workers, housing affordability, and green jobs that are part of a just transition to a net-zero Canada. These topics are deeply personal for me. My fiancée is an operating room nurse at Sick Kids and a frontline worker. Many of my fellow Filipino-Canadians occupy these often low-paying but essential roles. My generation is being increasingly squeezed out of the housing market and is wondering, will we ever be able to purchase a home? Championing cleantech to fight climate change has been my passion, but more importantly, I recognize the opportunity in sustainable jobs. My father, an autoworker, lost his job when Ford closed their assembly plant in Windsor, ON, and I’ve seen firsthand what happens when an entire community is dependent on one industry. And I see the same thing happening in heavy emission industries today. We need to do everything we can to diversify the industry and ensure Canadian families have green jobs that will last.
There exists a massive opportunity in the clean energy transition, as the green economy will be the economy of the 21st century. To this end, I have come up with a five-point plan to get us to net-zero by 2050, one that I hope to push for in parliament.
Step 1. Protect what we have.
Nature sequesters 12 billion tonnes of CO2 every year in wetlands, rainforests, vegetation, and soil. Environmental conservation is not only about protecting the beauty of nature, but also about protecting its ability to capture and sequester CO2 through photosynthesis and other natural pathways. Take for example, recent plans for an Amazon warehouse on Toronto wetlands that was abandoned due to public pressure. Policies and technologies that focus on reducing consumption, reusing consumer goods, promoting a circular economy, and increasing recyclability are all ways to protect what we have.
Step 2. Renewables everywhere.
Solar and wind are now cheaper than coal. The issue is no longer economic price, but rather intermittency. What do you do when the sun does not shine, or the winds won’t blow? This is why it is so important to increase investment into and development of energy storage technologies, particularly long-term seasonal energy storage solutions that traditional batteries are not capable of. Policies that support a 100% emission-free electricity grid are also extremely important. However, we will need to consider initial lower-income energy subsidies when electricity costs may be higher due to infrastructure spending in the early stages of this transition.
Step 3. Electrify everything.
Now that we have clean and green electrons, we need to put them to work and electrify as much as possible of our traditionally fossil-fuel-powered economy. The obvious first beachhead is electric vehicles. Kicked off by Tesla’s rapid rise, light-duty transportation is well on its way towards electrification and mainstream adoption, Among others, Ford has announced they are slated to spend more on EVs than on internal combustion engine vehicles in 2023 alone. To help spur this trend, policies can create incentives for EVs, increase charging infrastructure, ban internal combustion engine cars, and mandate a certain number of EVs be available at any dealership. Another area is home heating and cooling. Electrifying our lived environment will also reduce dependence on natural gas by way of zero-emissions heat pumps.
Step 4. Tackle hard to abate sectors.
Once we’ve decarbonized our electricity grid, we’ll need to address industrial emissions that are difficult or impossible to electrify. Agriculture and the production of materials, fertilizer, cement, and steel – all things that we need for economy and quality of life – produce emissions just by the nature of their how they are created. This is where the need for disruptive technology is greatest, where we need to design and develop new processes that are circular, low-emission, or entirely new. Cleantech is not just solar panels and wind turbines, it is anything that can help reduce CO2 emissions. Electric arc furnaces, geothermal steam generation, bio-foundries that produce sustainable materials, and CO2 embedded concrete are all examples of the next wave of cleantech.
Step 5. Remove carbon from the atmosphere.
To address the inevitable gap between decarbonizing our electricity grid, transportation, buildings, heavy industry, and agriculture sectors –we need new ways to capture carbon from the atmosphere. Whether that’s nature-based solutions like regenerative agriculture or tree planting campaigns, or technology-based solutions like direct-air capture and carbon capture, utilization, and storage – we need to do it all. Policies that incentive organizations and individuals to capture CO2 or promote the use of CO2 in industry (eg. carbon-reinforced concrete) will help create demand and drive down the costs of capture as the technologies reach economies of scale.
The beauty of this five-point plan is that the technology needed to execute it will require the exact same workers who presently make their livelihoods in the oil and gas sector today. We will need pipefitters, chemists, technicians, welders, and engineers to build the clean energy infrastructure needed for a sustainable tomorrow.
And there you have it, Phil’s Five-Point Plan to Get to Net-Zero. Perhaps a bit idealistic. Perhaps some will say inertia is difficult to break, that things are easier said than done. But like running for office, you’ll never get a chance to change the world if you don’t try.
Canadian Communities Can Apply Now to Host Save Pond Hockey Events
May 26, 2021 – The Climate and Sport Initiative has launched a call for applications for communities to host Save Pond Hockey events featuring top athletes, funded in part by the Government of Canada.
