WUSA Sustainability Commissioner talks Top 25 Recognition, Sustainability Store


After being named one of The Starfish Canada’s Top 25 Environmentalists under 25, WUSA Sustainability Commissioner Jenna Phillips is looking forward to seeing where the milestone takes her.

“I think I’m going to take the ‘network and see where it goes’ route,” Phillips said jokingly in an interview with Imprint. Phillips’ past work includes her Clear the Air blog and podcast, speaking at conferences such as Laval University’s UniC 2021 Summit and, of course, her environmental work at the University of Waterloo, including positions such as WUSA’s Sustainability Commissioner. Of these initiatives, Phillips highlighted her blog Clear the Air as the one she was most proud of, due not just to its longevity — having started it in 2017 — but to the many opportunities it has afforded her.

“I’ve been able to speak at conferences, attend conferences as a guest, cover stories of other leaders and projects that have been going on… it’s given me lots of valuable experience,” she said. 

On the Clear the Air website, Phillips states that she “hope[s] to provide clarity around the complex issue that is climate change…  Climate change may be a global challenge, but through the collective actions of individuals like you and I, we can create a sustainable future.” The website includes links to Phillips’ blog, which covers topics ranging from food to environmentalism, and her podcast, the most recent episode of which addresses the question of making schools more sustainable. 

The Starfish Canada’s list seeks to give recognition to young Canadians whose work has played a part in the environmental movement with “creativity and passion.” Winners receive access to various opportunities, including paid speaking engagements, various job and networking opportunities and funding for their projects. 

After following The Starfish for years, Phillips was surprised by the recognition. “I’ve really admired the work [past winners] have done. It was a surprise and an honour and there’s so many amazing people I’m working alongside this year.” 

When asked if she had anything to say to other burgeoning environmentalists at UW, Phillips emphasized the importance of staying motivated. “Don’t discount your own efforts because what you’re doing is making an impact, and chances are someone is seeing it and it is impacting someone’s life whether you know it or not. If it makes you happy, keep doing it because you never know what opportunities can come.”

Phillips’ work as WUSA’s Sustainability Commissioner includes the planned opening of the Sustainability Store, a campus thrift store aimed at promoting sustainability in students’ lives, which Imprint covered in October of 2021. The Sustainability Store is just the latest of WUSA’s initiatives meant to achieve this goal, though it has not been without its setbacks.

The store was initially planned for a soft launch during the winter 2022 term, due to UW initially setting the semester as its return to pre-pandemic learning. When asked about the impacts of UW’s delayed return due to the rise of the Omicron variant, Phillips stated, “[The store] hasn’t officially opened yetm because of the shutdown that pushed things back, but we are hiring the managers and hopefully, they’ll start working in the next few weeks… The store should be open probably just before or after reading week.”

Despite the delay, Phillips remains positive. Regarding the many timeline changes WUSA has had to deal with, she stated, “I think [WUSA] has shown a lot of adaptability and perseverance. The fact that we already had so much clothing before [the shutdowns] all got started meant we were able to organize even when restrictions were going on. I think we’re just all eagerly waiting for when we can open.”

Although the store is no longer accepting donations, Phillips advises students to explore existing initiatives such as the Green Residence program’s warm clothing drive, as well as existing clothing donation bins in residences.

The Sustainability Store is also not the only initiative currently under WUSA’s belt. “One of the really exciting things I’ve been doing this term is starting a student sustainability committee, where students each promote sustainability through their faculty. We’re planning some really exciting events such as a talent hall and a career fair… which will be online because of the timelines and because we don’t want to restrict it to people in the local area,” Phillips said.

Additionally, the Sustainability Office has also continued several initiatives of their own. “They have their own Green Office program and ambassadors who are in different offices on-campus. The sustainability office provides ambassadors with training and resources to [carry out initiatives], and (regarding future events) there might be some events for earth month like a campus-wide clean-up or information engagement campaigns online,” Phillips explained.

Imprint will continue to update students on progress regarding the Sustainability Store.