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Green living gone virtual: Meet the local youth behind Green Orillia

'It’s one thing to know the theory behind sustainability, but it’s another to implement the actions into one’s everyday life. Maddy walks the talk,' says advocate

Maddy Fournier has taken her passion for environmental issues community-wide with the Green Orillia organization.

In the summer of 2020, Fournier took over the Green Orillia Instagram and Facebook accounts where she shares tips and advice specific to the Orillia area on sustainable living.

Since then, she’s shared information on all things green, from where to order takeout on Meatless Mondays to the pros of hang-drying laundry.

Fournier’s goal is to remind as much of the community as possible that sustainability doesn’t have to be hard.

“I think a lot of people are daunted by the zero-waste movement because they think it’s a lot of work or can be expensive,” she says. “I just want to make it accessible for as many people as possible and show them that you don’t have to spend a ton of money or put in a ton of work to be sustainable.”

Fournier’s passion for environmental issues took hold in high school and has stuck ever since. Around Grade 11, she heard about the zero-waste movement and bought some single-use swaps like reusable straws.

Watching the documentary Cowspiracy in a class at Orillia Secondary School inspired her to eat a more plant-based diet to reduce her carbon footprint, too.

A recent graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University’s global studies program, Fournier took ‘options’ (similar to minors) in environmental science and community engagement. She joined Laurier’s EcoHawks club for a year, spreading tips on sustainability and participating in garbage pickups.

Local artist Gillian Lowry started Green Orillia a few years ago, but with a busy schedule and young kids, she couldn’t “give it the love and attention” she had hoped.

Knowing of Fournier’s passion for the environment, Lowry offered the Green Orillia accounts to her, and Fournier said yes.

“I was so lucky to have found her, and I’m so pumped with everything she’s done with (Green Orillia) because it was what I had wanted for it but wasn’t able to execute,” says Lowry.

Despite taking over this new endeavour during the pandemic, Fournier has held two garbage pickups through Green Orillia - one last November and one on Earth Day last week.

As a group couldn’t gather for an Earth Day pickup, Fournier encouraged people to collect garbage on their own. She later collected the bags from participants to tag and dispose of. With a total of 62 garbage bags and 52 participants, the Earth Day pickup doubled the attendance of the November cleanup at the waterfront.

Impressed and surprised with the turnout, Fournier says she was happy to see people of all ages pitching in to clean up the city.

“It lets you see how many people are interested in environmental sustainability and how many people want to be involved,” she says.

When she’s not sharing advice through Green Orillia, Fournier can be found working at Refillery District - a sustainable grocery and eco-essentials store. Since she started the job in 2019, Fournier says she has learned a lot about sustainability and organic produce.

“It’s one thing to know the theory behind sustainability, but it’s another to implement the actions into one’s everyday life. Maddy walks the talk,” says Refillery District co-founder Allie Fry.

Fry commends Fournier’s efforts with Green Orillia, noting the organization helps mobilize community members who want to live sustainably but might not know where to start.

Once it’s safe to gather, Fournier hopes to hold more events such as a plant-based potluck or a clothing swap.

Fournier is also interested in the overlap between social justice issues and environmentalism. Hosting a panel of Indigenous speakers to discuss sustainability, for example, is one of her plans that merges green living and justice.

Fournier encourages young people not to be afraid to start something new.

“I always kind of wanted to start some sort of environmental venture, but I was afraid of stepping out of my comfort zone,” she says. “Seeing how many people are getting involved is so worth it, and I wish I wasn’t so afraid to step out of my comfort zone before.”

To check out Fournier’s advice on green living, visit the Green Orillia Instagram and Facebook pages.