Climate change is threatening the future of Canada’s favourite sports. The Climate and Sport Initiative shines a spotlight on the direct effect of climate change on the sports we love—and on our nation—and empowers us all to get in the game of preserving both.
In late 2021 and early 2022, two Canadian communities will host the first two Save Pond Hockey Events, featuring five-time Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser and other top athletes. Attendees will watch star athletes in their element, celebrate local and global climate leadership, and enjoy the magic of outdoor hockey.
Activities will be tailored to the selected communities. It could include: an athlete and community free skate, a hockey skills lab, a climate and sport expo, inspirational Spark Talks featuring athletes and sustainability experts, a contest focused on municipal sustainability priorities, youth engagement, and more!
The events will reach beyond city limits through livestreams and virtual interactivity, giving all of Canada a chance to join in on the fun.
If local restrictions at the time of the event don’t allow for an in-person game, the Initiative will work with the communities to organize impactful virtual events, featuring athlete meet-and-greets for example.
Does your community have sustainability stories that all of Canada should know about? Express your interest in a Save Pond Hockey Festival to bring your community together and inspire more action.
Interested destination marketing organizations are invited to complete an Expression of Interest form here.
Deadline for submission: June 15
Watch this Space!
We look forward to announcing more ways the public can get involved, including contests, events, and more. Be the first to know by joining the Climate and Sport Initiative community:
“Pond hockey and playing on the outdoor rink has given me everything that I have in my life, and I want my kids and grandkids to have the same opportunity. I’m proud to be part of the Climate and Sport Initiative, where we can use sports to engage, inspire and educate Canadians and people around the world to save our climate.” – Hayley Wickenheiser, former professional hockey player and five-time Olympian
“Sports provides a common language for talking about how our everyday choices affect the way we live, work and play. Save Pond Hockey events will give us the tools to tackle the greatest challenge of our time–and have fun doing it.” – Mike Gerbis, CEO of GLOBE Series and The Delphi Group, and Chair of Leading Change Canada
“Clean Foundation is excited to be the Atlantic Canada partner for the Save Pond Hockey events. Pond hockey is a great way to raise awareness of the impacts of climate change with Canadians and to educate people from all walks of life on how to take steps to address it.” – Scott Skinner, CEO and President, Clean Foundation
About the Climate and Sport Initiative
The Climate and Sport Initiative uses sport as a platform to educate, engage and empower Canadians to protect our planet for future generations. The multi-year initiative will include a series of live and virtual public events and experiences, training and support to help athletes become climate ambassadors, and youth mentorship and engagement. It is led by GLOBE Series, The Delphi Group, and Leading Change Canada, funded in part by the Government of Canada, in partnership with the Clean Foundation, and championed by Hayley Wickenheiser.
So You Want to be a Cleantech Entrepreneur? Start Here.
The times they are a-changin’. Millions of people on every continent marched in climate change protests last September. Leaders around the world are mobilizing to limit global warming to 1.5oC. More and more companies are committing to carbon-neutral targets. As we ramp up our climate ambition, innovative clean technology solutions are needed more than ever.
To put the opportunity in economic terms, the annual worldwide spend on cleantech development is expected to exceed USD $2.5 trillion this year, according to Export Development Canada (although the impacts of COVID-19 on the sector directly are still unknown). Canada is particularly well-positioned to be a leader in the cleantech sector, with 12 Canadian ventures on the 2020 Global Cleantech 100 list. Canada is also home to many government and funding programs that support cleantech start ups, and many local cleantech accelerators that help budding ventures build capacity.
Starting a new business is hard. It takes blood, sweat and tears and a solid dose of luck and good timing. But with big risk can come great reward, and we need Canadian innovators at the table to help us address one of the biggest challenges of our time. Do you have a great idea that you think could change the world? Are you itching to build a business from the ground up? Are you searching for a way to make a difference by limiting climate change and preserving our environment for future generations? Keep reading for tips on how to build your knowledge and comfort in the cleantech space before launching a business.
1. Connect your PURPOSE with a PROBLEM.
Think of your purpose as an internal mission statement. Your purpose or mission statement should serve as both a driving force to propel you forward and a compass to keep you on track.
For example, when Leading Change, GLOBE Series, The Delphi Group and the EXCEL Partnership all came together to form a constellation of organizations, we united behind a shared purpose: to achieve a sustainable, prosperous and socially just future in a generation. This is the glue that holds us together and our North Star, guiding our actions and decisions and inspiring us to do what we do.
