Youth to Learn, Network at Sustainability Conference

September 15, 2009 - News Release

Issues such as climate change, poverty and community engagement will be on the minds of nearly 200 students as they meet at the University of Guelph Sept. 24 to 27 for Impact! The Co-operators Youth Conference for Sustainability Leadership.

The goal is to give students a unique learning experience and an opportunity to network with experts and like-minded youth from across the country, said Rumina Dhalla, a U of G business professor and member of the conference organizing committee.

"We really want to influence students to become leaders in sustainability for tomorrow. We want to excite them, empower them and equip them to go out and make change."

Dhalla received a $100,000 grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to help with the event, which is sponsored by The Co-operators, a Guelph-based insurance and financial services organization. Numerous partners have been planning the conference since last spring, including U of G, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Ivey School of Business, University of Saskatchewan, Wilfrid Laurier University, the Natural Step and the Network for Business Sustainability.

Conference keynote speakers are David Suzuki, a renowned scientist, environmentalist, broadcaster and author; and Peter Schiefke, national manager of tClimate Project Canada.

More than 900 students applied to attend and after a rigorous selection process, 180 were chosen, including a dozen from U of G. Marena Brinkhurst is one. The fourth-year environmental sciences student is heavily involved in all things environmental at U of G. She organized the annual environmental sciences student symposium, Buy Nothing Day and the "Tap In!" campaign against the use of bottled water. She also helped run the first-ever Sustainability Day and is co-organizing Sustainability Week planned for this month.

"I'm excited to share my experiences working on sustainability here in Guelph with my peers from across the country and to find ways to connect our efforts," said Brinkhurst, who is studying economics and policy.

"It's also a unique chance to learn how businesses are approaching issues of environmental protection, social justice and community building. I'm impressed that this forum is being created to engage students with an influential network of individuals and organizations."

In addition to keynote talks, the conference will include discussions and workshops headed by experts in fields such as community engagement, activism, poverty, ethics, media and government. Local industry and community leaders taking part include Kathy Bardswick, president and CEO of The Co-operators, and Guelph mayor Karen Farbridge. Numerous U of G faculty and staff are also involved.

"Sustainability affects all of us," Dhalla said. "We all need to pay attention to the environment and to social responsibility and to understand the implications for our future."

The experts and students will team up to develop viable sustainability initiatives and plans that the students can take back to their campuses, communities and current and future work places.

"These students have great potential to have a real impact in terms of leadership, communicating what they learn here and coming up with solutions to some of the issues," Dhalla said.

Brinkhurst and the other students have been preparing for the event all summer. In addition to completing an online sustainability course, they've been researching and writing reports on sustainability practices in large and small organizations from a variety of sectors. More information about the conference is available online.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, at 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338 or , or Barry Gunn, Ext. 56982 or .

University of Guelph
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Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1