As soon as exams are over, when most graduating high schoolers hit the beach, Caitlin Stockwell’s first plan is to dig a compost pit in her backyard.
The 17-year-old Claremont student aims to make her home waste-free before moving away for university in the fall. She’s so passionate about sustainability that she and a friend co-organized an event last year to raise money to have a solar panel installed in the school’s roof. This year, she ran the event alone.
The biking relay and eco-fair, known as “cc350,” nabbed 75 sponsors and raised $8,000. She also won a $20,000 grant from SolarBC, making Claremont one of only 10 B.C. schools to get the grant.
Her leadership hasn’t gone unnoticed. Youth in Motion, a nationwide youth advocacy group, just named her one of Canada’s Top 20 Under 20.
Stockwell said she was not expecting to win the award, which recognizes outstanding youth achievements. Other winners included the inventor of a flu vaccine pill and a well-respected stem cell researcher.
“I was shocked. I turned my phone off after I got the phone call in case they decided to phone back and say ‘we’re just kidding,’” she said.
It’s hard to pin down at what age her love for the environment started, but she said her experience with Royal Oak middle school’s recycling program played a big role. Now, putting something in the garbage is as odd for her as not brushing her teeth before bed.
Fueled by the desire to save greenhouse gas emissions, Stockwell went vegetarian at age eight and became a vegan last November.
Her parents have no issues accommodating her diet. They’re used to her new ideas.
At the family home in Saanich, her mother, Paula Stockwell, runs upstairs to grab a photo that shows a seven-year-old Caitlin presenting her petition protesting the shutdown of the local swimming pool.
“Really she’s a self-starter, what we do is give her the room and the belief that she can do something, and just remind her to eat and sleep,” her mom said.
And while the young grad admits, “it’s hard to get high school students passionate about some things”, especially sustainability, she has found a great support system in her friends.
Four of them are milling about Stockwell’s kitchen in her Cordova Bay home. They’re baking vegan cookies to raise money for a Claremont teacher who has to take her sick son to get care in Vancouver.
She’s also found some down-to-earth ways to get her peers involved. She booked cc350 outside class hours so Claremont students could come, and scheduled the event so the school had a longer lunch break.
“I can’t say anyone was particularly excited about it, but I think when they came out on the day and they realized, there was really great energy, when you have a kindergartener biking on the same track as a city hall councillor and high school students and teachers. There’s a real sense of community,” she said.
At the Top 20 award ceremony in Toronto, Starbucks presented her with a second award, given out to four of the 20 winners who championed environmental issues.
During the event, she sat at a table with the cafe chain’s vice-president, whom she grilled on the details of their new recycling program.
“I said ‘I’m really impressed that you’ve done this, but what are you doing now?’”
Stockwell is careful to stress she wasn’t attacking him.
“I’m not the kind of person who does that,” she laughs.
Along with transforming her parents’ home into a zero-waste household, Stockwell has one more mission before she goes to university in Montreal, where she’ll study political science and international development. She’s in the process of hiring an electrical engineer to survey the roof and picking a solar company to install the solar panel so it’s ready for students in September.
With the continued success of cc350 in mind, she’s putting together a binder and a package of resources for next year’s event organizers.
“Environmentalism is not something you pack in a suitcase,” she said.
– Emma Prestwich/News intern