Snow was falling on the streets of Toronto when I was granted the opportunity to travel to Quebec to take part in the Montreal Youth Summit on Sustainable Business. As soon as I heard that the trip would be fully funded by the help of Chantiers jeunesse, I was ecstatic! I couldn’t wait to go to Montreal, a place I was quite fond of with its historic buildings and rich french culture.
I woke before sunrise, and caught the first train headed to Metro Bonaventure. While I was on the train, I was working on my Corporate Social Responsibility homework, skimming over the pages lined with words I was hoping to find meaning from. I always wondered how to balance people, planet and profit, when our neoliberal world propagates individualism, competition and self-interest. Being an entrepreneur, I understood the need to focus on profit, but I was also deeply concerned with the state of the natural environment. It was because of this paradox that I wanted to deepen my knowledge of sustainable business.
I reached the hostel, and mustered up the courage to speak to one of my roommates. I spoke to her in French, and she told me she didn’t speak English. When she found out I was only 19 and came to Montreal all by myself she was stunned. Being in her early thirties with a son my age she was impressed I was taking on so much initiative to make change in the world. At that point, I felt pretty proud of myself, but I also knew how badly I wanted to be fluent in French so I could communicate with more francophones like her, and thus create more impact.
Day one was super informative. I got to listen to a range of lectures and panels on topics such as holism, regenerative economics, and sustainable finance. One of the most memorable insights I noted was by Mike Gerbis, CEO of the GLOBE series. He was really relatable, and spoke on learning from mistakes, such as failing at a business, taking opportunities like reaching out to speakers and getting them to be your mentor, and above all how family and friends are the most important. Gerbis spoke about how he was so dedicated to his career that he took out the biggest mortgage of his life - neglecting to spend time with his kids and wife. Looking at my life, and all the time that I’ve dedicated to Pitch It Green, it made me realize how much time I’ve taken away from spending time with those who matter most.
Day two really opened my eyes to where I see myself in the future. The first session I attended was on sustainability consulting. We were given a challenge where we had to help a client with a fashion apparel company identify their sustainability priorities. I was quite fascinated with the multiple aspects of the entire supply chain, and how the sustainability of a product does not lie solely in its end result ― there’s an entire process that comes along with it. Key performance indicators (KPI) was another term I learned, where you have to measure your impact in order to see if you’re on the right path. To conclude the day, I sat-in a corporate shared value workshop led by Lucie Bourgeois from Umalia. In addition to being an environmentalist, I find I’m an advocate for equality and women’s rights. Bourgeois played an advertisement from Ariel, a laundry detergent company, and how they launched a campaign in India called #sharetheload with the question that men don't do the laundry since it is regarded as a women’s job. The ad garnered national attention, with over $9.5 million in free PR thus attracting many buyers who wanted to #sharetheload. In this way, Ariel created shared value for the customer, since it was promulgating the message of gender equality.
Before I caught my train back to Toronto, I had the opportunity to speak with the charming Co-President of McGill’s Desautels Sustainability Network, Maxime Lakat, and I felt so humbled by his work putting together the event, as well as his passion for sustainability in business. I remember reading an article of his sustainability initiatives at McGill University and how he seized every opportunity to make his residence more sustainable. We need more youth leaders like Maxime!
All in all, attending this event was an unforgettable experience. It made me consider the possibility of getting into sustainability consulting and pursuing a Masters of Environment and Business. My path to sustainability will definitely not end here, I’m hoping to continue my efforts by learning more at our Montreal Green Business Incubator event next month as well as the Canadian Sustainability Conference in April.