Environmentalists are getting younger

This is a period marked by distinct shifts in demographics and attitudes when it comes to the environment, said Mark Winfield, a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES), in a story about Earth Hour in the Toronto Star March 25.

For one thing, those most heavily engaged in environmentalism have become significantly younger – from middle-aged mothers with higher incomes and education in the ’90s, to adolescents and university students today, Winfield says. And that means increased involvement in an age bracket where traditionally there has been little. “This constituency is very important because it’s a whole new generation that is carrying these values forward.”

It’s in part because of this that Earth Hour has become an international phenomenon since launching in 2007 in Australia.

This year will be another record-setting event for organizers, as 1,100 cities in 110 countries have signed on to the event – 100 cities and 22 countries more than last year. It’s a testament to how broad-based support has become for the environment, experts say.

So much so that sorting our garbage in several ways has become part of our normal, everyday routine in Canada – an act of “complex social behaviour” that amazes visitors from other countries, Winfield says. “What’s happening with each successive wave is that the environment is becoming more embedded in our public consciousness.”

To knowingly pollute and show little concern for the environment has become a secular sin, Winfield says. As former US vice-president Al Gore preached in An Inconvenient Truth, it has now become a moral imperative to take care of the planet.

You see it in grocery store lineups, where customers with reusable cloth bags are slowly outnumbering those without. It’s a subtle shift, driven by peer pressure. “These values have become so deeply embedded that if you’re not recycling, your neighbours will look down on you,” Winfield says. “Those are very powerful drivers.”

Similarly, while the environment traditionally falls off the radar during economic downturns, polls show it has endured as a priority during the latest recession.

But the current wave of public support doesn’t impress Professor Cate Mortimer-Sandilands,  Canada Research Chair in Sustainability & Culture in FES. It means little if it doesn’t translate into constructive public policy, she says. “There’s public anxiety over global warming, but the question is, will this mean any long-lasting presence? I’m less optimistic.”

The climate change talks in Copenhagen were a dismal failure, she says, and Canada has been rebuked globally for being an environmental laggard and an obstacle to progress. Moreover, there’s been no movement to curtail the tar sands, which she calls a gargantuan blight on our environmental record.

Today’s lesson is: business with a conscience

He’s a mutual fund portfolio manager but you won’t find Serge LeVert-Chiasson (IMBA ’08) lunching at Canoe, pausing between bites to send buy and sell orders to his trading desk, wrote the Toronto Star March 25.

It’s more like a sandwich at his desk in Waterloo, thinking of people like the Nicaraguan farmer whom he helped secure $13,370 in microfinance loans to build a herd of 70 cattle and a sesame seed farm.

Armed with an international MBA from the Schulich School of Business at York University, the 30-year-old fund manager with Sarona Asset Management in Waterloo is one of a growing new breed of “social enterprisers” for whom making a difference is as much a part of the bottom line as making money for themselves or investors.

“What really gets me going in the morning is when I get to travel and see the end results,” says LeVert-Chiasson, who has spent time in Nicaragua, Colombia and Romania overseeing clients.

This year marks the first time York has had a waiting list for courses teaching the management of so-called “social enterprises”, where there may or may not be a profit motive, says Professor Brenda Gainer, director of the Nonprofit Management & Leadership Program in the Schulich School of Business at York University.

Hundreds of businessmen and women like LeVert-Chiasson have come back to school for the training. Younger students like Sarah Katyal and Afzal Habib, both 21, are among the 20 per cent of Schulich’s business undergraduates studying either non-profit management or social enterprise. “This is an extraordinary upward trend from 10 years ago, when almost no one chose to do this,” Gainer notes.

Schulich offers community programs, so managers already working in the non-profit, or socially conscious for-profit sectors, can upgrade their skills and earn certificates, wrote the Star.

Etcheverry to speak at Guelph’s Hammond lecture series

The University of Guelph’s Kenneth Hammond Lectures on Environment, Energy & Resources will be held this Friday and Saturday, wrote the Guelph Tribune March 24.

The symposium on March 27 will explore “Human Dimensions of the Environment” with lectures by Guelph Mayor Karen Farbridge, social entrepreneur David Noble of 2degreesc and York University Professor Jose Etcheverry of the Faculty of Environmental Studies.

On air

  • Alexandre Brassard, director of research and a political science course instructor at Glendon, spoke about the opening of the new Centre for Global Challenges at the Glendon campus, on Radio Canada Toronto’s “Y a pas deux matins pareil” March 24.
  • Zharan Khan, vice-president equity of the York Federation of Students, discussed free speech on campus after an incident at the University of Ottawa, on Global TV March 24.
  • Jack McConnell, professor of atmospheric science in the Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering of York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, took part in a panel discussion about climate change, on TVO’s “The Agenda” March 24.