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Fifteen-year-old Cochranite wins prestigious Emerald Award

"If we want to have a sustainable environmental future, we have to make change now, because no one else is going to make change for us."
Fifteen-year-old Jade Janzen started the non-profit Lives With Less Plastic four years ago while in Grade 7. Photo submitted.

COCHRANE— Fifteen-year-old Jade Janzen’s non-profit, Lives With Less Plastic, won the prestigious Emerald Award on June 1 for its contribution to environmental stewardship.

Every year the Emerald Awards recognize Alberta’s environmental leaders and the ways that they address local, regional, national and global environmental and climate issues.

Jade said she was thrilled to learn she had won in the youth category for the 2021 awards.

“I was so happy. There were some tears,” she said. “When we actually won, I was like ‘oh my God, this is actually happening.’ It was a dream come true.”

This year the awards were held digitally, and although Jade said she wished she could have attended in person, holding the event digitally had positive environmental implications.

“They were able to offset a lot of carbon costs with travel and not having to get food and stuff. There was definitely an upside to that,” she said.

Jade started Lives With Less Plastic four years ago when she was in Grade 7.

“It started off with a school presentation in Grade 7, and then we went to Cochrane Town Council in Grade 8 to ask them if they would ban single-use plastics,” she said. “Since then, we have grown, so now what we do is educate about sustainability and sustainable practices.”

Although the idea started in the classroom, Jade has now given presentations to businesses, students, teachers and municipalities.

The switch to a digital world, she said, has also allowed her to extend her reach and spread her message of sustainability to places far and wide.

“It was difficult for sure,” she said of the switch to digital. “We were able to reach out, even more, this year. We were able to reach schools all over Alberta and Canada, just by going remote. It was a switch, but it made us go further as an organization. We were able to reach so many kids of so many different ages.”

Jade said the majority of the presentations she has given lately have been to high school and university students. In the future she wants to focus more on younger audiences.

“There are so many kids in our community that have the passion and want to make change and just need the means and a little bit of help to do that,” she said.

Jade said that she grew up in a very environmentally aware family, and the issues surrounding the climate and sustainability have always been in her mind.

She said as she grew up, advocating for sustainable practices became “a way of life” for her.

Lives With Less Plastic is a natural extension of her lifestyle and a way for her to share her passion with others.

“It’s our future, and we’re going to be the ones who are making those decisions. If we can start at a young age making those decisions, making change, it’s super important for our future. If we want to have a sustainable environmental future, we have to make change now, because no one else is going to make change for us,” she said.

Over the past four years, she said, she has seen a lot of people become more aware of these issues, and becoming much more receptive to the messages Lives With Less Plastic has to share.

“People are definitely starting to realize that there are youth who are willing and educated and we’re pushing for change, and we’re not going to stop pushing for change,” she said. “We’re not going away any time soon, so we have to learn and accept it and make change for the future.”