UTM grad recognized for environmental leadership

Smiling man with water bottle
Friday, March 13, 2015 - 1:58pm
Blake Eligh

Faizan Ahmed was considering a career in medicine, but an internship showed him he could combine his passion for helping people with his interest in the environment. Now the Master of Science in Sustainability Management student is on his way towards a career in corporate environmental sustainability, and will be recognized with a major award for his leadership this spring.

Ahmed’s dedication to corporate environmental responsibility has earned the UTM student a spot on the Corporate Knights “Top 30 Under 30 List”. In the Spring 2015 edition publishined in April, the quarterly publication will recognize young people who are making a difference in sustainability. Ahmed, who was nominated by his classmates, was one of 90 nominees considered for the list.

Ahmed, who is in his first year of the MScSM program, is a 2013 graduate of U of T Mississauga’s Life Sciences program, where he double-majored in health and environmental sciences. During his fourth year, Ahmed took an internship position with the City of Mississauga’s Green Leaders program. As an environmental specialist, he handled staff training and leadership of a project that coordinates environmental sustainability measures into day-to-day business operations at Mississauaga’s city hall.

“The city hadn’t really looked at sustainability internally,” he says. “Every department has a green team, but there wasn’t a program that brought every department together to manage their internal sustainability issues. I had to figure out how to do that.”

Through an informal luncheon and activities like “Green Bingo”, Ahmed helped connect city employees who were passionate about the same issues, and trained leaders to become ambassadors who could help their colleagues go green at work.

That internship gave Ahmed the opportunity to put his skills to work in a practical way. “I had to defend the program to City Council, reporting on costs, how it would work, and how it could be measured for progress,” he says. The program began as a pilot project at city hall in September 2014, and there are plans to expand it to other city buildings in the future.

A second project, related to his master’s program, found Ahmed back at city hall, where he worked on finding solutions to a problem with how people disposed of garbage. “We surveyed the site and saw people dumping waste into the wrong bins in the Civic Centre. We realized that the bin designs and signage were inconsistent. People couldn’t figure out where to throw out the waste.” Ahmed’s group created a number of recommendations, such as advising the city to eliminate the word “garbage” from signage, replacing it with more specific terms like “recyclable” and “non–recyclable”. The team also recommended changes to the bin designs, including colour coding and different slot shapes, to make it easier for people to figure out where to dispose of waste. The project resulted in the development of a program that will be implemented at city hall this summer.

Ahmed hopes to work with municipal governments as an internal sustainability consultant or environment specialist to help businesses and organizations from the inside. “In North America, the environment is thought of as a ‘philanthropic’ or ‘community-based’ issue, but European countries consider sustainability to bebusiness-driven,” he says. “Companies often don’t look within their own organizations. Engaging your employees in environmental sustainability will drive your business.”

“There’s often a miscommunication about what green teams do,” he says. “I want to improve that. I’ve found my passion.”