Sustainability Leader of the Month


by Farah Motani

Our Sustainability Leader of the Month for March is Colvin Chan!  We met Colvin at our Green Clubs meeting and we were immediately captivated by his passion, energy, and enthusiasm. Colvin is a tremendously motivating leader and has done an exceptional amount of work in raising awareness about sustainability and getting people involved in their communities. We encourage you to read his inspiring story to find ways you can make a difference!


1) Tell me a bit about yourself.


My name is Colvin Valentino Chan and I am an undergraduate student enrolled in the Environmental and Health Studies at the Glendon Campus of York University. Besides being a full-time student and working two part-time jobs, I am also the current sustainability advisor for the environmental club on campus called Glendon Roots and Shoots, the Advocacy coordinator of UNICEF Glendon, an occasional volunteer at Glendon’s Lunik Cooperatives, a Social Media Ambassador for the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, a Community Panda for the World Wildlife Fun (WWF), a proud sponsor of Plan Canada and most recently finished an internship at Earth Day Canada along with their Communications and Social Media coordinators. You can say that I am a passionate individual who one day wants to become a public elementary school teacher. Although I have already been teaching JK Math and Beginner French, it would be incredible if I can teach anywhere in Canada and I would love to teach in communities that lack teachers especially. I believe it is every child’s right to be educated even if their family cannot afford one. It is my goal in life to do the most I can to create a positive change in society by first reducing my own ecological footprint on this fair planet of ours before teaching our future generation to do the same so that we, humans and animals, can all enjoy what Earth has to offer for many centuries to come. All in all, I simply love interacting with communities, getting involved, getting other people involved and engaging others no matter the age or background.

2) What does sustainability mean to you?

Sustainability to me is more than just the conscious protection and conservation of trees, of other natural resources and of animals, but a whole bunch of things altogether. It means humans working collaboratively together towards creating a more sustainable economy with developments that do not create any net deficit in both natural and human capitals. I believe that such developments must be constantly maintained and can only remain ecologically and economically viable if they are intrinsically designed to balance humans’ ongoing needs and rates of consumption well below the carrying capacity and limits of our planet’s diverse ecosystems locally and globally. As intelligent or as powerful as we are at manipulating and exploiting all the natural resources, animals, and environment around us, we are not the only beings on Earth, and neither can the finite Earth ever satisfy our infinite greed. Here I implore that those in power and who are well-to-do to be socially responsible for what they do.

In the current capitalist and consumerist economy; for every 1 person rich at least 10 are poor. That is not sustainable or just because the efforts and money that any large company earns is not solely based on those decision-makers at the top, but from leveraging and exploiting everyone under them, while those at the top are the 1-5% of the population who can retire without ever having to break a bone or sweat for it on a daily basis. Thus I think there should be more barter trading and a process that bolsters equal distribution of wealth and opportunities for all citizens, regardless of their gender, race or skin colour. It is understandable that if one does more or has more practical experience in a field that one should get paid more, but employees both part-time or full-time should be paid a “living wage” according to present rates of inflation and the actual cost of living in the area.

Sustainability is about leaders empowering other people to be leaders themselves and not simply uphold ranks of hierarchy that ultimately reduce the proletarians to a state where they are competing with machines or even treated as one. I believe that for sustainability to exist, there must be more awareness of the environmental and social issues that humans are facing locally and globally worldwide. Education needs to be made public and available for everyone including the Natives in Canada or the poorest of the poor in Africa. It is equally important that those who have the power and/or wealth to make a difference and to give back to do exactly that in proportion to what they have or annually earn. I stand by the quote that “with great power [or wealth] comes great responsibility!” Education is not a privilege but again a human right that is the key to enabling humanity to lead a more just society while empowering us to find ways to live a more sustainable lifestyle and have a higher standard of living for. Being sustainable is essentially making sure what you do now will lead to a better future for you yourself, animals and the natural environment.

3) What triggered your interests in sustainability and the environment?

One person and I am thankful every day for hearing her speak. This person is Dr. Jane Goodall and her career of activism of world peace and conservation for over 54 years really sparked my interest in nature and inspired me to dedicate my life to sustainability, the environment through youth empowerment. Back in high school, one of my science teachers showed our class a video of Jane Goodall giving a speech at a conference and recommended us to read the book called “In the Shadow of Man.” For those who do not know who she is, Dr. Jane Goodall is the female primatologist, who first discovered that chimpanzees also used and made tools. Her research on chimps began when she was 26 years old and her 80th birthday was actually just this past April 3rd!! Happy Birthday to the very person who had changed my entire worldview, opened my eyes to new-found beauty and instilled in me reasons for hope and to be an active change agent! Even though she could have retired her advocacy and work around the world more than a decade ago, she still actively motivate and inspire countless thousands of people especially youths worldwide to not only care about chimps, but to directly take action for the Home that we all live in. Her 80 years on Earth is a journey of hope.

