Energy Exchange News

“Youth are indeed the future,” Nivatha Balendra, an attendee of the Generation Now Youth & Innovation Forum said. “Youth possess the answers to some of the most pressing issues that we are facing today. By allowing youth to come forth and develop our ideas and brainstorm and by giving us the resources to do so, you are utilizing half the population that can bring change in the future.”

 Attendees share ideas at the youth forum.
Attendees share ideas at the youth forum. COURTESY POLLUTION PROBE

Balendra was one of 38 young people who gathered from across Canada at the Ontario Investment and Trade Centre on Nov. 22, 2016. The forum was an opportunity for a diverse group of young leaders who are passionate about sustainability to collaborate on solutions to pressing environmental and social challenges. They were partnered with seven industry and sustainability leaders (dubbed mentors) from event sponsors Shell Canada, RBC, Bruce Power, Suncor Energy, as well as experts from Pollution Probe, a venture capitalist and a sustainability expert from Ford.

The day-long event was planned by an intergenerational team from Energy Exchange, Pollution Probe and Student Energy who integrated feedback from youth throughout the planning to make sure the event was youth focused. It brought together some of Canada’s brightest young thinkers, including 2016 Pollution Probe award winners Eden Full Goh and Nivatha Balendra. Full Goh invented the SunSaluter, a simple gravity-powered technology that uses water jugs to help solar panels follow the sun while filtering water for drinking. Balendra discovered a form of bacteria that can be used to clean up oil spills.

Pollution Probe CEO Ingrid Thompson began the day with a few words about the importance of engaging young people. It’s critical, she said, because youth are not invested in the status quo, which means they can be more flexible when it comes to developing new, sustainable systems — an important consideration when transforming Canada’s carbon-based energy supply to a low carbon or no-carbon supply.

“Transformation is psychologically one of the hardest things we can go through as an organization,” Thompson said, adding that experts in current systems will lose their expertise as they adapt to new technology. As an example, she pointed out that those who were experts in engineering analog sound solutions did not automatically become experts in the digital age.

‘It is about energy, economic development, security and in many ways our very way of life. So it requires a different kind of thinking…’

Pollution Probe CEO Ingrid Thompson addresses the youth forum
Pollution Probe CEO Ingrid Thompson addresses the youth forum

Ontario Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell officially opened the event by speaking about the central role young and emerging leaders play in building a healthy and vibrant society. She also offered words of hope for a greener future. “To many, climate change can seem daunting because it is not simply about meteorology,” she said. “It is about energy, economic development, security and in many ways our very way of life. So it requires a different kind of thinking, thinking that is integrative and interdisciplinary; it requires citizen engagement; it requires diplomacy and political will.”

Dowdeswell served as the United Nations Environment Programme’s executive director and under-secretary-general for the United Nations in Nairobi, Kenya, before her current role. “As someone who has been involved in environmental change for 25 years, I remain an optimist, because I do still believe that there is no environmental issue that has yet emerged that is not within the capabilities of human beings to resolve it.”

Sustainable solution breakout groups:

  1. Clean energy and northern/ remote communities
  2. Community and collaboration
  3. How to manage a just, clean energy transition and foster a diversified economy
  4. Youth solutions for northern/ remote communities
  5. Climate and energy learning and promoting sustainable consumer behaviour to reduce Greenhouse gas emissions

Most of the participants’ day was spent in an “innovation jam” session in which youth, self-selected into groups, tackled a range of challenges that they had identified. These groups brainstormed sustainable solutions to issues facing Canadians, with a catch: the solutions must be possible now and applicable to real life. Each group was provided with limited resources — including “library cards” that they could use to get five minutes of access to a mentor of their choosing and “Google cards” they could use to request Internet searches — to free them up for working together.

Participants divided themselves into breakout groups, and each worked on finding a sustainable solution for one of five areas of concern (see sidebar) identified by the youth ahead of the forum. The groups then presented their solutions to the forum. They ranged from creating sustainable food infrastructure for rural and remote northern communities, to fostering a just transition for workers as we move away from fossil fuels towards a low-carbon economy that fosters energy literacy while leveraging greater economic opportunity and sustainability.

Participants highlighted the importance of coming together with other young leaders with different lived experiences and areas of expertise to craft meaningful sustainability solutions for some of the most pressing environmental issues Canada faces today.

“People here have all sorts of different backgrounds,” participant Samantha McBeth said, reflecting on the event. “Putting all these youth from around the country together, each with their own community issues, and having them talk about what they envision the Canada of tomorrow could be and how to make that a reality today — I thought it was great. I could have done three more days of this.”

In a society where environmental stewardship is viewed more often as a choice than a universal responsibility, today’s youth are leading by example — and choosing to champion a more sustainable future. The results of the Generation Now Youth & Innovation Forum certainly demonstrated Thompson’s thesis: Youth can be leading innovators in the realm of sustainability. In many cases, they already are. By supporting youth initiatives and ensuring young leaders have a seat at decision-making tables, society can help them create positive change and prepare Canada for a better future.

Leave a Comment