As you work to develop your own mission statement, ask yourself: What motivates me to get out of bed in the morning? What am I most passionate about? What values am I unwilling to compromise on? Do a little soul searching to identify a central purpose that resonates with you. As a frame of reference, look to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Which goal aligns best with your personal values, interests and skills?
Once you land on a purpose, begin to do a ‘root cause analysis’ on the issue you’re interested in—whether it’s affordable housing, food security, biodegradable packaging or something else. A ‘root cause’ can be defined as the core issue that sets in motion the entire cause-and-effect reaction that ultimately leads to the problem in question. In conducting a root cause analysis, you are ultimately looking to ask questions and dig deeper in order to understand what the true cause of a problem is. What is it about this issue that speaks to you? At the core of the issue, what are the challenges being faced by people, communities, or ecosystems? Draw on your own lived experiences or connect with an individual who has experienced the problem in question to learn about the solutions needed and solutions that have failed in the past. From there, conduct an in-depth search of secondary research materials, such as reports and white papers. For further information on how to conduct a root cause analysis, refer to the “It All Starts with a Problem” workbook from the League of Innovators.
As you home in on your purpose and problem, keep in mind: all great ideas ultimately need a customer in order to be successful. Will you be selling your product or service to other companies (i.e. business to business/B2B)? Or will you be selling your product or service to consumers (i.e. business to consumer/B2C)? By thinking about these questions, you’ve taken critical early steps on the entrepreneurial journey. The next steps are to 1) identify a target audience, 2) determine your product-market fit, 3) develop a business plan and then you’ll be in business! Keep in mind that you can always pivot and change your strategy down the road—flexibility is a key ingredient of entrepreneurship after all!
2. Learn the lingo.
When first entering the world of entrepreneurship and cleantech, it can be a confusing path to navigate. Startup. Venture. Angel investor. Educating yourself on the terminology of the sector and core entrepreneurial concepts is a key step on the path to success. From customer personas and business models to debt-equity structures and intellectual property, there’s a lot to learn. We’ve compiled a resource list to help you out:
- The Innovators Academy, a free online learning resource for youth, run by Victoria-based not-for-profit The League of Innovators
3. Find a mentor.
Developing a new idea, technology, or service area is hard work! To be successful, you need to do something that has never been done before. And that means you likely won’t have all the answers, but someone else just might.
Finding a mentor who is available for open, honest, and frank discussions can help you accelerate your startup AND help you avoid many common startup faux pas and mistakes. A mentor can be someone you admire for their business style, leadership skills, global impact, or simply for the idea they were able to bring to life. In a 2013 survey, 80% of CEOs said they had a mentor at some point in their startup career.
To find the right mentor for you, think of your professional and personal networks. Do you know any entrepreneurs? Who do you admire most? It could be someone you met at a conference, an old colleague or even a family friend. Reach beyond your network and consider local business leaders or role models who work in a field related to your business purpose.
If you don’t have a potential mentor in your immediate network, programs like Entrepeer from Futurpreneur Canada are very useful. If you have a specific person in mind but don’t have their contact information, try reaching out through LinkedIn or sending an email through their company website to ask if they would be interested in meeting you for a coffee. Be polite, but don’t be afraid to ask. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
4. Visit an innovation event or connect with a local accelerator.
Chances are there is already a lot happening in your local community around innovation, cleantech, and start-up ecosystem development. While events will be virtual for the foreseeable future, online events still offer many of the benefits of in-person events—including networking, gaining intel, and building your personal brand. Check out startup pitch or networking events both at the national or international levels and in your local area. Innovation events allow you to see how other startups present their idea to funders, customers, and the general public and local events specifically can give you an opportunity to learn more about your local infrastructure and make local connections.
If you’re feeling up for more of a challenge, do some research into local startup accelerators and incubators. Check to see when their next program cohort will begin and consider putting in an application. If the cost and time commitment of enrolling in a full program is overwhelming, look at their course offerings. Local innovation hubs usually run courses throughout the year for individuals who don’t yet have a solidified idea but who are interested in learning more about entrepreneurship more broadly.
MaRS Discovery District has compiled a detailed (although certainly not exhaustive) list of startup accelerators and incubators across Canada. You can browse the list here, but don’t be afraid to do your own digging into potential programs and offerings that best align with what you want to do and where you are on your own startup journey.
If you live in a rural community, consider reaching out to an accelerator or incubator program in the city nearest you. Given the changes brought on by COVID-19, many innovation programs have had to modify their offerings so that they can be delivered virtually. Take advantage of this newfound opportunity. They may also be able to direct you to resources and connections within your own municipality.
