Community & Current Events

4 Amazing Canadians Women Making The World a Cleaner, Greener Place

4 Amazing Canadians Women Making The World a Cleaner, Greener Place

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Community & Current Events

4 Amazing Canadians Women Making The World a Cleaner, Greener Place

Whether they're focused on climate change, reducing waste, cleaning up our communities or holding industry accountable, these 4 Canadians women are trying to make our country—and the world—a cleaner, greener place. 

Canada's national identity is intertwined with the lakes, forests, tundra and mountain ranges that make up our diverse terrain, our iconic wildlife and our heroes (like David Suzuki). But our actions haven't always matched our ideals; last year, one study ranked us 14th out of 16 peer countries in environmental performance (only Australia and the U.S. did worse, and Switzerland took the top spot). That's why we find the following people inspiring. From food waste to pollution to the three Rs, they're working on big and small ways to help Canada become more environ­mentally friendly. 


1. Kathleen Ruff

Smithers, B.C.


Photography by Chris Gareau

In 1996, after a full career in public service, Kathleen Ruff retired—but rest and relaxation were not in the cards. For the past decade, she's campaigned against Quebec's asbestos industry. "There aren't many issues where Canada is playing a leading role in the world," says Ruff, 77. "With asbestos, we were—and it was a very destructive role." Pointing out Canada's ethical responsibility was the hardest work Ruff says she has ever done, but it paid off when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last spring that Canada plans to ban asbestos use by 2018—and Ruff was given the medal of honour in Quebec's National Assembly. "Whether it's asbestos, climate change or sugary drinks," says Ruff, "we're seeing scientific evidence distorted by vested interest. I think that is the issue of our time."

What you can do: "People have begun to think their purpose on the planet is just their individual life. But we have to stand up for the public interest, the well-being of the planet and the common good."


2. Ta'kaiya Blaney

Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples Activist
Duncan, B.C.



Singer and activist Ta'Kaiya Blaney has been to the Paris climate conference, the United Nations' NGO meeting in Korea, Idle No More in Vancouver and Occupy Wall Street in New York City—places you wouldn't expect to see a 16-year-old. "Those trips have been about spreading the message of my community internationally and giving a face to climate change," says Blaney, who is a member of B.C.'s Sliammon First Nation. "Our culture is impacted by the degradation of the land; my people will be on the front lines of those who feel the effects." That's why you'll find her campaigning for land rights, protesting pipelines and writing songs around these issues. "For anyone who is in activism for the long haul, it's healthy to bring in an element of self-expression, of what you love," she says. "For me, that's music."

What you can do: "Yes, we all have to be individually responsible, but it's more than turning off the lights—we also have to organize to tackle the system."


3. Wai Chu Cheng

Cofounder, Repair Café


Photography by Heather Ramsay

Wai Chu CHENG read about Amsterdam's Repair Café in a New York Times article and was moved by the concept of people taking broken household items to a community event to be fixed by volunteers. Fifty-year-old Cheng is by no means handy herself, but along with cofounders Fern and Paul Magder, she arranged a Toronto Repair Café event in 2013 with 10 "fixers." These days, they usually hold an event once a month with at least 25 fixers, 15 support staff and upward of 80 visitors. Cheng, whose day job is sustainability coordinator at Sheridan College, estimates they've repaired more than 2,600 items. But, she says, it goes beyond that: "The fixers will walk you through the repair and help you do it yourself. It's a learning process—and it's very empowering."

What you can do: "By fixing things rather than replacing them so easily, we can be a change agent. And we can all influence others by sharing our time with people in the community who need help." 


3. Carinne Chambers

Cofounder, Diva International
Kitchener, Ont.


The menstrual cup has been around since the 1930s, but it took a mother-daughter team to revolutionize it. Francine Chambers came across the alternative to pads and tampons in the 1990s and started distributing a latex model in Canada. After her daughter, Carinne, graduated from business school, they teamed up to start a company, and by 2003, they were selling their own improved silicone version—The DivaCup. Today, it's a top seller in the sanitary-protection category across the country. The pair was intent on providing women with a better period experience and helping reduce the billions of tonnes of feminine-hygiene waste that ends up in landfills. "My mom has always been ahead of her time, as far as eco-consciousness," says Carinne, 38, of Francine, who has retired from the business.

What you can do: "Buy products with minimal or no packaging, and go to local farmers' markets rather than buying the packaged foods and products that we're so reliant on."


4. Bethany Downer

Founder, One Step Shoe Recycling
St. John's, N.L.


Bethany Downer can thank Cmdr. Chris Hadfield for inspiring One Step Shoe Recycling, her shoe-recycling project. As she was pursuing her dream of becoming an astronaut, the 23-year-old met Hadfield, who told her to do something that would stand out on her application to the International Space University (ISU) in Strasbourg, France. Downer was increasingly interested in sustainability, and his advice made her think about how she could make an impact in an area that hadn't been tackled. She landed on footwear. "Not only do we overpurchase shoes," she says, "but we also underuse them." She started a program that has diverted 7,257 kilograms of footwear so far from landfills—and helped her earn a spot at ISU, where she's bringing sustainability to space with her master's thesis on reusable launch systems.

What you can do: "You may be only one family, but if everyone adopts the same mentality, it makes a difference. Little changes can be done with ease."



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Community & Current Events

4 Amazing Canadians Women Making The World a Cleaner, Greener Place