Eco-polymaths, illustration by nik harron Illustrations by nik harron.

We spend most of our lives at work—where levels of disengagement are at an all-time high, according to the Conference Board of Canada. This is bad for our economy, since disengaged workers are less productive. It’s also bad for workers and their families, who live the daily physical and mental stress of the disconnect between their work and their hopes of personal fulfillment.

Low work engagement is not an irreversible element of the modern human condition. The sixth and final installment of our Eco-Polymaths series explores the importance of spending our working lives in alignment with personal values.

“When we focus on the contribution we are making to the world, we are energized,” explains Milisa Burns, a Toronto-based life coach. “Connecting with your purpose in life is energizing because you are connecting to something larger than yourself, and to your values. Your purpose is like a golden thread that weaves together all your values, strengths and passions.”

While engaging in purposeful work is a large part of purposeful living, we are often forced to make trade-offs and difficult decisions. Financial pressures keep many of us in jobs that are ultimately unsatisfying. For others, a life crisis “forces them to do something about the disconnect” between work and values, continues Burns.

For Sustainability Television founder and CEO Jason Robinson, the catalyst was a family crisis. “My mom got cancer,” says Robinson, who lives in Richmond, British Columbia. “I took care of her needs every day as she battled to survive, through various cancer treatments. The experience made me think about what I will have achieved by the end of my own life.”

Robinson took a leap of faith, initially fuelled by his own savings, and launched Sustainability TV in 2007 to align his values with his work. The online media channel showcases inspiring videos and stories about environmental, social and financial innovation around the world. Its tagline is “good stories, about good people, doing really good things.”

“We go out into communities to film things that help us realize what a sustainable world should look like,” explains Robinson.

His passion for sustainability started early and intensified in adulthood as he realized the environmental damage created by modern life. “I grew up with a connection to the mountains, rivers, the ocean. I was forever changed the moment I stood at the mouth of a river of filth flowing out into pristine blue waters.”

While Robinson started his career in finance, he took a number of detours along the way, each “prompted by something that forced a change in my perspective,” he recalls. “I became injured and couldn’t work; the financial market melted down; my mother got cancer. Each time, I had to reevaluate what my skills were, what direction I wanted to go in, where could I make a living.”

Robinson has worked on gas-drilling rigs in remote areas of northern Alberta and British Columbia as a first-aid attendant, and volunteered with the Naval Reserve. He has also acted and modeled on a part-time basis for print, film and TV. Finding the courage to embrace new career paths when forced to by circumstance helped Robinson build the confidence he drew on in launching his own business.

In typical eco-polymath fashion, Robinson has created a role that draws on experiences he has gathered from many disparate places. “I use all of my skills here at Sustainability TV,” he shares. “My business skills, my interest in people’s stories, and my experience in film.”

Sustainability TV is non-partisan, positive and inclusive by design. Whether videos and stories are produced by the channel’s in-house film crew, users or corporate sponsors, all three content streams must be solution-focused. “Too much negativity kills your soul. I want to light people up and co-create a positive future, starting today,” states Robinson.

Sustainability TV fills a gap in television programming by spreading awareness about local environmental health issues, disseminating innovative approaches to community resilience, and telling other grassroots stories. In a world where independent media is struggling, Robinson’s business model is inspired by social media.

When confronted by fears familiar to entrepreneurs—fear of failure, fear of financial ruin, fear of the unknown—Robinson moves forward by applying “an unrelenting focus on the incredibly important work of community sustainability,” he says. “I don’t measure my success by how much money I make. I measure it by my utility to society. That’s my modus operandi. That’s the social enterprise ethic of Sustainability TV.”

The courage that comes from meaningful engagement is a defining trait of people working in environmental fields. “Focusing on our human need to contribute to the world in a meaningful way helps us manage our fears,” observes Burns, the life coach.

Engaged workers have a palpable drive, commitment and agility. Even just one can create ripple effects through his or her productivity and resilience, inspiring change in the community and beyond.

Natasha Milijasevic is a Toronto-based management consultant whose practice focuses on projects, processes, data, and how organizations can measure these to improve their social impact.  Her past research and publications span group psychology to business strategy.  

Wife, mother of two and occasionally exhibiting artist, Milijasevic also loves school: she has a BSc, MBA, PhD, and is going back for another one in health care analytics. Her degrees and consulting experience have taught her how to think about complex organizational and technology problems, but the perennials and butterflies in her garden help her to stop thinking about them.  

If you liked this article, please subscribe or donate today to support our work.

A\J moderates comments to maintain a respectful and thoughtful discussion.
Comments may be considered for publication in the magazine.