For real-world success stories and advice direct from Canadian cleantech entrepreneurs, consider attending Leading Change’s next webinar, “Cleantech Connect: Key Learnings and Advice from Young Founders” on July 9 at 2-3 p.m. Pacific or 5-6 p.m. Eastern. The event is free to attend. Register here. We hope you can join us and continue the cleantech conversation!
Leading Change is a national non-profit organization for and by young leaders and sustainability professionals accelerating action on issues that are critical to attaining a sustainable, prosperous, and socially just future within a generation. GLOBE Series and Leading Change are part of a constellation of organizations that also includes the Delphi Group and the EXCEL Partnership.
Five Tips on How to Launch your Sustainability Career During a Pandemic
By Megan Poss, Executive Director, Leading Change
Over the last decade, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with students and young professionals seeking advice on how to “break into” the sustainability field. Although the COVID-19 economic and health crisis has placed unprecedented challenges on job seekers, it doesn’t change the fact that there are still many passionate, courageous and visionary people out there who are determined to land their dream sustainability job—or at the very least, take steps to get there.
While there is no single path or secret formula, I’ve learned a few tips and frameworks in my time supporting youth in sustainability that I would love to share with you. I recognize that, as a white, cis-gendered woman with an easy-to-pronounce name, privilege has been on my side in many job-seeking experiences. Knowing this, much of the advice I offer has been informed from listening and learning from young people who inspire me and mentors I admire who hold different identities, backgrounds and experiences from myself. I encourage you to research broadly, test different strategies and apply what works best for you.
Without any further ado, here are my top five tips on launching a career in sustainability:
1. Take care of yourself so you can keep your head in the game.
The job search and recruitment process can be long and competitive, especially given the uncertain economic outlook. Before diving into job boards and firing off applications, check in with yourself and assess how you’re doing emotionally, psychologically, and financially.
This is a stressful and scary time for a lot of young people dealing with the double whammy of living through a global pandemic and a climate crisis. Only you will know what strategies work best for you and your situation, whether that’s talking about your fears with supportive friends, family, or professionals; finding an outlet that helps to process grief and ease stress; or taking advantage of free mental health resources. Reach out if you need to and know that you are not alone.
Finances can also understandably be a major source of stress. If you’re a current student or recent graduate, familiarize yourself with government funding support available. If you need to bring cash in the door and you’re in a situation that allows you to do so, consider rolling up your sleeves and taking on hours with an essential service that is hiring. No one, including a prospective employer, should lay judgment on a gap in your CV or the work you’ve taken on to get through a tough period. We need to destigmatize periods of under- and unemployment, particularly in this moment.
2. Build your sustainabili-“T”.
Most Millennials and Gen Z’s care, passionately even, about environmental and social issues. This is amazing. However, passion alone won’t advance the causes you care about without applicable skills.
Employers are looking for those skills, too. One of the best pieces of career advice I’ve heard was from Yalmaz Siddiqui, now Vice-President of Corporate Sustainability at MGM Resorts International: No one is going to pay you to sit at a desk and be passionate. That passion needs to somehow translate into action.
There are lots of tools and resources out there to help identify the skills you enjoy and are good at (or will eventually become good at over time). If you’re a student, reflect on the subjects you enjoy, the hobbies you take on in your downtime, or the role you naturally take on in groups. If you’re in a position to do so, volunteering and student extracurricular leadership positions can be valuable ways to test out, improve, or diversify your skillset while giving back to the issues you care about.
If you’re an early-stage professional, this is the ideal time to be curious and say “yes” to different tasks or assignments that come your way. You don’t know what you might like until you try it. I never would have thought I’d enjoy sales and fundraising, but with preparation, practice, and passion for the causes I’m supporting, I’ve grown to really enjoy forging relationships with partners. You can also join or initiate a Green Team for your organization and offer to take on a role that includes skills you’re looking to hone or refine, with the added bonus of adding some sustainability-related project experience to your CV.
Your skills and interests will likely evolve over time and you may develop several areas of expertise that can be applied in nearly any organization type or sector. As Yalmaz explained, think of a “T” where your skillset can be applied across a wide range of sustainability issues.
3. Any job can be a sustainability job.
Although there are organizations out there hiring Sustainability Directors, Sustainability Officers, or teams of analysts and consultants to drive initiatives forward, looking for the rare gems with “sustainability” right in the title can be discouraging even in the best of economic times.
In an effort to bring additional credibility to their role as a sustainability leader, some people pursue a designation as an environmental professional (where 50% or more of your time is spent on tasks relating to environmental protection, resource management, or environmental sustainability), or become a certified sustainability professional.
