News  In the hot seat: Peter Robinson

The Daily chats up CEO of David Suzuki Foundation

Peter Robinson swapped his spot as CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op for the role of CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation last year. The Daily caught up with him yesterday on his last stop of the coast-to-coast Students for Sustainability tour.

McGill Daily: Why did you agree to be part of the Students for Sustainability tour?

Peter Robinson: The David Suzuki Foundation has been involved in this tour for awhile…and David, myself, and others in the foundation fundamentally believe that it is really going to be people who are just starting their careers who should take a lead role in addressing the problems we have inherited.

MD: How are you hoping to influence people to begin grassroots change with a big budget tour?

PR: This [tour] is face-to-face. I’m a constant student of how [to] affect change. I look for the fastest way, and it’s apparent to me that getting in front of groups…is a better way to get people engaged. I’m not sure if I would call it a glitzy tour…. The idea is, and I applaud them, how do you engage students, and how do think about these matters a little differently than what they’re used to?

MD: What sort of reaction are you hoping to garner from students today?

PR: Well you’re not going to get students leaving this room, and say[ing] fundamentally, “gosh, I’m going to do things completely different as soon as I leave here.” What you need to do is plant the notion that people can effect change…. You need to give them choices as to how they can create their own future.

MD: This is your third and final talk during the tour. How has your participation been beneficial?

PR: It’s interesting doing the talk in the middle of the Canadian election…because there’s an awareness that these are big issues, and in the past couple weeks it’s partly compounded with the idea of economic meltdown, too, so you’ve got people asking tough questions and looking for tough answers.

MD: How has your background influenced your perception for the need of environmental change in Canada?

PR: Well, I’ve worked in the public sector, I’ve worked in government, I’ve worked in the business sector, I’ve worked in the non-profit sector, and I’ve worked in the academic sector…. No matter where you work you’re faced with the same issues: change is really tough to do…. Students like to notice that there’s an old environmentalism and a new environmentalism, to oversimplify, but old environmentalism was about how to preserve ecosystems. The problem here is it left out one species: people. New environmentalism that I see everywhere I go [involves] the realization that you can’t actually talk about the environment and sustianability if you don’t address what I like to call “human issues” at the same time…. If you can’t do that then you’re never going to get an understanding of what true sustainability is.

MD: How do you think the political parties in Canada are moving to address this awareness for social justice and environmental change through their platforms?

PR: I can’t actually talk about individual party platforms, but I will say that I’m a firm believer that the discussion needs to move to those issues. I encourage people to look at platforms from parties as they address these issues and make decisions based on that.

– compiled by Alison Withers