Back in the Saddle!

This week is Bike to Work Week, and I have a confession to make. Today is my first day ever biking to work.

I know! I know! I work for an environmental organization! We are in an office building that has bike parking AND showers for cyclists. Trust me – I’m all for sustainable transportation, I love cycling, and I grew up riding my bike all over Toronto. I was a Tour Leader on the MS Society bike tours by age 12. But then in high school, I got arthritis and I had to give up cycling for a long time.

My arthritis has been under control for a while now, and all the excitement around Bike to Work Week this year was the final push I needed to get back in the saddle. It turns out it was a great idea. I live in Ottawa, pretty close to downtown, and work at the Sierra Club Canada Foundation office next to the Rideau Centre. It was a straightforward ride in traffic, felt about a million times faster than taking the bus, and felt way more efficient than walking. That old expression “like riding a bike” exists for a reason. It’s a skill you never really lose, and even if it gets rusty, it comes back to you really quickly.

I chose to ride through downtown traffic because I’m experienced, but if you’re not, and want to give it a try, Ottawa has lots of bike paths that are perfect for beginners. Just make sure you have a bell and reflectors, and if you plan to be out near or after dark, you’ll need lights too. You can find more info on cycling in Ontario here.

I really can’t recommend it enough – and it was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I’m not an athletic person, I’m not in the best of shape (though admittedly I’m not in really bad shape either), and I have arthritis. If I can do it, you probably can too! It feels good – both because you’re being active, and because you’re doing something good for the environment.


Safe travels!
Gabriela Rappell
SYC Director

Protect the Poles, Protect the Planet

Guest blog by Leah Davidson, Act for Antarctica Campaign

In 2011, I received a scholarship to travel to the Antarctic with a Canadian-based organization called Students on Ice, which takes high school students to the Polar Regions on educational expeditions. For two weeks, I conducted science experiments, listened to lectures from polar experts, studied animal behaviours, and fell absolutely in love with this beautiful continent.

Photo courtesy of Leah Davidson

Why is Antarctica so important?

  • Antarctica is a fascinating ecosystem containing valuable natural resources, including 70% of Earth’s fresh water. Antarctica is also an environment of extremes, as the coldest, windiest, and driest continent on the planet. It represents one of the last true wilderness areas, where animals approach humans without fear and you feel completely distanced from modern civilization.
  • Devoted to peace and science, Antarctica is a rare symbol of international cooperation. According to the Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959, it is illegal to hunt, fish, mine, and pollute on Antarctic territory. Today, around 50 countries have ratified this treaty and agreed to protect the continent.
  • Antarctica is affected by climate change. Due to Antarctica’s geographic location, the temperature is rising at several times the rate of the global average. When we visited Palmer Station, one of the American research bases, the scientists explained that the Adelie penguin population in the area has plummeted and warmer-water species, like Gentoos and fur seals, have taken its place.

Photo courtesy of Leah Davidson

What can you do?

While watching humpback whales glide through perfectly reflective water and our ship pass tabular icebergs illuminated by the glow of the sun, I started to recognize the transformational effect of natural beauty. After returning home to Sherbrooke, Canada, I put together an arts-based anthology called Antarctica: To Be Inspired with the photography and writing of the students and staff on the expedition. My friends and I have also partnered with eco-friendly companies to launch a campaign called Act for Antarctica. We are donating copies of this book to schools and youth groups and giving multimedia presentations, with the hope of educating 1000 youth about Antarctica and motivating them to undertake environmental acts. Acts could include conservation projects, lifestyle changes or awareness events. By sharing these acts via our website and social media outlets, we hope to convey the message that ecosystems are interconnected; therefore, everything you do on a local level contributes to the preservation of Antarctica for generations to come.

Photo courtesy of Leah Davidson

New Interns at SYC!

