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.