Environmental Management grad takes on sustainability role for Canada Summer Games

Athletics and sustainability. For Jenny MacKnight, these her two passions.

When the recent Niagara College graduate scored a job as a sustainability assistant coordinator for the 2021 Canada Summer Games, it was not only the perfect combination of the two, it was a dream come true.

“As soon as I read the application, I knew it was exactly the type of job I wanted to have,” she said.

MacKnight, who graduated from NC’s Environmental Management and Assessment graduate certificate program in June 2018, currently works as part of a small team that is busy planning and preparing for the 2021 Canada Summer Games which will be held in the Niagara region.

MacKnight is the only sustainability coordinator in the group, and works with the rest of the team out of a downtown St. Catharines office to incorporate sustainability into the business plan for the 2021 Games. While her focus is sustainability, she is also taking on other tasks, such as researching and creating a base for sports in the Niagara region, and creating a master list of sports teams, associations, and contacts in the region.

“I love working with my workmates. They bring such unique things to the table,” she said.

While she currently resides in St. Catharines, she has travelled a long way from her hometown. MacKnight grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan. Since the age of three, she has had a passion for sports, both as a fan and as an athlete, particularly when it comes to hockey.

It was a hockey scholarship that drew MacKnight to Ontario after high school. She attended University of Windsor and played hockey for the University of Windsor Lancers. She was named by the Ontario University Women’s Hockey Player of the Year, announced by Ontario University Athletics (2014) when she was also second overall in Canada.  As part of Team Canada 2015 Universiade, MacKnight represented the team in Spain at the FISU Winter Games where they won a silver medal.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Environmental Studies with a focus on resource management and minor in political science in June 2015, MacKnight returned to Saskatchewan where she worked as a conservation officer for the government of Saskatchewan at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park.

A year ago, MacKnight returned to Ontario – this time to the Niagara region – specifically to attend Niagara College’s Environmental Management and Assessment program. She was drawn to the postgraduate program after hearing about it from her friends who graduated the previous year. While she didn’t know exactly which career direction her studies would lead her in, she chose NC due to the program’s reputation for offering real-world experience and producing graduates with skills in-demand by employers.

“It’s basically a one-year boot camp,” she said. “You get experiential learning and get back into the workforce with more knowledge and direction.”

One of the highlights for her, as a student, was an opportunity to work an internship with Hornblower Niagara Cruises. From January to April 2018, she worked as Hornblower’s sustainability specialist intern, where she put together a sustainability report for the company. She valued the experience she gained, working with graphic designers to put together an informative and visual report showcasing its environmental and socially conscious initiatives, as well as making internal recommendations to the company.

In early May, after completing her studies at the College, she was hired by the Canada Summer Games.

One of the highlights of her job for the Summer Games so far has been working with the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) at its tournament in St. Catharines. MacKnight filled in wherever she was needed – from event management to transportation. It was her first taste behind the scenes at an official sporting event, which proved to be an eye-opener for MacKnight. As an athlete, she had never given much thought to the sustainability or logistics side of a sporting event. Now, it’s become her new mission.

“As a hockey player in tournaments, I just thought the bus will show up when it shows up,” she said. “But when you’re working transportation you have two buses and 10 teams, and you really have to manage it with a lot of multitasking.”

The experience she gained with FIBA will prove helpful in planning for the Canada Summer Games, which will take place at the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines as well as more than 16 other locations across the region.

Working to build a sustainability and business plan for the games in 2021, MacKnight will be submitting recommendations on how to make the events and venues more sustainable. She has been visiting different potential venues as well as looking into where capital infrastructure will be built to make recommendations and incorporate concepts that will make it more sustainable. For example, one of the initiatives she is working on is to make recommendations for the Royal Canadian Henley rowing centre, in the hopes of establishing a net positive facility, meaning it will produce more energy than it will consume.

MacKnight believes that her background as an athlete makes her stronger in her current role, since she is able to view the events from an athlete’s perspective. She also believes her athletic background equips her with skills that benefit her in the workforce in general.

“I think being part of a team has helped me work in groups and develop skills such as public speaking,” she said.

As she revs up for 2021, MacKnight is grateful that her NC education has equipped her with the experience she needs to succeed in her current role – one that is proving to be a perfect fit for her combination of skills and interests.

“It’s all because of the experience I gained in my NC program,” she said. “I wouldn’t have gotten this job without it.”


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