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How did I get here? My sustainability journey

June 7, 2021 | Stephen Phoon

Photo by Andreas M on Unsplash

Photo by Andreas M on Unsplash

The story of my life… or more accurately, the sustainability slice.  Sustainability fills a big part of my life now, in work, career and lifestyle choices.  I teach sustainability in a college and also work within the institution to embed sustainability into student curriculum and industry engagements. I am committed to INZ and another environmental grassroots organisation.  The same goes for walking the talk in what I do (or don’t) and buy (or don’t).

How did I get here?  The journey has been a long and winding road.  Here’s a condensed version.  A longer story with more shades of colour can be arranged over virtual coffee outside of this.

My journey began without actually knowing the word Sustainability or its meaning.  I was searching for something my promising business career couldn’t offer.  News about environmental degradation, values such as social responsibility, and the notion about paying it forward were nudging me to do something different and bold.

At that time, I was living in Singapore.  This was ten years ago in 2011.  I made the decision to resign from my job with no replacement post, came to Canada, and invested a year at my own expense studying about sustainability in Toronto.  Leaving my job and studying in Canada turned out to be one of my most significant career decisions.  I learnt what sustainable development means, about carbon footprint, the Paris Agreement and why net zero by 2050.  The list goes on.  The outcome of the learning was like Boom! – things and events began to look differently through a new lens.  It changed how I understood the role of business, organizations and corporates, and what it means to be a global citizen.

I was determined there would be no turning back.  After graduation, I returned to Singapore and pivoted my career towards causes that promote sustainability.

Career changes are somewhat risky, especially when you’re at mid-life.  I figured out that my single biggest differentiation was coupling my newly acquired sustainability know-how with the business experience from my pre-sustainability career.  That was how I landed my first sustainability job, and how my new career progressed.   My second career has been as a consultant and catalyst, creating awareness and helping organizations navigate, adopt and champion sustainability best practices.  In INZ-speak, we call these Impact Moments.  I moved to back Canada four years ago in 2017 and started my career in sustainability in Toronto.

Joining INZ was serendipitous.  I met Charles over dinner three years ago.  Charles had a penchant for addressing climate change, having devoted his career to the environment.  Now retired, he wants to create Impact Moments that could scale up individual actions to have collective impact .  He was then on the cusp of an idea that would grow to what INZ is today.  It’s hard not to feel his fire.  We clicked well.  And now I am part of his amazing and daring endeavour.  The journey continues…

Stephen Phoon

Stephen teaches and consults on sustainability with a major college in Toronto. He is passionate about catalysing action towards an equitable and sustainable net zero future.

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