Hello everyone! We are Nejc and Hrvoje, two new interns at SYC, staying here until the end of November. We came to Canada as part of the “Thinking Canada” study tour and internship programme funded by the EU. The aim of the tour was to provide students with an understanding of EU-Canada relations and the complex diversity of Canada itself. We visited six cities – Ottawa, Québec, Montréal, Toronto, Vancouver, and Victoria – where we met with various private and public institutions, government bodies, think tanks and NGOs. Some of the topics covered include Canada’s cultural diversity (the English/French relationship, First Nations and multiculturalism), political issues (federalism, regionalism, and the role of government), the environment (including old-growth forests and Arctic issues), urban issues and economic issues (business, finance, trade). We are both very lucky and excited to be working with the team!

A little about our backgrounds:

NejcI am Nejc (pronounced Nates) from Slovenia, currently finishing my Master’s degree in English Language and Literature at the University of Ljubljana, where I focused on Canadian and American studies, as well as cultural theory during my studies abroad. Coming from a rural background and a family of hikers (which is very Slovenian) and a few vegetarians (which is not), I have always had an appreciation for the environment. That interest grew as I started taking sustainability and climate courses through Coursera’s online platform, and I am now increasingly drawn to the challenges of sustainable transport and the infrastructure required. Combining the environmental with my geekier side, I will be working on building the Sustainable Campuses database, updating the SYC website, and helping with various other tasks.

HrvojeI’m Hrvoje (pronounced: her-vo-yeh) and I come from Croatia where I study English Language and Literature, and Sociology at the University of Zagreb. I’m really interested in society in general, but more specifically in the solutions to problems we (still) face- inequality, poverty, environmental issues, all sorts of discrimination, politically disengaged youth etc.  I am particularly interested in LGBT rights, racial discrimination, and multicultural issues, that’s why I’m looking forward to working on the anti-oppression policy of SYC. Hopefully I’ll be able to develop it more by connecting all the mentioned topics through the concept of environmental justice (I’ve always preferred the bigger picture). I firmly believe that sustainability and equity are inseparable, and that treating them as unrelated entities is incomplete and counterproductive. If you have any ideas, suggestions or simply feel passionate about anti-oppression issues, please contact me at:

Welcome SYC’s New Campus Food Systems Coordinator!

Since fall 2011, Dana Lahey has been co-coordinating the Campus Food Systems Project with Caitlin Colson from Meal Exchange. This project works with 9 campuses across Canada to help students improve the multi-stakeholder organizing, procurement practices, and applied student research for the food systems on their campuses. Dana has new and exciting opportunities ahead of him and will be working with SYC one day per week from Austin, Texas.

To continue on with Dana’s great work from Ottawa, we’re pleased to announce that Sarah Archibald has joined the SYC team!

Sarah is no stranger to food systems as she has farmed in 5 countries, spent four years studying Global Food Systems and Agro-Ecological Agriculture and has volunteered and worked with a variety of food security and food sovereignty-focused organizations.  Sarah also has campus food systems experience as she was a volunteer, researcher and then coordinator with the McGill Food Systems Project, which is how she met Dana four years ago!

Sarah’s excited to work and share with the inspiring Campus Food Strategy Groups, the SYC and Meal Exchange teams as well as many other individuals, groups and organization.

Sarah’s always open to ideas, conversations and new recipes! Feel free to contact her at

Happy Holidays from the Sierra Youth Coalition!

2012 has been a great year for SYC! Starting back in February with the Western Canada Sustainable Campuses Conference, our first LEAForum for Ottawa youth at the Canadian Museum of Nature in April, the National Food Summit in August, the National Sustainable Campuses Conference and PowerShift 2012 in October, and our Sweet 16 launch in November… It’s been a busy year!

It’s incredible to think of how much we’ve done this year, but we couldn’t do it without your help. That’s why this holiday, we ask you to continue supporting SYC. This holiday season, give the gift of sustainability, youth empowerment and a better Canada. How?

