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Careers in Sustainability

Q&A with Leah Perry

What inspired you to pursue a career in sustainability, and how did you find your path to become a leader in the field?

I have known of the ramifications of climate change, not only to our planet but also to humans since childhood, with kudos to my parents who have always been advocates for climate action. While I was at Export Development Canada, I was fortunate enough to become a founding member of its Cleantech Team, which was my first realization that I could mix my two passions: supporting entrepreneurs and helping to tackle the biggest problem of our generation.

Through my work at MaRS Discovery District, I have the privilege of working with early-stage climate tech ventures, of which, many of the founders have deep technical backgrounds. I am inspired by their incredible inventions (and minds) every day. However, without capital and connections, the climate impact of these inventions will never be realized. Therefore, how did I find my path to become a leader in the field? Understanding your strengths and being incredibly inspired by those around you.

As someone recognized for their achievements in sustainability, what do you believe are the most pressing challenges and opportunities in the field today?

Talk without action, innovation adoption and funding are some of the most pressing challenges that are keeping us from realizing our climate goals. We need talent that not only are motivated to solve the climate crisis but are in positions to purchase (or influence the purchase) of clean technologies or change in corporate polluting processes.

Opportunities in the field today? Working in climate is not only rewarding – it’s a ton of fun. Climate change is affecting every industry and there is a role for everyone, no matter what your background or skill. Whereas sustainability used to be synonymous with renewable energy or recycling, you can make an impact if you have a background in agriculture, textiles, the built environment, energy, policy, capital and the list goes on and on.

In your role as a sustainability leader, what projects or initiatives are you most proud of, and how have they contributed to positive environmental or social impact?

One of my responsibilities at MaRS is leading the RBC Women in Cleantech Accelerator, powered by MaRS program. Through the 5 years of the Women in Cleantech program at MaRS, we’ve continued to make alterations to the program to ensure it is serving its mission of increasing diverse representation, specifically women-led businesses in the cleantech sector. Working extremely closely with this group of 10 women-led ventures has been the highlight of my career. Having a front row seat to their incredible climate tech innovations, their growth of confidence and the true support system they serve towards each other gives me incredible hope for our collective future. 

What do you believe are the key skills and qualities that young professionals should cultivate to succeed in the field of sustainability?

It’s incredibly important to be action oriented. We’ve spent way too long talking about the climate problem; the next generation needs to implement solutions, policies and actions that help to move the needle and solve the climate crisis.

From your perspective, how can organizations in Canada enhance their commitment to sustainability, and what role can young professionals play in driving this change?

Improvements to enhance a company’s sustainability can be made throughout the full value and supply chain. It’s important to conduct a deep analysis of where improvements can be made and be open to new innovations. Innovative clean technologies have the potential to help us reach our climate goals; however, without corporate adoption, they will never realize their true climate impact potential. Young professionals can, and should, hold their organizations accountable for the climate plans they put forward. These organizations need your talent – your voice and influence matter.

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