My interviews with Laure Waridel and Jonathan Glencross in the current issue of Alternatives Journal
The current issue of Alternatives Journal includes my interviews with Laure Waridel, winner of the 2011 Earth Day Canada’s Outstanding Commitment to the Environment Award, and Jonathan Glencross, one of the 2011 Earth Day Canada Hometown Heroes. Both are impressive individuals with inspiring stories about how one person working with a only small group of committed people can bring about significant positive changes at the local level. Here are the articles reprinted below.
Tough Mind, Tender Heart
Sage advice from Earth Day Canada’s Outstanding Commitment Award winner, Laure Waridel.
Mark Brooks: Congratulations on winning Earth Day Canada’s Outstanding
Commitment to the Environment Award this year.
Laure Waridel: Thank you. It is a great honour for me, especially from Earth Day,
because it’s an organization in which I believe. I believe that Earth Day should
be every day and that’s what this organization is working for. Highlighting one
day each year for the Earth allows people to reflect on their choices and what
they do on this planet.
This award is just the latest recognition you’ve received for your
work in promoting sustainable and socially responsible choices. As
a native of Quebec, what originally inspired you to get involved in
the environmental movement?
I guess it’s a combination of experiences I had, people I met,
books I read, and more than anything else, love for people and
nature. I grew up in the country. My parents were farmers so I
had the opportunity to witness some of the impacts that humans
have on ecosystems. I also saw how big corporations and the
economic system were having a huge impact on the lives of small
farmers. So this kind of interdependence between people and
the Earth became apparent when I was very young.
Why did you feel the need to co-found the non-profit organization
Équiterre in 1993?
Following the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, we were all feeling
the need not only to denounce problems, but also propose
solutions. What politicians were doing was not enough, and we
wanted to convince people to take action and make the connection
between environmental and social issues.
We have seen many positive changes at the local level, yet at the
global level there is still much room for pessimism – climate change,
biodiversity loss and so on. What keeps you motivated to do the
work you do?
Well, if we’re not doing what we’re doing, things would be much
worse! It’s as if our economic system is a huge ship and it takes
time to change course because we need to change our habits. For
decades, we’ve been convinced that we are what we buy, that we
always need to have more things and that economic growth is
the only way to go. We now realize the impacts of this. We need
a different mindset, a different way to envision what happiness
is and what it means to be wealthy and to progress. The status
quo is no longer possible.
I am optimistic because I see little changes all the time. We
need to continue to suggest approaches that are positive, that
make people feel part of the solution and empowered to make
the world around them better. I really believe we are moving
toward a paradigm shift when I compare the attitudes of people
now, especially business people, to 10 years ago.
What would you say to people who want to help out but feel overwhelmed
and don’t know where to begin?
All of us, no matter what we do in life, no matter where we live,
we all have much more power than we think. Personally, I find
it easier to work on positive solutions but I also believe in more
radical approaches and support them. Each person should find
the place where they feel comfortable to act. The important thing
is to start somewhere even if it seems to be so small. Martin
Luther King [Jr.] once said that you need a tough mind and
a tender heart to make real change in society. I think that it is
also true for the environmental movement today. If you only
talk about scientific facts or only try to touch the heart, it is not
enough. You need to cultivate both.
What small choices and decisions can people make to have an
Start by reducing our own consumption and then when we do
buy something, try to have as little negative impact as possible.
But there is also political action. We need to vote for people
who will make a difference and take the time to contact our
representatives. Most of us in Canada are in a comfortable situation
and it is easy to not care about what is going on when
it is not directly in our backyard. Now with the Conservative
Government in power, fundamental values are under attack:
social justice, environmental protection, access to information,
freedom of speech. We are starting to lose a lot of things we take
for granted. We need to wake up to avoid a crash.
Keep Your Eye on This Guy
When Jonathan Glencross
arrived at McGill University,
he had no intention of changing
the institution. Yet four years later,
this is precisely what he has helped
do. Enrolled in the McGill School of
Environment, Glencross has become one
of the driving forces behind the university’s
dramatically increased commitment
“I grew up in the suburbs in a context
that was pretty unsustainable in terms
of how we organized our lives,” he says.
From this beginning, it was really a matter
of meeting the right people at the
Sustainable McGill Project (SMP). Soon
Glencross was on his way to spearheading
campaigns for several new sustainability
projects on campus. Within the first few
months of his arrival, the SMP tried to
create a greenhouse gas inventory for
McGill. But, he explained, we soon realized
it had only been done once before, in
2005. “It boggled my mind that an institution
this big didn’t even know what its
greenhouse gas footprint was,” Glencross
says, “so this gave me a lot of inspiration,
but also it made me realize how far there
was to go.”
His most notable achievement may
well be the creation of a new fund for
community-based sustainability projects.
Students voted overwhelmingly in 2009
to contribute to the fund at a rate of 50
cents per credit per year, which is then
matched by the administration. “This has
transformed our community,” Glencross
says, “as anybody in the McGill community
can apply for project funding as long
as it works toward building a culture of
sustainability on campus.”
The fund has already approved
35 projects from the $800,000 that it
receives annually – more than double
what is collected by similar green funds
from all other Quebec universities combined.
Projects funded to date include a
volunteer-run urban gardening project, a
program that distributes produce by bike,
an industrial composter, a student-run
bike collective, an on-campus farmers
market and more. Glencross also played
a leading role in the creation of a new
Office of Sustainability at the university,
which now employs three full-time
staff and 11 student interns. He coauthored
McGill’s first Greening Events
Guide; helped coordinate a Rethink Your
Curriculum Challenge for students; and
co-founded the McGill Food Systems
Project. “Before we existed,” he says, “no
one knew where our food was coming
from, let alone if it was being grown
If this wasn’t enough, last year,
Glencross wrote a proposal that led to the
creation of an annual interdisciplinary
field-study semester focused on applied
sustainability, all while being a full-time
student and trying to maintain some
semblance of a social life.
“My two biggest obstacles were overcoming
the ‘us versus them’ attitude on
campus and the lack of agency many
students often feel at school.” In fact, it
is his ability to bring students and the
administration together in common
cause that may be his greatest talent.
“We have come way farther than I ever
could have expected. There are still some
major issues we have to face, but we’re
doing really well compared to other
What makes Glencross so passionate
about sustainability? “I don’t know what
else is more worthy of consideration than
the ability of future generations to be able
to maintain themselves,” he says. “The
more I learn about the challenges we face,
the more I realize we have to dedicate our
lives to making our interactions more
Although Glencross will soon be
graduating and isn’t sure what his next
project will be, it is safe to say that his
legacy at McGill will be felt for many
years to come.