The key however, is to address the issue locally, and do it by reconnecting our communities to nature in such a way that when we engage in a daily routine - like eating an apple, or drinking from the tap - we recognize and respect that these things come from nature.    

Many organizations exist to work towards sustainable cities in this way. For example, Evergreen builds partnerships across Canada with diverse groups engaging key influencers and the public to inspire local action and restore the natural health of their communities. Whether it’s uncovering a creek, a tree-planting in the park, a bicycle workshop, or hosting a local farmers’ market, all of these efforts inspire more healthy and sustainable lifestyles. The most important inspiration and demographic to Evergreen’s efforts are the youth of today.

Indeed, solutions to the complex issues we face are already being addressed and solved by youth. Those most motivated are the ones who become engaged with nature. 

Cultivating tomorrow’s environmental champions

Children are naturally curious, and Mother Nature is the best teacher. 

Canoeing on a lake, climbing a tree, building a fort in the forest: These are all fun activities where we learn about nature and about ourselves along the way. Children who grow up with nature form a life-long connection to the environment. Nature also plays a vital role in boosting their overall development and well-being, including increased confidence, creativity, and improved physical, mental and emotional health.

The best way to inspire and promote an environmentally conscious mindset, and empower youth to take action affordably in their school, home, work, and personal life is through supporting creativity through discovery in a fun and positive way. Outdoor play and adventure is the cheapest, easiest way to lay the groundwork for sparking curious minds that will go on to tackle the more complex issues as they grow.   

It’s up to everyone — parents, teachers, government, and corporations also — to supply youth with the tools they need to participate in finding solutions to local challenges. Encouraging them to get involved in a project they can do in their own backyard to make their communities more liveable is an empowering confidence booster.

Weaving in sustainability at school

Across Canada many schoolboards are using nature as a teaching tool. For example, EcoSchools is a program developed by the Toronto District School Board to make environmental awareness and action an integral part of everyday school life. The EcoSchools program focuses on four main themes: Waste Minimization, Energy Conservation, School Ground Greening, and Ecological Literacy.

Weaving in sustainability at home

Parents looking to instill and incentivise their children to learn about how to adopt sustainable practices at home can do so in a myriad of ways. For example, one parent recounted how he presented the hydro bill to his children and told them that any savings they helped realize in the monthly cost — through turning off the lights etc — he would pay them the difference. Linking environmental efficiencies to the economy drastically helped this family minimize their ecological footprint. 

“The EcoSchools program focuses on four main themes: Waste Minimization, Energy Conservation, School Ground Greening, and Ecological Literacy.”

Weaving in sustainability in the community

Many organizations offer a wide range of programs and initiatives to help build those connections and engage young Canadians in discovering their natural surroundings. Besides helping green school grounds across Canada, Evergreen also supports community based greening initiatives, hosts outdoor education programs, and promotes civic interventions to transform cities through initiatives such as 100inOneDay. 

One example of championing youth led initiatives is Evergreen’s Youth Action Series, supported by HSBC which hosts workshops across Canada. One held last year at Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto saw 160 teens participating in a youth-led Do-it-Yourself (DIY) summit where student-led workshops focused on how doing things yourself can have a positive effect on the environment. The workshops included:

  • Eco-Chefs: Students learned the environmental benefits of cooking from scratch, and developed their culinary skills by learning how to make hummus, salsa and guacamole from fresh and healthy ingredients. 
  • Towards Repurposing: Students learned about the impact of buying new clothes — water footprints, hidden costs and the chemicals in cotton T-shirts — and how they can reduce that impact. Using T-shirts they brought along from home, the students created their own new tote bags. 
  • Grow-It-Yourself: Students became urban farmers, learning simple ways to grow their own food no matter where they live or how much space and light they have. They grew vegetable sprouts, both hydroponically and in soil, and sampled some sprouts planted earlier. 
  • Cycle-fix: Students got their hands greasy in the Evergreen Brick Works bike shop learning about the environmental and health benefits of using cycling as a form of active transportation, and received hands-on training on bicycle repair basics, including how to fix a flat.

Conclusion

With too much screen time and a growing disconnection from nature as we enter the urban century, the future is developing with two distinct story lines: One positive and one bleaker. The positive story is being expressed by growing prosperity, technology leaps that engage more and more people in meaningful ways, and the accelerating movement of ideas. The other is the darker story about the increasing disparity between rich and poor, exploding urban populations, and deeply declining environmental conditions. 

It is a split screen view — and it is confusing — and youth are in the middle of it. They experience this ambiguity and complexity — and they will play a role in this future. 

Challenges to the health of our environment, our communities and our economy will be solved by the leaders we are helping shape today. By starting with the building blocks — creativity, discovery, collaboration, education, and a love for nature, solutions are being found and acted on everyday.