Two clubs in western Canada, the Rotary Club of Canmore in Alberta and the Rotary Club of Parksville in British Columbia, have taken big steps towards supporting Rotary’s commitment to protecting the environment, while finding ways to involve local youths.
Luc Arvisais joined the Canmore club in 2021 at the invitation of environmental entrepreneur Joey O’Brien, and he has quickly made his mark, joining the Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group, writing a weekly environmental news bulletin for the club, and serving on its youth avenue of service committee.
Arvisais, who teaches STEM, or science, technology, engineering, and math, started an environmental club called Net Zer0 Heroes at Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy in Canmore. Last year, under his guidance, six seniors in the club designed a program that enabled Rotary members attending the District 5360 conference in Cochrane, about 20 miles northwest of Calgary, to offset the greenhouse gas emissions generated by their transportation for the event. The 300 Rotary members who registered for the conference filled out the students’ questionnaire about their modes of travel, the distance travelled between Cochrane and their homes, and other information. With that data, the students used a carbon calculator from nonprofit Tree Canada to estimate the amount of CO₂ emitted during those travels (6.6 tons), along with the number of trees needed to offset those emissions.
With initial funding provided by the Canmore club, the students purchased 280 seedlings that they distributed to attendees at the conference. In addition, they encouraged Rotary members to make carbon-offset donations by choosing from a list of organizations involved in environmental protection and renewable energy research, an option that raised $2,500. The students transported the unclaimed seedlings back to Canmore for a tree planting project.
“We were able to offset the carbon footprint twice over,” Arvisais says. And the student group continues to plan future environmental sustainability projects with the Canmore club. For example, O’Brien formed a club committee to assess the viability of a local waste diversion project to sequester CO₂ in indoor container gardens.
In addition to supporting student projects, the Canmore Rotary club has funded the installation of a wind turbine at another local school. “Working with Rotary,” Arvisais adds, “we at Our Lady of the Snows have also helped the town of Canmore start a business composting program by sponsoring free waste pickup at participating businesses.”
About 1,000 kilometres to the west, the Rotary Club of Parksville has been doing its part to protect the environment, with young people again playing a role. Four years ago, the club spearheaded a massive environmental cleanup project in a nature area called Little Mountain. The call to action on its website included this dismal description: “What should be a beautiful hike through a pristine forest has turned into a nasty trek past a vast eyesore of household appliances, couches, rusted bicycles, car parts, shopping carts, junked electronics and mouldy mattresses. Oh, and don’t forget the golf balls — there are hundreds of them!”
Diana Matsuda, a past club president and its public image chair, explains that the area affected by the illegal dumping was situated below a steep cliff and inaccessible to cars and trucks. An army of volunteers — which included, among others, Parksville Rotarians and members of a group called the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers — loaded the trash into nets and huge fertilizer bags, and Kestrel Helicopters donated its time and expertise to haul it away. (The Parksville club helped cover Kestrel’s fuel cost.) Launched in May 2019, the project was completed in November 2021, after removing 25.5 tons of trash.
One volunteer on the Little Mountain project, 15-year-old Ben Klein-Beekman, sought Rotary’s help last year after he discovered a massive illegal dumpsite in a wilderness area near the Little Qualicum Hatchery for fish. Reprising the Little Mountain effort, volunteers from local businesses, community groups, and schools took part in three days of cleanup that removed more than 12 tons of garbage.
During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Matsuda says, club leaders realized that almost all of their fundraising to support local and international service projects came from events involving food and crowds. Borrowing a page from the fundraising playbook at the Rotary Club of Chemainus, about 70 kilometres to the southeast, the club decided to expand a modest recycling program that earned about $7,500 a year.
The expansion began with a generous offer from Tim Andres, a member of the Rotary Club of Qualicum Beach who owns an auto glass repair business. Andres made available his shop’s large parking lot and service bays on Saturdays, and in October 2021, the Parksville club launched an aggressive bottle and can recycling program. “It’s gotten to be a huge operation,” Matsuda says. “Over the past two years, we’ve processed more than 2 million cans and bottles. We have really streamlined our procedures, building more sorting tables, improving the flow, and ensuring that our volunteers are trained.” As many as 20 volunteers help each week, including members of the Model UN Club at the local high school, she says.
In addition to its environmental benefits, the Saturday pop-up recycling station, located on the main road through Parksville, has raised the visibility of Rotary locally and sent the club’s fundraising soaring to a remarkable level, Matsuda says. In its first two years, the program raised $185,000, enabling the club to dramatically expand its financial backing of other projects, including support for Ukrainians. In a novel twist, the club provides a unique benefit for several organizations that supply recycling drive volunteers. They receive an honorarium for their work, which goes back to the organization, not the individual. “This enables us to increase our volunteer base, which is increasingly needed as volumes grow,” Matsuda says. “That permits us to expand our ability to support groups wishing to fundraise for worthy causes in our community.”
What’s more, Matsuda is convinced that the project’s high visibility accounts for the club’s membership growth. “It’s been a win-win situation for everybody,” she says. Matsuda and Arvisais believe that engaging young people in environmental sustainability is critical to solving climate change challenges. Arvisais, a member of the Earth Prize Teacher Advisory Board for the Earth Foundation’s $200,000 global environmental sustainability teen competition, sees an opportunity for Rotary to have an impact by engaging young people through Rotaract.
“Youth are the key to enacting social change because they are the future,” he says. “They need professional mentoring to guide them in taking impactful actions. We need to be intentional in providing opportunities for youth to complete authentic environmental sustainability projects. There is much work to be done and we can’t give up, because there may not be anybody else to get the job done. Advocacy has its place, but the time for action is now.”
Reprinted by permission from Rotary Canada, April 2023. Copyright © 2023 Rotary International. All rights reserved.