  • Become a member of SYC’s Sustainers Circle by becoming a monthly donor. Your gift of $5, $10 or $20 a month help keep SYC’s incredible work going. You can either support us directly by donating here, or be eligible for a tax receipt by supporting the programs we run in cooperation with the Sierra Club Canada Foundation here.
  • Make someone’s holidays a bit more sustainable. Instead of giving material gifts, make a one-time donation on behalf of someone and we’ll send them a special holiday thank-you card.
  • What better gift than telling the youth in your life that they have the power to make real change?  Sign them up for a membership today and they’ll be invited to an exclusive online town hall where we’ll listen to their wants and concerns for sustainability in Canada. Plus an SYC membership comes with some extra gifts…Access to SYC decision making, discounts on SYC events, 40% of VIA rail travel and more!
  • Give yourself a holiday gift… Purchase a SYC membership for yourself and you’ll get access to the same benefits. Or, if you’re now over 30 and no longer a student, join Sierra Club Canada and you can still enjoy discounts on SYC events, plus get access to regional decision making in the club.

Thank you to everyone who helped make 2012 a huge success! The team at SYC wishes you all a happy, healthy and sustainable holiday season. Until next year…

Some FAQs!

Apologies for the technical difficulties… There is was a major back-end issue with our website (and therefore emails too) right now, which we hope to have fixed very soon. In the meantime, to try to save you some trouble, here are some FAQs to help:

  1. How do I contact you right nowIf it’s really urgent, please call our National Office. The phone number is 613-241-1615 or 1-888-790-7393. For less urgent inquiries, send us an email at Our mailing address is 412-1 Nicholas St. Ottawa, ON K1N7B7
  2. How do I become a member? It’s simple! Visit this website. It’s $25 a year and you get to vote in ExComm elections, get special updates, and discounts – most impressively up to 40% off Via Rail travel!
  3. What’s the deal with the Via deal? Here’s the fine print:Valid for a 40% discount on the adult regular fare in Economy class, and 10% discount in sleeper classes, for travel anywhere on VIA network.In Economy class:  travel must be booked in “Economy – supersaver fare” and tickets must be purchased at least three (3) days prior to departure. Seats are limited. Exchanges are permitted without service charge and may be done at any time for travel on the same date as originally booked, but must be rebooked in “Economy – supersaver fare”. If the passenger wishes to change their travel date, the change must be made at least three (3) days prior to the new travel date and must also be rebooked in “Economy supersaver fare”.In sleeper classes:  valid in any sleeper class of travel provided bookings are made and tickets are issued at least three (3) days prior to departure.  Tickets must be booked at regular fare of the chosen class. Same day exchanges are permitted, however, a change of date requires a three-day (3) advance purchase. Exchanges are done without service charge.

    In all classes, tickets are non-refundable and non-transferable. However, they may be exchanged for equal or greater value (by paying the difference in fare). Personal identification with photo, and letter from Sierra Youth Coalition confirming name of passenger must be presented to a VIA ticket agent to obtain discounted tickets. Tickets may be booked online, but need to be issued at a ticket counter, as a VIA agent must verify identification. Tickets are non-commissionable to travel agents and cannot be issued by tour operators.

  4. How do I access the Via deal? You have to book over the phone by calling 1-888-Via-Rail (842-7245) and use the discount code 11261. Don’t forget your membership card (or temporary email) and photo id when you travel!
  5. That Via thing sounds great, but what is it that SYC does? The Sierra Youth Coalition is the youth branch of Sierra Club Canada (who’s website is thankfully up and running). We’re a by youth, for youth organization dedicated to sustainability. Our main programs are Sustainable Campuses (including the Campus Food Systems Project), Sustainable High Schools, and Youth Action Gatherings. We also work on campaigns, like Back the Tap, and the Residence Challenge. Our focus is on working with youth to empower them to change the institutions in their lives by making them become more sustainable. We do this through training, generating multi-stakeholder engagement, offering educational workshops, and by facilitating dialogues and networking opportunities that allow for the sharing of best practices and exciting new ideas.
  6.  I want to apply for a job with you. How do I do that? Right now we only have two positions open, both just until the end of the summer. You have to have been a full-time student in the 2011-12 school year and be returning full-time this fall. The positions are as Youth Action Gathering Coordinators in Winnipeg and Halifax. Please send us (via your resume, cover letter, 3 references, and an answer to the question “What does youth engagement mean to you?” Less than one page for the answer please!
  7. What’s this Sweet 16 thing I’ve been hearing about? November 2012 marks our 16th anniversary (we were founded November 1996 by the incredible Amelia Clarke), and we’re planning to celebrate! If you’re interested in event planning and would like to volunteer to support our efforts, send an email now to or to once the site is up and running again.
  8. Could you maybe use some help with technical stuff? My goodness, yes we could! If you know any web developers interested in donating some time to a great cause, please send them our way! We’ll be very grateful! Though we hope nothing like this will ever happen again!

