SustainabilitySocial Issues

Youth Leadership in Environmental Sustainability

As the fresh crisp morning air filled my lungs, my body felt rejuvenated. It took a steady hike uphill for nearly 10 km before I felt connected to mother nature once again. There, sitting on a rock near the side of the trail, disconnected with all the technological advances of the world, I was surrounded by the towering alpine mountains of the west coast and the calm waters of a turquoise-coloured lake. Ultimately, the spectacular glacier towards the end of the lake completed the breath-taking scenery.

Youth Leadership in Environmental Sustainability

Garibaldi Lake was just one corner of the beautiful west coast of British Columbia. The lake was just a small portion of the scenic province that I am proud to call home. The hike up to Garibaldi Lake in the summer of 2015 was one of many hikes I had completed over the years. Standing on the edge of Garibaldi Lake, I was truly reminded of the beauty of nature that was right outside my backyard. More importantly, it made me realize the prominence of protecting this and so many other natural treasures of our planet.

Through exploring the great outdoors around me, I became even more aware that I was part of the puzzle in helping to protect the environment for generations to come. However, recognizing the need for youth leadership in tackling environmental issues was not enough. I needed to act right away.

What could I do to make a difference?

Since the summer of 2015, I joined my high school’s environmental club and volunteered at local environmental community events, and have been involved in a whole host of other extracurricular activities. Notably, I have taken on the role of Regional Director in Sustainable Youth Canada (SYC), a federally registered youth-led non-profit organization striving to unite youth across Canada to raise awareness about sustainability.

As a Regional Director in SYC, I have definitely been left with a newer perspective on ways to raise awareness about environmental sustainability amongst youth. More importantly, what does leadership mean to me now? How can somebody begin leading initiatives in environmental sustainability through learning from previous leadership experiences?

There may not be a perfect answer to these questions. Nonetheless, the following is my attempt to answer them with the help of my past experiences outside of environmental sustainability. The story of my journey to becoming a leader in a non-profit organization may provide inspiration to those who are looking to become more involved in the community.

Embarking on a journey to pave a pathway for others to follow is leadership. Leading others is venturing into an area where no one has set foot. It is an opportunity for an individual to follow their passions, discovering their true potential within a school or the community. Be it managing a group of people, playing a prominent role in an organization or school club, or innovating the future, anyone can find themselves immersed in a leadership experience.

Finding one’s first leadership opportunity can truly be a nervous experience. It is often difficult to find a suitable starting point for a leadership journey. I found that following my passions helped me pinpoint an area where I could start learning how to lead. Passionate about curling, I was motivated to give back to the sport by mentoring at the curling club where my curling dreams began. Throughout the winter in 2013, I mentored a group of novice junior curlers at the Coquitlam Curling Club during weekly practices. I strived to develop their curling skills, whilst inspiring them with my provincial curling experiences. Although building a solid foundation of curling skills requires a long period of time, it was certainly rewarding to witness the amazing progress the young curlers had achieved in the span of one season. This mentorship opportunity was certainly a great introduction to leadership.

Youth Leadership in Environmental Sustainability

Individuals seeking to become a leader do not necessarily need to manage a group of people in order to achieve leadership experience. Learning how to be innovative and creative can be important in the path to becoming a leader. Curiosity could potentially lead to innovative ideas that have far reaching positive impacts in society. Therefore, an individual who has a potential world changing idea should follow through with it, and take the initiative to transform the idea into a reality. More importantly, one should continue to be inquisitive. For me, I had always been passionate about science. In particular, I had been fascinated by immunology and type 2 diabetes. Combining my knowledge of immunology and type 2 diabetes and dedication to scientific research, I initiated several research projects during my high school years to address the questions I had about the field. My deep desire to explore the world of science enabled me to lead some scientific research that could one day possibly benefit millions of people around the world. This was all due to my commitment to make my innovative ideas become a reality.

Youth Leadership in Environmental Sustainability

Along with seeking a passion and being innovative, the willingness to step outside one’s comfort zone is essential in becoming a leader. Perhaps, trying out new experiences by finding new interests, such as seeking involvement in clubs at school or organizations in the community, can build confidence and leadership skills. Following my mentorship role at the Coquitlam Curling Club and my exploration of science, I wanted to transfer my leadership skills to an entirely different area of focus. As a result, I turned my attention to becoming involved with SYC. In 2015, I became the Outreach Chair for SYC Vancouver. Shortly after, my efforts in successfully expanding the influence of SYC in the Metro Vancouver area led me to becoming a member of the Board of Directors in the non-profit organization. Notably, I was not an expert on environmental issues. However, I was determined to apply my previous experiences in management and my interest in environmental sustainability to become a better leader in my newly acquired position. By playing a lead role in SYC, I was able to reach out to more youth in my community and inform them about environmental sustainability.

Collectively, embarking on a new leadership experience does not need to be a daunting task. It is a matter of identifying passions, venturing outside comfort zones, and being innovative. Leadership is the willingness of an individual to seize the opportunities that they are offered.

With the rise of numerous youth-led non-profits striving to unite young people to make a difference in the community, it is apparent that youth leadership will become ever more essential in tackling issues facing our society. Specifically, ensuring the sustainability of our environment lies not only in the leadership of one young person but in the leadership of many young people.

Everyone has the potential to become a leader in raising awareness about environmental sustainability. In fact, the journey to becoming a youth leader can be unique to every individual. For me, my trek just happened to be from curling, to science, and then to sustainability.

It is simply never too late to become engaged in leading environmental sustainability initiatives.

What can you do to make a difference?

Youth Leadership in Environmental Sustainability


  • Janice Pang

    An undergraduate student at the University of British Columbia with a keen interest in immunology and the environment.

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