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Ontario Envirothon Alumni Profile: David Lawless

Posted: February 15, 2019

The Ontario Envirothon program helps to prepare students for post-secondary education and careers in the environmental sciences, and refines their interpersonal and teamwork skills.  More than that, though, it touches the lives of its participants—fueling a passion for the environment and sparking friendships.

In this series, a number of Envirothon alumni will be profiled to give potential participants a window into the program and its benefits.

Envirothon Alumnus Profile: David Lawless

From 2004-2008, David Lawless participated in the Ontario Envirothon as a high school student at West Hill Secondary School in Owen Sound.

What was it like growing up around Owen Sound?

I feel incredibly fortunate to have grown up around Owen Sound and the surrounding Saugeen Ojibway Nation Territory. It’s such an environmentally and culturally important part of Canada, and it continues to inspire and teach me. I remember many camping trips and hiking adventures along the Niagara Escarpment, and I know that these experiences continue to define my outlook and my passion for the environment.

How did you get involved in Envirothon?

I was first introduced to Envirothon when I was in Grade 9; I was encouraged to participate by our coach, Carl Raynard. Even at that time, Envirothon was a high-profile, extra-curricular activity at our school that garnered recognition and support on the same scale as sports. Almost every student at West Hill Secondary School knew about Envirothon and was proud to support the program, either by participating or supporting those who did.


Do you have a favourite memory from Envirothon?

Although there are many memories that still resonate with me, I will always remember learning with friends through outdoor adventures. I feel as if it’s necessary for students to not only learn about the environment, but also experience the natural world around them. Every year, before the regional competition in the spring, our coach would organize and host a camping trip to prepare our team. These moments really brought our community together and it was a great opportunity to forge lasting friendships.

What do you think students gain from participating in Envirothon?

First off, I believe that students gain a set of skills and experiences that will serve them in their lives and their careers. First-hand learning through nature is such a valuable skill that will pay dividends for years to come. I greatly appreciated learning about the local ecology of Grey and Bruce Counties, which allowed me to see my home in a whole new light. Second, students learn how to work in teams, communicate clearly, and be creative under pressure. It’s an opportunity to gain an awareness of your strengths and develop them, and to gain an understanding of how to support your peers.

What is your role like as Senior Policy Advisor for Natural Resources Canada?

At Natural Resources Canada, I help prepare communities and the country for the low-carbon future. As a member of the department’s Social Innovation Unit, I develop and implement novel policy approaches to achieve greater environmental impact. My role involves using innovative tools and methods to shape environmental policy – such as carbon pricing, clean energy, and sustainable development. It’s a fast-paced working environment, but I really enjoy being a part of decisions that have made a positive impact on our country.

Did you gain any skills and/or knowledge from Envirothon that helped you in your career?

The skills and knowledge I gained through Envirothon are invaluable in my career. Being able to communicate and present to different audiences and intelligently respond to questions ‘on the fly’ is helpful in my work as a public servant. Through Envirothon, I was able to explore topics in great depth and practice synthesizing this information efficiently. I definitely developed a strong attention to detail because of the program, something which I regularly use in policy analysis.

How did you continue your involvement with Envirothon after you graduated high school? Why did you want to stay involved?

I volunteered with Envirothon at regional and provincial competitions for five years, and I also served as an Envirothon mentor for my alma mater, helping students prepare for competitions and post-secondary careers. It was wonderful to be involved in the program after graduation as I continued to learn from and be inspired by students with a passion for environmental causes. I was continually struck by how much care and dedication the organizers, teachers, and volunteers contributed to the Envirothon program and was happy to help in this effort.