“I am hoping that for my 80th birthday this year, we can raise enough money to give chimpanzees the freedom to live in their new forest island home”

– Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE

What is the most incredible about Dr. Jane Goodall, is that she had no post-secondary education prior to her bold venture into the heart of the African forests. All she had was a dream to embark to a new continent and do research. She knew nothing about chimpanzees but still her sponsor and mentor Dr. Lewis Leakey saw through her immense passion and placed her in the fateful internship, which was the catalyst for everything else in her own life. She has accomplished so much and she continues to be an international role model and selfless world citizen. In addition, she the one who made the connection between community development and conservation; saying that in order to preserve a species and their environment you must protect the local peoples’ livelihoods as well. To me, Dr. Jane Goodall is not only my idol, she is also the epitome of commitment and congruence; she lived and breathed sustainability. After the satisfaction I have personally felt from all of my volunteering, few years of teaching, and community involvement, I too want to devote the next fifty years or so of my life to the advocacy of peace and empowering youths to living more sustainably!

4) Tell me a bit about Glendon Roots and Shoots (GRAS) and your involvement with them.

Glendon Roots and Shoots is the only environmentalism-focused club on the Glendon campus and it is an affiliated chapter of the larger Roots & Shoots program founded by Dr. Jane Goodall herself and the international Jane Goodall Institute. The name Roots & Shoots came from Dr. Jane Goodall’s vision of empowering youths to plant their roots into soils of hope and love (opportunities, education, and support from family and society) so that one day they can shoot towards the sky like trees spreading their branches and producing fruits for other seedlings to enjoy, who will then go through the process of planting their roots and shooting up towards the sky.
I joined Glendon Roots and Shoots in my very first year of university so this is my fourth year with GRAS and I was previously its primary co-chair for two years, before elected as their first-ever advisor this year. I had no idea what to do at first, but fortunately I had a lot of help in making things run smoothly thanks to The GRASies (a nickname that we like to call our members). We have since started numerous new projects to appeal to as many people as possible whilst staying true to our vision.

colvinOur most recent event was the Spring into Sustainability charity dinner, seminar and concert. We were able to raise $600 for the Jane Goodall Institute, GRAS projects and UNICEF Canada. Over forty people came, and we catered vegan food from the Lunik Co-op!  The whole point of the event was to engage the Glendon community as well as my closest friends to the idea of having a more sustainable lifestyle and giving back to the community and I think the event was a success in that regards!! There was a lot of teamwork that night, which is why it will surely be remembered and I will use this event as a stepping stone for better events and green initiatives!! Here I would like to give a Glendon-style shout out to everyone who came that night!! Merci tout le monde!!

Here is a link to the event’s photo album online. Photo credits go to the awesome Kelly Lui.

Our other work includes:

  • Trick or Eat (go around the neighborhood in costumes on Halloween to collect non-perishables for donation; collect around 700-800 a year; donate all to the North York Harvest Food Bank)
  • Nature hikes in our very Glendon Forest
  • Campus-Shoreline Cleanup
  • Smoothie Movie Night (each semester; play environmental films, have smoothies made from all organic and seasonally grown local produce and almond milk)
  • Bake Sales (vegetarian and vegan goods, fair trade coffee, we also teach people how to bake and cook with vegetarian and vegan recipes)
  • Blogs and e-newspaper (sustainability tips, signing pledges, creating art out of waste, phantom energy, carpooling, shuttle, etc.)
  • Waste Management Campaign (informing Glendon community about proper waste disposal, and improving waste management at the Glendon Campus)
  • Water Week (water sculptures, water bottle phase-out)
  • GOOS paper (we go around campus for outdated posters and reuse the good on one side)
  • Trips to Value Village to promote upcycling clothes, thrift store shopping and frugality
  • Fundraisers, events and tabling to raise awareness and encourage people to get involved

Collected non-perishable food items for the North York Harvest Food Bank from our Trick or Eat event

5) What made you interested in enrolling GRAS to become a Green Club?

