Tyler Nelson wants you to have less of an impact.
The St. James born-and-bred graduate of Red River College’s Environmental Protection Technology program (2012) is fired up about people lowering the amount of waste they produce, as well as the energy and resources they consume. Nelson says even as a child, protecting the environment was on his mind.
“From an early age, I’ve always been recycling, composting, lowering my carbon footprint. It was just the way I grew up.”
When most 18-year-old high school grads plan their college or university studies, they turn to parents, peers and guidance counselors for direction. Nelson, on the other hand, was a bit more ambitious. He checked in with the provincial government.
“I emailed my MLA and he went, ‘Oh, sure I can help you out with some stuff,’ and he set up a lunch meeting with Neil Cunningham (the director of Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship) and Dan McInnis (assistant deputy minister for Climate Change and Environmental Protection),” Nelson says. “I asked about the environmental field, said I was curious about it. From there, they let me know it was the next big thing, it was important, that my passion was overwhelming and they said, ‘Go for it.’”
Nelson enrolled in civil engineering at Red River College, branching into the environmental stream when he hit his second year.
“There was a kind of stigma around the environmental program, because environmentalists are seen as tree huggers and save-the-whales type people, but in the environmental protection stream, you got to see it from the other side, from the side of ‘How do you lessen your impact? How do you set up programs to help people understand and take action?’”
“It was such a positive experience. Everyone was so overwhelmingly nice and passionate about what they were doing; not just the instructors, but the students.”
That positive experience wasn’t confined to a lecture hall. In his third year of studies, Nelson’s applied research course had him tackling a real world problem: how to take Red River College’s Roblin Centre off the water grid.
“I was working with a peer on how to create a water collection system on the top of the Princess campus for the green roof… I was able to create an entire feasibility study on how this could work. I took a look not only at the sustainability aspects, but how the water systems work, the loads of the roof, basically everything an outside consultant would do, but I was still a student.”
“It gave me the entire perspective of what I could do with my life, instead of just reading what I could do in a book.”
College staff members took Nelson’s feasibility study and are looking for ways to overcome the weight problem — tons of water sitting on the roof weren’t in the Roblin Centre’s original specs — to turn his idea into reality.
“I was able to give them my passion and say, ‘This is everything I worked on, this is what I do,’ and they scooped it all up and said, ‘This is awesome!’ You don’t see that in a lot of cases.”
After graduation, a tiny job ad at the bottom of a youth sustainability newsletter connected Nelson with the Canadian Beverage Container Recycling Association (CBCRA), the non-profit group behind the Recycle Everywhere campaign. As a waste auditor, Nelson visits client businesses and organizations, reviewing their current green efforts and drawing them a personalized road map for reducing their waste.
“As someone of my age group and my freshness — my green-ness coming out of college — it’s kind of exciting to have someone say, ‘Yeah, okay, that’s a good idea.’”
Everyday, Nelson finds himself not only leaning on the discipline-based knowledge he picked up in Environmental Protection Technology, but the administrative and document formatting talents he picked up along the way. The union he’s found between practical skills training, real-world projects and the latest theories on good corporate citizenry makes it easy for him to recommend the diploma to anyone who wants to make saving the world their career.
“It’s a great starting point because you get to learn all about the policies, the environmental management systems, waste management systems. You kind of get an overview of the entire environmental sustainability-consulting world – and that’s the best footprint that you can have to start with.”
Profile by Matt TenBruggencate (second year, Creative Communications)