If you don’t have the time or resources to pursue credentials, the good news is we’re now in an era where environmental and social concerns are drawing the attention of employers, investors, shareholders, and government leaders. With that comes the opportunity to integrate sustainability across any organizational department, function, or role.
Regardless of the role, if you’re in an organization with a culture that welcomes employee ideas and input, you can incorporate sustainability principles into daily decision-making and actions. In fact, influencing the decisions in a department that isn’t typically associated with sustainability can spark novel ideas and opportunities to make an early-career impact. Of all the advice I dole out, this is what I’ve seen create the most positive response in students and young people. Taking the pressure off finding that unicorn job posting opens infinitely more doors.
4. Scout out organizations where you feel at home (whether you’re working from home or not).
If you’re lucky enough to be choosing between organizations, it helps to narrow down where you’ll feel most at home. I frequently refer to a matrix developed by Katie Kross of Duke University and illustrated in her book, Profession and Purpose.
Do you have a skillset that any employer would find valuable? Look to the top right quadrant: a role in a more traditional function (e.g. accounting, marketing, quality control) within a mission-driven organization could be a great fit. Do you enjoy educating people and making the case for cleaner, more equitable ways of doing things? You may feel at home in the bottom left-hand quadrant. Look for sustainability, environment, CSR, or strategy roles in a more traditional organization. Do you have sustainability-specific credentials or skills (e.g. the ability to do greenhouse gas analysis) under your belt? You may be well placed to secure a more niche position in the bottom right-hand quadrant at an organization with sustainability at the core of its mission and services.
Don’t overlook opportunities that fall into the upper left-hand quadrant of more traditional roles in traditional organizations. As mentioned in tip #2, having influence and decision-making agency in a role that doesn’t typically tackle sustainability can be powerful. It can also allow you to develop new skills, get to know the company culture, and eventually position yourself for a sustainability-specific role.
Another element to consider is culture fit. Doing your best work requires a workplace environment where you feel accepted, included, and empowered to show up as yourself. The current pandemic is forcing many organizations to show their true colours. How are they treating their employees? What about members of their supply chain? Are they still investing in their community? Are they still investing in equity, diversity, and inclusion? Take note of those that are leading with integrity during this time, even if they’re not currently hiring.
5. Build out and lean on your community.
Despite the economic downturn, there are organizations that have baked sustainability measures into their long-term strategy and are actively looking for talented young individuals who can execute on these mandates. Look to job boards and sites dedicated to environmental postings. Create an account and be alerted of new opportunities through the Canada Summer Jobs program. Follow and engage with the social media accounts of your targeted employers so you don’t miss an opportunity.
Some challenges that creep up when looking for jobs is that you may put in a lot of effort for a position that’s ultimately not a good fit—or worse, look over a potentially awesome employer because you don’t know anything about them. This is where your network can help—people who know you and can provide suggestions or keep an eye out for opportunities where you’re likely to shine.
Oftentimes insight and connections to different organizations comes through experience. Seek out established professionals and start building your mentoring constellation—a diverse circle of supportive relationships that lead to more productive, satisfying, and impactful career paths. If you’re reaching out to someone you don’t already know, make sure to develop a clear plan for requesting career guidance (and don’t ask for a job!).
Supportive peers are just as important as mentors. Reach out to friends, classmates, or former colleagues you trust and let them know you’re actively looking for opportunities. Provide them with your parameters (e.g., type of role, location, industry, etc.) and offer to keep an eye out for them if they’re in the same boat. Peers, and in particular those who are going through a similar journey, can offer empathy and psychosocial support when dealing with challenges, setbacks, or distress. Stay in touch and nurture these relationships over time.
While I hope these tips can be useful, they’re certainly not exhaustive. There is a kaleidoscope of lived experiences and a cornucopia of advice out there. Over the next few months, Leading Change will be elevating the stories of emerging and established leaders to help young Canadians find, keep, or pivot into meaningful employment.
I invite you to join Leading Change’s first webinar in partnership with GLOBE Virtual on Finding a Job with Purpose During a Pandemic on Thursday, May 28 at 2:00-3:00pm PT/5:00-6:00pm ET. I’ll be joined by some amazing people who have faced rough markets or roadblocks on their path to securing meaningful employment. They’ll offer their own insight, tips, and strategies for pursuing a career path with purpose when times are tough.
Learn more and register here.
Leading Change is a national non-profit organization for and by young leaders and sustainability professionals accelerating action on issues that are critical to attaining a sustainable, prosperous, and socially just future within a generation. GLOBE Series and Leading Change are part of a constellation of organizations that also includes the Delphi Group and the EXCEL Partnership.