These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.
Cogie Cogan helps business students find their place in the climate movement.
In 2020, Cogan founded Western University's first student club to foster the next generation of environmentally aware business leaders. For this and other efforts — including being a delegate to the United Nations Environment Assembly — Cogan won the 2022 London Environmental Network Youth Leader Award and was named one of Starfish Canada’s Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25.
Tell us about your project.
In October 2020 during the first term of my first year at university, like all new students. I wanted to find people who shared my interests. Although it was common for my fellow students to express interest in the role of business in contending with the climate crisis, there was no club for us to join to bring us together.
So I started the Western Environmental Business (WEB) club. When I put out a call for people to join the executive, 30 people applied for 12 positions and over 120 students said they were interested in becoming members. The university student council responded to this latent demand and approved our application even though there were at least 90 other unsuccessful club applications.
I served as president of WEB for the first two years and during that time, we hosted panels of executives from companies such as Ernst & Young, PwC and others speaking about environmental sustainability and governance in the corporate sector. We also hosted a competition where student teams pitched their ideas for sustainable businesses to a panel of judges. We awarded approximately $1,000 in prizes to participants.
While I have moved on, I am proud that WEB is still a fully functioning club with more than 150 members. They form a network of support for each other and many are considering careers in environmental consulting and green jobs which they might not have believed existed without WEB’s programs.
In 2020, Cogie Cogan founded Western University's first student club to foster the next generation of environmentally aware business leaders. #YouthClimateLeaders
How did you get into this work?
In 2019, I attended the international climate strike, which inspired me to get involved in climate action as the most pressing issue the world is facing. At first, I didn’t think I could do much to help since I was making a career in business and thought that those working towards solving climate change had backgrounds in fields like science and engineering. The climate strike helped me to see we can all do something.
What makes it hard?
It was challenging organizing WEB online, and in my first year when I did not know anyone and was from Manitoba. But the hardest part is that like me, too many think others will solve climate change. I have learned to think and talk about the crisis in terms of others’ interests, whether they be in agriculture, water, air pollution, animal rights or whatever. Climate change impacts everything.
What keeps you awake at night?
It can be paralyzing thinking about all the things I am not doing. However, I need to focus on what I am doing no matter how big or small.
What gives you hope?
I celebrate the small wins! It is so easy to focus on the negative. However, there is change happening. Of course, we need to do more, but even the fact that a club like WEB exists and is so popular is a testament that change is happening. Seeing corporations change gives me the most hope as this will be what I think will save the planet.
What possibilities do you see if we get this right?
Climate change affects all life, but not in the same ways. I see a better world for all forms of life, which means a fairer world for humans and the non-human world.
Is there something about the way you were raised that influences where you are now?
My parents taught me to be courageous and to stand up for the vulnerable. Climate change has everything to do with this. They also support my decision to pursue a career in climate action and have always told me to follow my passion.
I owe a lot to the teachers who have supported me to think critically.
Have you got any advice for other young people?
Create the change you want. Be the person who takes charge. If you see a gap, remember my story and fill it.
What about older readers?
We need you to be part of the solution. You might not see it, but climate change is affecting you right now. You don’t have to change your job or your entire life. Just take a step every day — whether that be talking to your elected officials, your local business leaders, your workplace colleagues or in your personal decision-making. Celebrate that you did that and then take the next step.