Meet the finalists for the 2020 Nature Inspiration Awards.
Supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
15 years old
Project: Food-packaging films from industrial food waste
Since participating in her first science fair at age 12, Vesa Barileva has been fascinated with the world of science, basing all of her science-fair projects on the fabrication of sustainable materials. This past year, she teamed up with professors and a Master's student from McMaster University to work on a science-fair project that would utilize industrial food waste to produce biodegradable food-packaging films that are comparable or even superior to traditional fossil-fuel-based food packaging. Additionally, she worked with a University of Toronto professor to look at the potential of incorporating discarded biomass, such as cork-silk fibre, into tire rubber. During this time, she and her team created a company called Zero for a conference project that is an IoT (Internet of Things) platform for renting reusable items. Other achievements include creating a Science Fair Club in her final year of elementary school and mentoring her peers.
17 years old
Grace Gong founded a non-profit organization, GreenShirt, which has diverted over 900 kilograms of clothing from landfills. Recognizing the negative environmental impact of discarded "fast fashion", Grace partners with local businesses to collect used clothing and donate it to organizations that directly help the homeless. Her organization raised $4000 through summer sales of second-hand clothing, which Grace also donated to the charities. Through her commitments—as Executive of the Peel Environmental Youth Alliance, President of the Me to We Youth Council and member of the Ontario Nature Youth Council—as well as participating in consultations for Mississauga's 2020 climate action plan, she is actively working for a healthier environment.
14 years old
Project: Milkweed for Monarchs
Geneviève Leroux is a "butterfly hero". After meeting the iconic conservationist Jane Goodall, Geneviève was inspired to create a Jane Goodall Institute Roots and Shoots project called Milkweed for Monarchs. She germinated milkweed plants and donated 1000 of them to pollinator gardens in California, U.S.A. Under the tutelage of a university researcher with Monarch Alert, she learned to tag and take measurements of monarch butterflies. Her activities expanded to counting over-wintering monarch populations, as well as involving her local community in the National Wildlife Federation's Mayors' Monarch Pledge. In 2018, out of 6000 Roots and Shoots projects worldwide, the Jane Goodall Institute named Geneviève's initiative Project of the Month. Her monarch-conservation efforts span both Canada and the United States. Now 14, she has expanded her project to include citizen-science research, policy, and conservation of the eastern migratory monarch. She has given lectures to schools, created videos, won awards and convinced some municipalities to take the monarch-conservation pledge.
11 years old
Sophia Spencer loves bugs so much, she wrote a children's book about her passion and why everyone should feel safe and happy to share their interests and joy, even if it is different from what others think is cool. Sophia's interest in bugs began when a butterfly landed on her shoulder when she was only two-and-a-half years old. In preschool and kindergarten, Sophia was thrilled to share what she knew about grasshoppers (her very favourite insect), as well as ants and fireflies. But not everyone understood her enthusiasm, and by grade one, some students began to bully her. Sophia stopped talking about bugs for a while. Sophia's mother wrote to an entomological society looking for a bug scientist to be a pen pal for her daughter. Sophia was overwhelmed by the response; letters, photos, and videos came flooding in. Using the hashtag BugsR4Girls, scientists tweeted hundreds of times to tell Sophia to keep up her interest in bugs. Sophia is once again proud of her passion and happy to share her love of bugs. Sophia wrote her book to encourage children to discover the natural world around them, and to believe in yourself and never stop loving the things that bring you joy.
Port Coquitlam, British Columbia
Project: Wings Over the Rockies Festival
For over a dozen years, Nory Esteban has been a key volunteer with the Wings Over the Rockies Festival, an annual bird event that draws thousands every year. Nory has served as registration organizer, volunteer coordinator and webmaster. No matter what her title, to many, Nory WAS the face of Wings Over the Rockies. Her ever-patient focus on customer service and attention to detail made her indispensable to everyone. Whatever the challenge, Nory was up for it: spending long hours in person and on the phone, and sorting out problems for those struggling with the online registration program or wondering about their spot on the waiting lists. Nory was the kind of volunteer who understood that her mission was to satisfy the greatest number of people possible. Nori recruited volunteers among local outdoor enthusiasts and previous festival attendees and slotted them into roles suited to their interests. She posted bios of all the presenters and field trip leaders to the Wings Over the Rockies website, writing online stories about events and keeping the site updated with photos, news, dates and deadlines. The Wings Over the Rockies Festival owes Nory a great debt of appreciation because it has benefitted from the supreme organizational skills of a retired teacher, plus the passion of a dedicated naturalist.
