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At just 18, Aryan Gautam from Mississauga has already become a sustainability role model for young people and adults alike. He estimates he has dedicated 14,000 hours of volunteer work to protecting the planet and the environment. His organization, "Save the Planet-Open Doors," has 2,000 volunteers and reaches 15 million people worldwide. Among other awards for his volunteer work, Gautam's name shines among this year's recipients of the Ontario Medal for Young Volunteers.

“Recognition is amazing, and I would say it is definitely a checkpoint that what I am doing is making a difference,” said Gautam. “This recognition gives me more opportunity to tell people about what we can do together and make an impact, and it is important to use these opportunities to get the message out there and tell people how and what they can do to make a difference themselves.”

Gautam is also the youngest director of the Mississauga Climate Action Group to receive the Diana Award (in memory of the late princess), and the Telus Friendly Future Makers Award.

Gautam's journey began when he was only seven and first became aware of climate change from the news. However, it was a visit to Delhi, India, with his parents the following year that truly opened his eyes to the tangible effects of environmental degradation. Witnessing first-hand the stark realities of pollution and its impact on people's lives led him to take action.

“The moment I stepped off the plane, I could see climate change in front of me. There was so much pollution, like there were cans everywhere, litter everywhere, and all of that led to everything being more unhygienic,” said Gautam. “Overall, I could basically see climate change in front of me, and it became something impacting people's lives right now. That's kind of where I started to want to do something about it.”

Returning to Canada, Gautam jumped into action. Alongside friends and family, he organized park and street cleanups. Yet, he hungered for more significant impact, leading him to establish his own non-profit organization, Save The Planet-Open Doors, at the age of nine.

The group engages in various environmental initiatives, including cleanups, raising public awareness about climate change and the environment through social media and meetings, and butternut tree restoration. The organization also tackles issues such as cryptocurrency's environmental footprint and energy efficiency in housing.

Gautam's vision extends far beyond individual accolades. He sees volunteering as both a personal passion and a means of galvanizing collective action to address pressing environmental challenges.

“The conversation about climate change is pervasive among youth,” said Gautam. “It is our future.” Although young people are worried about climate change, it is not just youth — everybody needs to take steps forward because at this point, everybody knows about climate change, and we need people to take action, said Gautam.

Aryan Gautam estimates he has dedicated 14,000 hours of volunteer work to protecting the planet and the environment. His organization, "Save the Planet-Open Doors," has 2,000 volunteers and reaches 15 million people worldwide. #YoungClimateActivist

“We won't be able to change and make a huge difference when it comes to climate change unless everyone takes action and responsibility.”

Gautam's approach to environmental activism is multifaceted. He has embarked on traditional endeavours like park and street cleanups but also ventures into uncharted territory. Gautam is working on a project called the Home Environmental Efficiency Rating (H.E.E.R.) to add an eco-efficiency metric to real estate listings. The initiative aims to motivate people to upgrade their homes for the benefit of the environment and to encourage investment in clean energy by adding an environmental efficiency rating, which can lead to a better selling price and lower bills.

Gautam is also leading another project, butternut tree restoration, which holds significance for Indigenous communities as the trees are utilized for food, medicine and cultural practices. The project aims to diversify and reforest butternut trees, one of Canada's two native walnut trees now protected under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, in communities across the Greater Toronto Area.

Throughout his journey, Gautam acknowledges the unwavering support of his family, teachers and friends, who have been instrumental in shaping his path.

“Aryan's journey into environmentalism started with a genuine curiosity about our interconnectedness with nature,” said Shilpa Gautam, his mother, in an email response. “He's always been one to question how our actions impact the delicate balance of our planet. This innate passion has driven him to become both an entrepreneur and an advocate for the environment.”

Despite facing challenges along the way, Gautam remained resilient in his efforts inspiring the next generation to join him in this crucial fight, said Shilpa. “Aryan's commitment to volunteer work in the realm of climate change and environmental sustainability is truly inspiring.”

He's not just talking the talk, he's walking the walk, she added.

“By actively engaging his community and rallying young minds to his cause, he's building a movement that transcends borders.”

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