Black Out, Speak Out


SYC and Sierra Club Canada staff on Parliament Hill today for the Black Out Speak Out event

Today is Black Out Speak Out (Silence on parle) day in Canada, and the Sierra Youth Coalition website is down for the day. This isn’t due to technical difficulties (even if it does look like a site maintenance page right now), this was done to help make a statement.

The Black Out Speak Out campaign is modelled after the stop SOPA and PIPA campaign that took place earlier this year. In January, websites around the world went offline to show solidarity with those that would be affected by legislation in the United States that was seen by many to be interfering with freedom of speech. Right now in Canada, we are dealing with some similar issues. Instead of dealing with the supposed prevention of online piracy, the bill we are protesting against, Bill C-38 (the budget implementation act for 2012), proposes the systematic dismantling of fundamental environmental legislation in Canada. It cuts money from government departments that help protect the environment and simultaneously increases the amount of money available to audit charities to ensure “compliance.” Several very public statements by prominent Cabinet Ministers, MPs and Senators imply that these funds will be directed almost exclusively towards auditing environmental groups.

On the surface, these look like different things. The underlying issues, however, are pretty much the same. SOPA and PIPA were proposed legislation that made sweeping changes with limited consultation, they threatened to undermine public participation and consultation in government, they threatened the strength of civil society, and they threatened freedom of speech. Bill C-38 is doing the exact same thing. The Bill has stepped beyond the normal bounds of a budget bill into issues that are unrelated and not even mentioned in the budget documents. It is not merely proposing changes to things like the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) and the Fisheries Act – it is completely repealing the CEAA and removing habitat protection from the Fisheries Act. The legislation they have proposed has been put forward with almost no public or expert consultation. Any consultation that has happened was allowed – begrudgingly – only after prolonged outcry from the Opposition and experts. And as for threatening the strength of civil society and freedom of speech – in this case, they are the same thing. The rhetoric being spouted by certain members of the Government has already put a chill in the environmental sector. They have publicly called us terrorists, money-launderers, and tools of “foreign interests” with no evidence to back up their claims (because, I can assure you, there is no such evidence). While our finances are publicly available, we have them reviewed by a third party on an annual basis, and we declare our funders much more readily than many other charitable sectors, the Government claims we need to be watched like hawks. Taking a position on things like the Northern Gateway Pipeline review has been characterized by the government as political and partisan (something charities are not supposed to be). But when did expressing an opinion on a private development become a partisan political issue? When did raising legitimate environmental concerns go from being advocacy, which charities are allowed to do, to being activism, which they are not? All this serves to make environmental groups afraid to speak out on environmental issues. And preventing environmental organizations from expressing legitimate concerns over environmental impacts amounts to eliminating freedom of speech.

This is why we are participating in Black Out Speak Out. It’s time to take a stand. It’s time to protect nature and democracy. Visit to add your name to the petition. And when you’ve done that, consider visiting to add your voice to ours so we can Speak Out together. Just wait until June 5th when the site is up and running again!

Black Out Speak Out Teach-in


Speak out on June 4, 2012 in defence of two core Canadian values: nature and democracy.

Join over 13,000 website owners representing millions of Canadians as we darken our websites in protest against efforts to silence your voice. Blacking out your site does not require you to shut it down for the day. You will have the option of inserting a splash page that will cover your homepage while maintaining the functionality of your site.