Victoria, British Columbia
Project: Hope Matters
Elin Kelsey is an activist dedicated to finding meaningful and hopeful ways to communicate about environmental crises and challenges. Elin's approach brings human emotional psychology to the successful development and implementation of solutions. Elin's leadership in championing solutions-focused environmental movements has been featured in the World Conservation Union's Inspiring People campaign. Other examples of Elin's leadership in evidence-based hope include the creation of an international network of environmental hope-based scholars and practitioners through invited fellowships and visiting scholarships. She frequently gives public lectures and serves as an author in residence to engage adults and children with current, hopeful, environmental successes. Elin creates social media and other campaigns, writes books (her latest book is Hope Matters: Why Changing the Way We Think Is Critical to Solving the Environment Crisis), and works with universities and school districts to revamp curriculum to increase people's access to the many real-world, successful actions, innovations and movements that are already having positive environmental impacts around the world.
Project: Grassroots Albany
Amanda McConnell is co-founder of Grassroots Albany and its chief motivator for its 25 years. A forum for environmental discussion and action, it was the product of a group of neighbours drawn from four blocks in downtown Toronto to "think globally, act locally". Amanda provided leadership, creating a vision for Grassroots Albany of a commonly held ecosystem on privately owned land that would benefit from the attention and care of all. Following the results of a tree survey they commissioned, the group undertook a "rewilding" of the area, having 100 trees planted, along with shrubs and perennials. Their forestry-management program stands out as a template for effective community-driven urban forestry on private lands. Amanda's energy and leadership brought the Grassroots Albany Forest idea to many other communities in Canada, motivating thousands of urban dwellers to preserve and protect their urban forests. A former senior writer for CBC's The Nature of Things, Amanda has also co-authored two books with David Suzuki.
Stratford, Prince Edward Island
Project: Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project
Described as Prince Edward Island's equivalent of Smokey the Bear, Gary is one of one of P.E.I.'s most respected and committed environmentalists, a champion of biodiversity and a passionate advocate for trees, wildlife habitat, owls and watersheds. An agricultural province, P.E.I. has lost 95% of its old-growth forest. For 29 years, Gary's mission has been to restore the island's endangered Acadian and old-growth forest habitats. He co-founded the education and advocacy organization the Environmental Coalition of P.E.I. (ECO-PEI), a key priority of which has been the Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project, dedicated to the restoration and propagation of the province's native flora. Through his advocacy, consultations and management skills, Gary has made forest restoration a provincial priority, with the P.E.I. government renewing in 2017 the 10-year public-land agreement with ECO-PEI. Over 900 hectares of public-forest land will be restored under the new agreement and Gary has worked tirelessly to get the first block of provincial land, ever, certified under the Forest Stewardship Council—a certification system to demonstrate sustainable forest management and restoration of native woodlands. Along with running educational tours and workshops, Gary developed a forestry-ecology field course for the University of Prince Edward Island, which is now also available at Acadia University in Nova Scotia.
Father Charles Brandt
Black Creek, British Columbia
Project: River revitalization and return of salmon stocks
Father Charles Brandt is an exceptional human being, teacher, mentor, environmentalist, and role model who has devoted his life to protecting and preserving natural habitat. He has inspired generations of volunteers to work together to protect and preserve forests and rivers.