I first heard about Green Clubs during the Clubs 101 meeting this past summer with all of the exec members and we all thought it was a great way to get GRAS more involved with the Keele campus and the wider York U community. I am so happy about the GC initiative and I am honored to be a part of it. GRAS was already an extremely sustainable club to begin with, but being GC certified has really helped us become more harmonious with our mission and reaffirmed our common purpose as a club! In addition, we learned a lot more about sustainable event planning, transportation, and waste management on York U and we simply adore the Green Office program!

6What do you hope to achieve by the end of this year with GRAS and what would you like to see in the future for GRAS?

I want GRAS to keep doing the amazing work that we do as a team and improving in every possible way! There are a lot of things going on that could be done better and I looking forward to seeing what the new exec team and members will come up with. We are currently in the midst of transitioning and electing executives for the 2014-2015 school year.We are looking of course for people who want to help make the world a better, more sustainable place -starting with the Glendon community itself- by empowering fellow students to be more sustainable. So far we already plan to continue traditional events and initiatives of ours such as the Trick or Eat Halloween Food Drive, our Campus-Shoreline Cleanup and host the homemade vegetarian bake sales for sure, but everything else is still to be decided.


7) How would you encourage other to get involved and take action about sustainability issues?

Know thyself and be true! Find something you are passionate about, look towards a role model for inspiration and work hard in what you like or is good at! It will pay off! And if you do not know how to do something, just ask for help! Never be afraid to learn more or to get support from other people. Always be willing to learn from and network with others. I think taking the time to build a relationship with various organizations and having a proper education are both equally important, because nowadays you need more than just a degree or diploma to find long-lasting success in this ever competitive job market. I really believe in a more open leadership, one that is socially responsible as opposed to a hierarchical leadership that cares only for profit. I want there to be more unity and collaborations, where people’s ideas are encouraged and expanded upon; not ignored.

I want people to know that anyone can be a leader and that living more sustainably is a lifestyle choice. I strongly belief that if I am committed to setting a good example myself and I am congruent and conscious of my personal values that others will one day be inspired to be involved as well! I want to educate children to respect different views and push them to try new things when they are still growing and finding themselves. I do not think there is one single cookie cutter path to success. There are so many different kinds of personalities, trades, skills sets and people nowadays can be a mechanic, game designer, teacher, doctor, business owner…I want to nurture an inclusive and feel-good environment where diversity is celebrated, where controversy is met with civility, and where no one is left behind or abandoned. I think in the end, what is important is for teachers and elders to ingrain in future generations as well as themselves the mindset and desire to reduce one’s ecological footprint. If society as a whole is accountable for their actions then its citizens would be brought up with the values of giving back to the community and naturally would do simple actions like buying only what you need or taking shorter showers, turning off the tap when you are brushing your teeth or turning off the lights when no one is occupying a room…and so forth on a daily basis.

The problem with society nowadays is that either there are people are constantly busy-on-the-go but never satisfied, wanting endless progress or pleasure or they are apathetic and idle towards life altogether. Life itself is not a race nor is it black and white. Instead life is a process, one that is colourful and full of choices. It is important that one takes one’s time to be educated, to have the room and support blossom and to be given the chance to nourish one’s own dreams and passions, whatever they may be. We should stop thinking of environmental issues as problems and start thinking of them as challenges that need to be overcome. With challenges there is growth and a positive solution to it. If you are merely negative that would only distance yourself from not only the problem(s) at hand but also the people around you. Be positive instead and in turn that will in itself make a difference.

In the mean time, go and make friends, who may share the same interests or goals as you! Getting involved at school’s extra-curricular clubs and/or at community centres or organizations would be a great place to meet new people and make new friends!! I, myself, am lucky to have such awesome friends and incredible people in my life, whom without; I would not have the motivation needed to continue all of my environmental endeavors! It is never too early or too late to start being more considerate and tolerant of others as well, because I think that will go towards refining oneself into being a more professional leader and/or team player!!

Lastly, I heard a quote recently, “you cannot teach what you do not know and you cannot lead in places where you won’t go”. I want to become an elementary school teacher. I think it is important to empower people when they are younger. You cannot lead anyone without taking the courage to trust your capabilities and be responsible for not just yourself but for others as well. So I shall be my own teacher first and walk the talk. Everything else will come from there.

To end,  always challenge yourself for personal growth, remain humble and know that no matter how hopeless or unchanging things may seem to be… that change is within you. So believe in yourself and be the change that you want to see in the world!




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