“The oceans are rising and so are we,” chanted a chorus of climate strikers marching through Manhattan.
On the same day that Pakistan’s prime minister was pleading with world leaders gathered at the United Nations General Assembly not to leave his country “alone high and dry” to cope with the catastrophic impacts of flooding, outside, thousands of young people were marching to Wall Street demanding climate reparations for poor countries.
With the latest round of global climate strikes planned in roughly 450 countries in late September (including nearly 40 in Canada and 134 in the United States) members of Generation Z and millennials were once again gathering in the streets to make their voices heard.
Placards and microphones weren’t the only tools they used.
Ten days earlier, seven Ontario youth appeared in court virtually to challenge the provincial government’s decision to gut its climate targets in 2018.
“We are here today to address the dire situation we find ourselves in [so we can] tell our children that we did all we could, while we could, to change our trajectory,” said co-plaintiff Shaelyn Wabegijig of the Rama First Nation at a press conference ahead of the hearing.
They’re in good company. Whether they’re legal advocates, entrepreneurs, activists, engineers-in-training or policy geeks, Corporate Knights’ 2022 Top 30 Under 30 Sustainability Leaders are using their collective skills to challenge the status quo and bend the arc of history toward a more just and sustainable future.
Earlier this year, 29-year-old Anishinaabe lawyer Stephanie Willsey helped First Nations communities win an $8-billion class-action lawsuit against the Canadian government to address the ongoing water crisis on reserves. Sanch Gupta and Milton Calderon Donefer have saved 52,000 pounds of food from going to waste and delivered more than 70,000 meals to homeless shelters in eight cities. At 28, Kurtis Layden, senior policy advisor in the Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, has been a key advisor on the federal ban on some single-use plastics, taking effect in 2025.
More than half the world’s population is now under 30 years old. The largest youth generation in history is coming of age while inheriting a planet marred by extreme climate events, a lingering pandemic, armed conflicts and sharply rising inflation. For its 11th annual youth survey, Deloitte surveyed 4,808 Gen Zers and 8,412 millennials across 46 countries and found that they’re “deeply worried” about the state of the world, but Gen Zers and millennials are putting in the work to drive change.
They’re pressuring their employers, their schools (including MBA programs) and the businesses they support to take environmental action more seriously. (Only 15% of Gen Zers and 14% of millennials strongly agree that businesses are taking substantive actions to address the climate emergency, according to Deloitte.) The two generations marked by rising climate anxiety are also advocating for stronger support for workplace mental health.
For this year’s cohort of Top 30 Under 30 Sustainability Leaders, saving the world while safeguarding their own mental health has become critical to making sure their own leadership is sustainable for the long haul. That’s also central to their advice for up-and-coming sustainability leaders.
“I have seen far too many people in the field, including myself, burn out,” says Kait Tyschenko, founder of the Queer Infrastructure Network. They encourage youth in the sustainability space to “listen to their minds and bodies and to take care of themselves.”
Helen Watts, senior director of global partnerships at Student Energy, knows what it’s like to run on fumes while growing an organization to have a million-dollar budget. “We physically, mentally and spiritually cannot sustain this version of ourselves without committing to rest and recovery, taking time to stay connected to our communities and our motivators.”
One thing the Top 30 Under 30 have in common is that they’re channelling their energies (including climate anxieties) into inspiring, needle-moving solutions, whether that’s fighting for Indigenous rights, building greener buildings and cleaner power, closing the loop on waste, or boosting corporate and government sustainability. Ultimately, they’re standing up for the well-being of all life on this planet – and they’re showing us all how it’s done.
How we found the top 30:
Every April, Corporate Knights opens the 30 Under 30 nominations to the public. An internal team narrowed the list of submissions down to a shortlist of 60, then our panel of judges each submitted their top 30 picks, and we tallied the votes.
Tabatha Bull | President of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business
Shilpa Tiwari | Founder of Her Climb and global executive vice-president of social impact and sustainability at Citizen Relations
Phil De Luna | Sustainability expert at McKinsey, mentor at Creative Destruction Lab, and a 2021 Corporate Knights Top 30 Under 30
Adria Vasil | Managing editor of Corporate Knights and bestselling author of the Ecoholic book series
Want to be on next year’s 30 Under 30? Visit corporateknights.com in April 2023 to nominate any change agents under 30 that you think should be considered for next year’s list.