For more information visit

Give youth a voice! Support SYC as we strive to empower young people to become active community leaders who contribute to making Canada a better society. Make a donation today or sign up for a membership!


Check out this awesome event – free for students!

WHERE: St Paul University, 223 Main Street, Ottawa
WHEN: Wednesday, May 30 at 7:00 PM- 9:00 PM
WHO: Elizabeth May (Green), Kirsty Duncan (Liberal), Megan Leslie (NDP) and, Stephan Hazell (Environmental Law Expert)
WHAT: The event is a panel discussion to raise awareness about the environmental implications of the 2012 Federal Budget bill (C-38). The audience can ask the panel questions regarding the Budget bill, in order to better understand its future effect on Canada’s natural environment.

Seating is limited so reserve a seat today by calling 613-241-4611.

Election! Élections!

Call-out: Elections 2012-2013 for the Sierra Youth Coalition’s Executive Committee

Attention all young Canadians!

  •  Are you an advocate for social change?
  • Are you driven to protect our planet?
  • Are you interested in fighting for a more just & sustainable Canada?

Then here is your chance to make a real, meaningful impact on the Canadian political and environmental landscape! If you are between 14 and 30 years old you are eligible for membership with the Sierra Youth Coalition (SYC), Canada’s largest youth environmental organization. You will also become part of the Sierra Club family, the biggest and most effective grassroots environmental organization in North America. 

Check out for more details. Nominations due May 2nd!

Appel: Élections 2012-2013 pour le conseil de direction de la Coalition jeunesse Sierra!

Attention à tous les jeunes à travers le Canada !

Êtes-vous intéressé(e) par le développement durable? Êtes-vous un avocat pour le changement social?Êtes-vous disposé(e) à protéger votre planète?

Voici votre chance de prendre le rôle du leader! Maintenant, c’est votre chance de participer à une organisation qui a pour but d’apporter un véritable changement au niveau canadien des plans politiques et environnementaux. Si vous êtes entre l’âge de 14 et 30 ans, voici votre occasion d’avoir votre mot à dire dans le mouvement environnemental des jeunes du Canada en vous présentant pour un siège au conseil de direction de la Coalition jeunesse Sierra! En devenant membre de CJS, vous devenez aussi membre de la famille Sierra Club du Canada, la plus grande organisation grassroots en Amérique du Nord !

Nous sommes à la recherche de jeunes leaders qui sont passionnés, proactifs, voulant enrichir leurs compétences de leadership et voulant contribuer à faire le Canada une société plus durable.

Visitez notre site web pour plus de détails. Applications sont acceptées jusqu’au 2 mai.

Better late than never…

Hi everyone,

We haven’t been doing the greatest job lately of updating our blog… And I think it’s high time to fill you in as to why! We’ve been going through some changes lately, mostly around staffing. If you follow us on Facebook or on Twitter you’ll know about one of them already. Tracey Guptill, National Sustainable Campuses Coordinator, moved on to new pastures (quite literally – she moved to an organic dairy farm before embarking on travels to India). In her place, we now have Sarah English, who is taking on the Coordinator duties while performing an evaluation of the project. Sarah is a former Sustainability Coordinator at Wilfrid Laurier University, and she’s bringing a great perspective to the project! We’re glad to have her on board.

Another change we have had is the departure of our National Director, Mark Hanlon. Mark has moved back to the beautiful isle of Newfoundland, and will be keeping up with his passion for the environment on a more local level. Mark contributed a great deal to SYC over his tenure as ND, and we are excited about what he’ll be up to on the Rock! In his absence, I will be taking on the role of Interim National Director. I’m looking forward to working will all of you in my new role, and continuing to work with high school students and teachers through the Sustainable High Schools Project. If you have any ideas for projects or events, or if you’re interested in volunteering with SYC, feel free to contact me at director[at]

Sustainably yours,
Gabriela Rappell
Interim National Director
Sierra Youth Coalition