[As Seen on Corporate Knights] Fired up: Meet 30 youth leaders sparking change
Gen Zs and millennials are feeling the heat as the impacts of the climate crisis hit closer to home than ever. These 30 youth leaders are pushing back, driving an impact revolution.
Rita Steele had planned a West Coast summer road trip as a respite from the demands of her sustainability work at Simon Fraser University. The 28-year-old climate-action instructor and sustainable-operations manager was hoping for a blissful escape before the new academic year. “Instead, I found myself in the thick of climate change’s brutal reality,” she says.
While driving through Oregon, Steele was engulfed in a blanket of wildfire smoke, unable to see 10 feet ahead. The road she had traversed just days before through Kelowna was now consumed by raging flames.
“It’s impossible not to see and feel the impacts of climate change when you’re in the thick of it in the day-to-day, and we all are now,” says Steele, who was born and raised in British Columbia, where deadly heat domes, atmospheric rivers and record-breaking wildfires have increased in intensity and frequency. “It’s a constant reminder of how important our work is.”
The summer’s devastating wildfires hit home for Serena Mendizábal, too. “Recent events have impacted my kin personally in Maui and Northwest Territories,” says the 25-year-old community organizer from Six Nations of the Grand River, who works as the just-transition lead at Sacred Earth Solar. “It solidifies the necessity of my work in clean energy and climate justice . . . Indigenous-led climate solutions are needed more now than ever.”
More than any other generation, Gen Zs and millennials are feeling the heat, with the brutal impacts of the climate crisis clearer than ever and fuelling a global wave of climate anxiety. UNICEF surveyed nearly 3,400 young people in 15 countries across Africa, Asia, and North and South America and shared the findings at Climate Week NYC in September. They found that more than half (57%) experience eco-anxiety. Rather than looking away, youth leaders are channelling their emotions into action. But it isn’t always easy.
“I have to be honest – it has been difficult,” says 16-year-old Sophia Mathur, a founder of Canada’s Fridays for Future. She took four weeks off in the wilderness with no phone to recharge before coming back online to lead the Global Day of Action in Sudbury in September, during which more than half a million people rallied in more than 60 countries to demand an end to fossil fuels.
Tyler De Sousa, the co-founder of reusable packaging platform Circulr, admits that worsening climate events can bring on a sense of paralysis. But then the fear gives way to a resounding sense of urgency and resolve. “I think that’s what I’ve carried into my work and my day-to-day life: every second counts.”
As the executive director of a network of more than 600 municipal officials on the front lines of floods, wildfires and heat waves, Alex Lidstone agrees. “The frequency and intensity of these events push me to work harder to get solutions and best practices to as many communities as possible so they are prepared and the impact is minimized.”
Whether they call themselves activists, engineers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, innovators or community builders, Corporate Knights’ 2023 30 Under 30 sustainability leaders have one thing in common: they’re all agents of change. They’re building furniture out of reused chopsticks, diverting tonnes of demolition material back into new condo projects, fostering vertical farming ventures to address food insecurity, financing diverse start-ups and sowing seeds of activism for the young leaders who will follow.
Back in Sudbury, Mathur says she’s “empowered more than ever” and working on getting her city to endorse the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. That’s while she waits for her next day in court as the lead plaintiff in a history-making climate lawsuit against the Ontario government. “The climate crisis is solvable, and a better world awaits if we listen to the experts and cooperate.”
How we found the top 30:
Every April, Corporate Knights opens the 30 Under 30 nominations to the public. An internal team narrowed the list of submissions down to a short list of 50, then our panel of judges each submitted their top 30 picks, and we tallied the votes.
Senator Rosa Galvez: Canadian senator and president of the ParlAmericas climate change network
Kat Cadungog: Executive director, Foundation for Environmental Stewardship, and a 2022 Corporate Knights 30 Under 30
Kyra Bell-Pasht: Director of research and policy, Investors for Paris Compliance
Adria Vasil: Managing editor of Corporate Knights and bestselling author of the Ecoholic book series
Want to be on next year’s 30 Under 30? Visit corporateknights.com in April 2024 to nominate any change agents under 30 that you think should be considered for next year’s list.
HEAD OF COMMUNITY AND IMPACT, CHOPVALUE
Making a difference, one chopstick at a time. That is the ethos at ChopValue, a Vancouver-based company that repurposes used chopsticks into furniture and design products. As head of community and impact, Sabrina Kon has built and oversees the company’s chopstick-recycling program, working with more than 1,500 partners across more than a dozen cities on three continents. The company has so far given 120 million chopsticks a new life. “By repurposing used chopsticks into furniture, this is just one example of giving a new life to a disposable item that is typically ordered from Asia, travels to the rest of the world and is used for only 20 to 30 minutes before being discarded,” says Kon, who started her career managing a portfolio of philanthropic funds to enable the execution of climate projects at ClientEarth, an environmental law firm. “There’s a lot of work to be done to advance the circular economy and ensure that we are moving away from a linear ‘take-make-waste’ system.”