A Journey Towards an Environmental Career
Do you ever stop to think about your career journey? All the important moments and unexpected turns that led you to where you are today? I just finished a master’s degree and while I spend my days trying to find a job in Montreal’s environmental sector, I spend a lot of time thinking about how I got to where I am.
I’ve always enjoyed being outdoors and close to nature. I love camping, going for walks, spotting wildlife, but I never really thought about having an environmental career. As a kid there were so many things I wanted to be when I grew up: a teacher, a writer, a singer. From what I can remember, I didn’t have much exposure to environmental information. In elementary and high school, we learned about the general picture of the world but never explored environmental issues in depth. At home, we recycled and composted. We brought our empty aluminum cans and glass bottles to the store. And I was the lucky recipient of secondhand clothing. But I never really thought about what these actions meant or even how important these efforts were. If I’m being honest, I think at these stages in my life, I was more concerned about Barbie’s wardrobe and taking selfies for Myspace.
When it came time to decide on a program for college, I chose Business Administration – Marketing/ Management and had a very clear goal that I was one day going to manage a hotel. I finished a three-year program and was prepared to continue down the business track into university. In my first semester at a French business school, something changed. I became more interested in the environment than how to be a successful business manager. I don’t remember the actual moment that sparked this interest. It might have been from reading books about food and food consumption, or after having watched the Food Inc. documentary. I also think an increase in my general awareness about the world played an important role in this – turns out there’s more to life than boys, hair and makeup…
I switched universities and started taking geography classes at Concordia University in Montreal. After some minor setbacks, I worked my way to achieving a bachelor’s degree in Human Geography and Urban Studies. My everyday behaviour started to change in response to my newfound interest. Learning that my municipality would finally have composting and would reduce their garbage pick up days made me very happy. At my part time job, I was constantly telling my coworkers about the importance of recycling and encouraged them to do so at work. I also made it my mission to increase the number of recycling bins that were accessible to employees and fought to have a recycling program reinstated when they took it away due to budgeting expenses. Believe it or not, this was a lot harder to do than it should have been, and I’m still shocked at how long we went without having the option to recycle. Those were dark times.
The courses I was taking at university continued to shape my environmental interests and I started to think about an environmental career. My Human Geography classes introduced me to the human impact on the North and my obsession with polar bears quickly developed. My Urban Studies classes allowed me to learn about sustainable cities. My dreams to see a polar bear in its natural environment and my fascination with the Arctic drove me to do a Masters of Geography. This decision wasn’t one that I had planned on when I entered university, but I felt like I needed to learn more about the environment and wanted a hands-on experience.
I moved to Ottawa and became a graduate student at the University of Ottawa. I used my passions to my advantage and conducted a project that focused on the relationship between climate change and tourism. More specifically, I looked at the polar bear viewing industry in Churchill, Manitoba where I had the opportunity to visit and conduct my research. It was an absolute dream come true to be in the Arctic, to see polar bears, and to have such an important research project.
My passion for this project gave me many opportunities to share my work with others; I’ve given presentations at conferences, I’ve done interviews with Radio- Canada Manitoba. I’ve shared my experiences with so many different audiences, and more than a year after having finished my degree, I still continue to promote the ongoing research in the North through my Zumba classes – what can I say, I do it all! I never expected to have this experience and even though I had to jump over a lot of hurdles, I’m happy I did it and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Another experience I had while I was at the University of Ottawa which has changed the way I view the world and has also ignited a new fire inside of me, is the work I did at the Office of Campus Sustainability. They do so much great work for the environment such as creating green spaces on campus, promoting sustainable travel, reducing energy, and many more amazing things.
One project that I was involved with was reducing waste from entering the landfill. One way they do this is by collecting donations from students, faculty and community and give it away at their Free Store, where everything, you guessed it, is FREE! My main job while working there was to empty out the student residences once everyone moved out for the summer. At the beginning of the year students have to bring/buy linens, cleaning supplies, dishes, clothing, etc., and a lot of the time when they move out, they leave all the things they don’t want or can’t bring back home behind.
In the past, the cleaning crew would throw everything that was left in the rooms into the garbage. The Office of Campus Sustainability saw this as a huge problem and made an agreement with the university to come in (with the help of amazing volunteers), take what they deemed still usable, and donate it to charities, put them in the Free Store, or save it for their beginning of the year event for incoming students. Doing this helped the university and cleaning staff save on time, costs, and it definitely does wonders for the environment.
To give you an idea of how successful this project is, when I worked there in 2019, over 10 tonnes of waste was diverted from entering the landfill! Being part of this project changed me forever. I couldn’t believe how much stuff students buy and more importantly, how much barely gets used at all. A lot of the clothing we collected still had the tags on them! This experience has made me more aware of waste and consumption and I am constantly encouraging people to shop at second-hand stores. It’s a work in progress but I believe people can be converted!
This is where I am with my environmental career. My interests are leaning towards my Urban Studies background in such that I am focused on finding a job that helps to make cities more sustainable and greener. More than that, I want to educate people about waste and even try to get schools in Montreal to implement Free Stores so we can consume less and reuse and repurpose more. There have been so many improvements in the city over the years that makes me positive we can reduce our environmental footprint. You should see how excited I get when I see a compost or recycling bin in a park, or how many people (young and old) participated in the Climate March back in Fall of 2019.
We’re on our way to good things and I’m happy I’ve chosen a career path that makes me a part of this journey. I went from wanting to be a singer to a hotel manager to deciding on a career in waste management. And who knows, I might even end up becoming a teacher like I dreamed about as a child and educating the youth about the environment. There’s so much I can do with my educational background, my environmental work experience, and my passion to make a difference and I’m excited to see what I’ll do next.