People & Culture

Canadian NGO leader Nicole Rycoft on her Climate Breakthrough Award

The founder of Canopy speaks about winning this prestigious award

  • Mar 03, 2021
  • 572 words
  • 3 minutes
Expand Image

A Canadian climate strategist has a cool $3 million in her pocket to expand the vision of her work. Nicole Rycroft, founder and executive director of Canadian environmental non-profit Canopy is one of two recipients of the Climate Breakthrough Award which gives strategists the time, space, and resources to develop and implement bold new strategies to confront and mitigate the growing climate crisis.

Born and raised in Australia, Rycroft moved to Canada in 1997, and started Canopy just two years later. Over the last 30 years, Canopy has worked to engage fashion, publishing and consumer brands to alter their production and supply chains to save forests across the globe. Some partners include Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap and Telus. 

Canadian Geographic caught up with Rycroft to talk about the award and how it will help Canopy’s mission. 

On how it feels to win the award

I’m thrilled! I started Canopy with an $1,800 budget at the kitchen table. Being recognized with this global award that comes with a $3 million grant to take risks to solve the climate crisis … it’s a pretty wonderful thing.

On what the award will allow Canopy to do

The grant will be spread over the next three years and will allow me to spend more time dedicated to the part of Canopy’s work that’s been focused on next-generation solutions — like alternative fibres for paper, packaging and clothing. Currently we rely almost exclusively on forest ecosystems for that fibre. As a solutions-driven NGO, we harness the power of really big global consumers to stop high-carbon forests from disappearing into pizza boxes and t-shirts and instead encourage these [manufacturers] to use lower-impact materials. 

On how this measures up to her other accomplishments

We have a strong track record of success — we’ve worked to “green” book series, we’ve worked with Canadian Geographic to produce the first North American magazine printed just with straw materials, to prove it could be done without using forest fibres. This recognition of our ability to take bold, crazy ideas and make them happen — this is definitely a highlight. 

On how she got to where she is

When I first arrived in Canada, my work visa was linked to me working here as a physiotherapist. I used to be an elite-level athlete in Australia, so this wasn’t necessarily the on-ramp you’d expect for running a global NGO that works to conserve forest ecosystems. But there’s skills within physio in looking for the root cause instead of treating the symptoms, which has left me in good step — but it’s been an adventure I could not have predicted. 

On completing their mission in the future

I would love for us to work ourselves out of a job, to have a stable climate with healthy natural systems and sustainable supply chains. I’m an optimist — I do this work because I’m hopeful we can do things in a smarter way. 

On how people at home can play a role in mitigating climate change

We often forget the importance of reducing our personal footprints — if you buy something, do you think about if you can buy it second hand? At the grocery store, take a bag. Take a mug to the coffee shop. With the companies that you buy food products or clothing from, ask them what they’re doing to help preserve our climate and biodiversity.


Related Content

People & Culture

Our Country: Jean-Michel Blais on his hometown of Nicolet, Quebec

The ground-breaking pianist and composer on growing up in Nicolet and seeing the potential for what the town could become

  • 912 words
  • 4 minutes

People & Culture

Royal Canadian Geographical Society Awards 2020

Award recipients honoured in the first virtual Annual General Meeting and Fellows Show.

  • 2630 words
  • 11 minutes
University of Toronto old medical building


Diabetes breakthrough: the discovery of insulin

A century ago, the medical school building at the University of Toronto was the site of a momentous scientific breakthrough

  • 790 words
  • 4 minutes
rcgs awards ceremony

People & Culture

Presenting the 2019 RCGS award winners

In celebration of its 90th year, the RCGS handed out awards to a diverse and star-studded roster of honourees

  • 2464 words
  • 10 minutes

You may also like

A crowd of tourist swarm on a lakeside beach in Banff National Park


Smother Nature: The struggle to protect Banff National Park

In Banff National Park, Alberta, as in protected areas across the country, managers find it difficult to balance the desire of people to experience wilderness with an imperative to conserve it

  • 3507 words
  • 15 minutes


A tour of the best skiing in the Rockies

Leslie Anthony shares the best of the big hills

  • 1847 words
  • 8 minutes