It is no overstatement to say that the Tsolum River owes its life to Father Charles: his efforts have resulted in the revitalization of the river, and the community is once again able to celebrate the return of healthy salmon stocks to the Oyster River. Father Charles moved to the Tsolum area near Courtenay on Vancouver Island in 1965 and established a hermitage near Headquarters Creek, a tributary of the Tsolum River. Father Charles worked on a Pink Salmon study with Robert Bamsin and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans during the period the Mt. Washington copper mine at the head of watershed began leaching toxic copper into the Tsolum River. That this metal poisoning caused the decline of salmon stocks in the riverbed was not identified as the source of the decline until 1984, almost 20 years after the mine was abandoned. In 1970, Charles moved his hermitage to the Oyster River, where it is today.
Father Charles is a renowned conservator of books and manuscripts and worked for the former National Museum of Canada as a book/paper conservator for five years. In 1983, he returned to the area to establish a book/paper conservation lab at his Oyster River Hermitage. It was during this time that Father Charles became the leader of the group pushing to have the river restored: the Tsolum River Enhancement Committee of the Steelhead Society, Comox Valley Chapter.
Father Charles became a founding member of the Tsolum River Task Force in 1997, which lobbied government and established working committees to conduct research on flows, habitat, acid-rock drainage and agriculture in the watershed. In 2009, after 27 years of lobbying by the Tsolum River Task Force and Restoration Society, the government of B.C. invested $4.5 million to cover and restore the mine site. Because of the dedication of Father Charles and his team, thousands of salmon return each year to the Tsolum River.
Father Charles lives his truth every day—his belief that human and natural communities must come together as one community. Father Charles' legacy is an enduring one—not only the life in the Tsolum River, but in the hearts and minds of those he has touched, instilling a deep reverence for all life, and teaching us to be a more benign presence on the planet.
Supported by Ontario Power Generation.
International Conservation Fund of Canada
Chester, Nova Scotia
Project: International conservation
Global biodiversity loss is a dire issue and a shared responsibility. The strength of Canada's biodiversity largely depends on the health of environments thousands of miles away. For example, Canada's migratory species depend on tropical regions for wintering and migratory habitat. The core mission of the International Conservation Fund of Canada (ICFC) is to undertake conservation action to protect tropical ecosystems that are most under threat. ICFC has now invested over $27 million in 32 countries, with project areas spanning 16 million hectares (160 000 square km)—an area larger than half of the world's countries.
Project: Tree Canada
The only national tree-planting charity in Canada, Tree Canada works with public and private partners, individuals, groups and community advisers to plant and care for trees in urban and rural environments. Its programs, research, and educational efforts have resulted in more than 84 million trees being planted across Canada to date. Tree Canada has helped to restore tree cover in areas hit by natural disasters, guided communities in managing their urban forests, assisted in greening more than 660 schoolyards across the country and organized annual urban-forest conferences.
Project: Water Rangers
The Water Rangers' goal is to empower people to help collect water-quality data for Canada's two million lakes and countless rivers. To do that, they provide dedicated volunteers with water-quality test kits that are easy to use, affordable and accurate, as well as an online platform with customizable community tools. Coupled with open data, easy-to-understand science lessons, and paths to create long-term sustainable water testing in their communities, Water Rangers is building a national network of Canadians committed to protecting Canada's waterways.
Beaty Water Research Centre
Project: Water research and initiatives
The goal of the Beaty Water Research Centre (BWRC) is to instill in everyone the value of water and how integral it is to our daily lives—from the water we find in nature and in watersheds, to the water that comes from our taps. The centre's considerable successes can be credited to its interdisciplinary approach to the science of water, furthering research, education and outreach on issues such as sustainability, aquatic ecosystems and clean water. The centre's activities include laboratory research, as well as work at field facilities with a team of 60 experts from a variety of disciplines. Other initiatives include education, an international student-run conference, student field training, and partnerships. BWRC also established the Canadian Algae Research and Technology Network to foster scientific advancement in the utilization of algae biomass for water-treatment management and sustainable fuels.
