Climate Action: The Next Generation

By: Gavin Pitchford

These days, finding the silver lining is the name of the game. It’s tough, but moving towards a brighter future is far from impossible and we want to appreciate the individuals who are helping us move ahead. Today, we are recognizing 8 Emerging Leaders living in Canada who are fighting climate change and advancing sustainability at home and around the world! The next generation of climate leaders are taking action and inspiring all of us to join them.

Every year the Clean50 recognizes 10-20 Emerging Leaders, honouring individuals 35 or under (at the time of their accomplishments) who are driving sustainability in Canada and globally. This year, we’ve had the honour of receiving more than 45 strong nominations for our Emerging Leader award – far more than we can recognize in a single year!

As nominees, these individuals are eligible for both the main Clean50 list and an Emerging Leader award, but given the sheer volume of nominees we’ve received this year, we can’t guarantee they’ll win either award. So we’ve decided to run a spotlight on each of our Emerging Leader nominees over the course of six weeks, to give recognition to all of our inspiring young leaders even if we can’t award them, and provide some good news in difficult times.

This is the first week in this six part series, and we’re spotlighting our first eight nominees: Kathryn Bakos to Niki Cesta!

Kathryn Bakos

Kathryn Bakos (35) – Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation – Waterloo, ON

As Director of Climate Finance and Science at the University of Waterloo’s Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation, Kathryn’s work is advancing the business case for climate adaptation and is driving novel insights at the intersection of climate change and finance. Highlights of her work include pioneering research to quantify the impact of flooding on Canada’s residential real estate sector and mortgage markets, and developing an innovative framework to mitigate risk and embed climate preparedness into decision-making for institutional investors. Kathryn’s work has had national and international influence, informing all levels of government, regulators, investors, and homeowners on how to adapt more effectively to a changing climate.

Devesh Bharadwaj

Devesh Bharadwaj (28) – Pani Energy Inc – Victoria, BC

Clean water, or “pani” in Hindi, is a critical component of our modern-day society. However, treating our world’s water often requires energy-intensive processes that come at a high price tag. At Pani Energy, Devesh is using machine learning to power digital solutions that balance our competing need for high-quality water and energy-smart processes while maintaining economic prices. A digital platform consolidates sensor data to produce holistic analysis and reporting on plant operations and has been deployed in treatment facilities around the world to help operators reach “net-zero carbon” water treatment. Devesh and his team are the at the forefront of creating intelligent water treatment facilities, that optimize operations to make water more sustainable, affordable, and globally accessible, to satisfy our increasing demand for fresh water. 

Jack Bruner

Jack Bruner (31) – Carbon Neutral Club – Toronto, ON

Jack and his co-founders at Carbon Neutral Club are on a mission to make climate action accessible at scale. The workforce-focused sustainability platform allows employers to engage their employees to calculate and reduce their personal footprints together as a team. Employees then gain access to year-round savings with sustainable brand partners who offer lower impact and lower cost options in all categories of life. Individuals can also join the Club. Since launching in June 2021, Carbon Neutral Club has rolled out its platform with 30+ employers, on-boarded 75+ sustainable brand partners, and its community has been responsible for removing 7,500 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere through carbon offsets, and more via changed behaviours.

Benjamin Britton

Benjamin Britton (36) – Ionomr Innovations – Vancouver, BC

With apologies to 1967’s Mr.McGuire from The Graduate*, this Benjamin knows plastics are not the future – Hydrogen is. And so he leads a team whose two new families of ion-exchange membranes and polymers are poised to revolutionize the hydrogen economy. Hydrogen is capable of playing a major role in the carbon-free energy future, but so far, cost and performance constraints have hindered its progress. At Ionomr Innovations, these materials have been developed to improve green hydrogen production, fuel cell efficiency, and other clean energy applications. And now, more than 50 original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) worldwide are piloting new systems with these materials to blaze a path for a dramatically accelerated green hydrogen revolution.

Kat Cadungog

Kat Cadungog (27) – The Youth Harbour – Toronto, ON

Advocating for Canadian youth-led climate action is Kat Cadungog and The Youth Harbour, a pooled philanthropic fund. Thus far, $1.5 million has been raised to provide technical, networking, and financial support through disbursements to youth groups that are pursuing climate justice such as Re_Generation and Shake Up The Establishment. $50,000 has also been raised to develop a turnkey support for youth through the development of collaborative spaces in Toronto and Vancouver, access to pro-bono branding services to help groups develop their brand identity, and a network for youth designed to enable youth to connect and collaborate with more seasoned sector professionals and leaders.

Michael Carlson

Michael Carlson (33) – CarboNet – Vancouver, BC

Concerned by the lack of effective methods available to remediate massive quantities of contaminated water from industry operations, Mike used his understanding of drug delivery polymers to create a product that targets the removal of specific water contaminants as well as the NanoNet platform, a library of solutions that identifies the right treatment for each case of contamination. As a result, in 2021 alone, CarboNet was able to restore over 100 billion liters of freshwater for industry-use, largely from the oil field in Texas’ Permian Basin. Mike and his team are rapidly developing industry-specific solutions at a fraction of the price of other treatments, incentivizing industries to protect the environment simply because it is more cost efficient and effective to do so.

Clara Carriere

Clara Carriere (28) – HP – Mississauga, ON

Clara is the co-creator of HP’s Amplify Impact program aimed to educate, excite, and empower HP channel partners to drive lasting positive change by extending HP’s Sustainable Impact Strategy. Clara works with 3,500+ global IT channel partners, including 190 Canadian partners, to accelerate climate action, diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), and digital equity. She leads the development of customized assessments and best-in-class tools such as the Amplify Impact Initiatives Hub, which provides access to 19+ actionable sustainability initiatives from sustainability training, to volunteering programs and sustainable IT procurement guidance. Through this work, Clara has supported the completion over 37,000 sustainability training courses and 2,785 sustainability self-assessments by partners in an effort to improve performance and drive meaningful change across the IT industry.

Niki Cesta

Niki Cesta (31) – The Wasteland Plan Foundation – Etobicoke, ON

Building conservation-centric communities in a world designed for convenience is challenging. However, Niki is transforming her solo mission to do so into a global one that leverages others to deliver sustainable and accessible outdoor experiences that are rooted in a commitment to respect, restore and explore our natural world. Tackling the global waste crisis through immersive education and community regeneration, Niki has co-guided 109 community waste cleanups across 11 countries, capturing over 17,377 lbs. of waste from beaches and lakes through consistent grassroots actions. As a conservationist, community builder and outdoor enthusiast, Niki is combining her curiosity and leadership skills to explore and restore our natural world, one beach at a time.


ICYMI: 55 years and tow generations later, check out the iconic conversation from The Graduate – only replace the word “plastics” with “hydrogen”, and think how different our world might have been…

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Benjamin: Yes, sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin: Yes, I am.

Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

See it here on you-tube