David Suzuki Foundation
Vancouver, British Columbia
Project: The Butterflyway Project
Bringing nature to neighbourhoods across Canada, one butterfly-friendly planting at a time, is the essence of the Butterflyway Project. The David Suzuki Foundation founded this project to create local wildflower, plant and shrub patches that provide food and shelter for butterflies, which are vital to the ecosystem. By 2019, after only two years in existence, this award-winning project had enrolled 255 keen Butterfly Rangers from across Canada who have planted 24 098 plants nationally and established 407 pollinator-friendly patches, including installations at 86 schools and 30 golf courses. It also spawned Butterflies in My Backyard in response to the rangers' eagerness to learn how to identify prevalent butterfly species and explore the relationships between plants and people.
Goodwill Industries of Alberta
Project: Goodwill Impact Centre
At Goodwill, keeping as many items as possible out of the landfill is a core value. To achieve this goal, its first Goodwill Impact Centre was opened in 2017 in Edmonton. The Goodwill Impact Centre functions in much the same way that mainstream retailers use outlet stores to sell items that didn't sell in their regular stores. If items don't find a new owner at the Impact Centre, Goodwill takes its landfill-diversion goal to the next level. Electronics, plastics and textiles are sent to recycling and reuse partners. Cleaning cloths are made from unsellable t-shirts and towels, and glass artwork can be created from unwanted vases. These efforts have resulted in a landfill diversion rate of 85%. The Impact Centre also perform a vital environmental education role, routinely bringing the community and other organizations behind the scenes so they can see how these operations and partnerships are making a positive impact.
Project: Preserving the natural heritage of Montréal's urban and greenbelt areas
Protecting and preserving nature in the urbans areas of Montréal, Quebec, is essential to ensuring a biodiversity-rich environment. For 34 years, Nature-Action Québec (NAQ) has built an excellent reputation on environmental protection. In 2002, it began an initiative to preserve Montréal's urban and greenbelt areas that are threatened by development. NAQ has been working with municipalities and property owners to achieve the conservation of these fragile ecosystems. NAQ's efforts have resulted in the protection of more than 1075 hectares of natural environments in perpetuity, and nearly 10 500 hectares by voluntary conservation. This has been achieved through collaboration, balancing economic activities with other environmental priorities, such as recreation, agriculture and maple-syrup production.
Project: Protect, Prevent, Extinguish
FireRein's business is 100% bio-based, non-toxic, stick-and-stay products that are created to make the jobs of firefighters easier, faster and less toxic. FireRein's mission is to prevent, protect and extinguish. It was developed by firefighters looking to make a safer alternative to the highly-toxic and dangerous foams used in the firefighting industry.
Certifications on FireRein products include USDA (Certified Bio-based Product) and UL validation. Eco-Gel extinguishes a fire 50% faster than other foams, and it's 100% easier to clean because it is food grade, and thus, there are no health concerns. The Eco-Gel product is sold in a concentrated form to municipalities, fire departments, warehouses and other locations that require on-site fire-safety equipment.
PBA Tundra Supply Ltd.
West Elgin, Ontario
Project: Research and development of the regal petticoat maple
PBA Tundra discovered the unique properties of the regal petticoat maple (RPM), a tree deemed to be essential to the diversity of arboriculture. Originally attracted by the RPM's aesthetics—a deep-glossy-green leaf surface and a velvety-royal-purple underside—PBA's research revealed the tree's remarkable qualities and attributes: an incredibly fibrous, salt-tolerant root system that enables it to thrive in adverse soil conditions. Such characteristics are vital in a world impacted by climate change. And interestingly, prior to the DNA "fingerprinting" of RPM, no Acer/maple genome mapping existed for any maple tree. In 2017, the RPM was among some maple species sent to France (where two world wars had affected tree growth and survival), to the commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge.
Watershed+ is a collaborative approach to creating citizen awareness and connection to Calgary's watershed and natural environment. This public art program hosted by the Utilities and Environmental Protection Department engages artists and artistic processes in the work of utilities to explore the complex systems that maintain Calgary and reveal how citizens are connected to their watershed and environment. The variety and diversity of projects help cultivate insight into processes that are often foreign to most citizens. One example is Dale Hodges Park, a 40-hectare artwork, public park, and storm-water treatment facility. As lead artists for Watershed+, Sans façon led the conceptual development and collaborative design process between diverse disciplines to restore ecological integrity, while simultaneously treating storm water. Rather than hide the storm-water treatment process, it defines the park's character and creates a variety of unique habitats. More than just a practical solution, Watershed+ strives to provoke curiosity and create interest, and thus, reveal the complex systems that integrate a city and its watershed.
ULAT Dryer Balls
Parksville, British Columbia
Project: Invention, patent and development of wool dryer balls
ULAT is a 100% Canadian wool dryer-balls manufacturer and distributor, the first wool dryer-ball brand in the world. ULAT dryer balls were developed to provide an environmentally safe way to replace single-use dryer sheets to soften clothes. Many families are looking for ways to reduce their exposure to chemicals. ULAT's innovation has received accolades and attention far and wide; it was the first Canadian company to participate in HRH Prince Charles's Campaign for Wool, an international not-for-profit supporting and educating the world on the natural wonders of wool. ULAT is an eco-friendly company: its use and processes contribute to energy conservation efforts and the reduction of water pollution. ULAT takes great pride in its mission: empowering communities, one dryer load at a time.
Fresh City Farms
North York, Ontario
Project: Fresh City Farms
Around the globe, the food industry has severe impacts on the environment, from deforestation for crops and livestock, to transportation emissions, pesticide use, and waste from packaging. As Canada's largest commercial urban farm, Fresh City Farms encourages a sustainable and locally focused relationship between the buyer and the food. Initiatives to reduce their carbon footprint include an e-commerce platform that predicts demand to minimize food waste, a unique direct-delivery system, energy-efficient vehicles, and maximization of reusable packaging. Along with operating its own farms, Fresh City partners with 75 other farmers who are contributing to organic and transparent practice to ensure the best quality.
Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta
Project: Using phosphogypsum to create soil
Nutrien takes phosphogypsum (PG), a waste byproduct of the phosphate fertilizer industry, and uses it to create soil and grow trees. Tree plantations have already been established on 20 hectares of PG at the Nutrien facility in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta—likely the first time ever that a forest has been planted on a phosphogypsum stack. The discovery that concentrated tree plantations could be used to simultaneously improve gypsum-stack reclamation procedures, while capturing carbon dioxide and producing concentrated woody biomass, was done with help from the University of Alberta and the Canadian Forest Service. Nutrien has shared the success of their project with the international fertilizer community. The use of this "waste" land to combat climate change and "create soil" may be applied to many other industrial sites around the world, with the data being especially beneficial to countries where agricultural resources are scarce.
Ontario Power Generation
Project: Biodiversity-conservation program
Through its biodiversity-conservation program, Ontario Power Generation Inc. (OPG) has demonstrated a long history of leadership in environmental action, awareness, and community outreach that aligns with regional, provincial, and national habitat conservation priorities. A key part of its on-site program has been the study of the ecological effects of water-level fluctuations on amphibians and reptiles in the Grassy Bay wetland at Calabogie Lake, Ontario. OPG is also using technology such as drones to obtain high-resolution imaging that can help determine the health of ecosystems. Notable off-site efforts include sponsorship of the Wildlife Habitat Council's White Paper on Grasslands Creation and Stewardship as well as student scholarship awards.
Project: Tree-planting initiatives
Over the past two decades, TELUS has contributed $15 million dollars to fund environmental work across Canada. The company strives to be carbon neutral by 2030 and to procure 100% of its electricity requirements from renewable sources by 2025. A major supporter of Tree Canada, TELUS instituted a Paper Compensation Program, whereby enough trees are planted to compensate for the amount of paper it uses each year. TELUS also commits to continued research and development to find other ways they can be more sustainable, advance their environmental sustainability goals, develop innovative ways to reduce packaging, offset greenhouse gas emissions and transition to renewable-energy sources.