At the age of eighteen, while on a camping trip with her dad, Angela Nagy had an epiphany. Gazing up at a sky full of stars, she decided right then and there to commit her life to changing the world. Her idea was to use business, politics and music to help make the world a better place. She just needed to figure out how to do it.
Fast forward to today, and this Kelowna resident has been one busy lady trying to make good on her teenage promise. And gauging by her many accomplishments, it is clear she’s on point.
With a career in municipal politics already under her belt by the age of 33, Angela turned her focus to business. In 2008, she co-founded GreenStep Solutions, a company that helps small and medium-sized enterprises become more environmentally sustainable. Her professional achievements, along with a series of community volunteer gigs too long to list, earned Angela the title of Kelowna’s Most Environmentally Dedicated Individual in 2012.
While in Kelowna, I had the opportunity to chat with Angela about her big life goal and how she’s making it happen.
Angela, I read that you have a big, audacious goal in life to “change the world through business, politics and music.” How did you first dream this up?
AN: I remember it clearly – it was a defining moment in my life. I was 18 years old and camping with my dad. I had recently been hired by the City of Kelowna for a project to preserve the ecologically sensitive banks of Mission Creek. As a result, I was actively researching how humans were negatively impacting the ecosystem and was shocked there weren’t more stringent policies in place to protect the environment. My shock quickly turned to anger and I began searching for ways to make a difference.
Laying in the grass and looking up at the stars from the campground, I saw two paths before me. One involved a more civil disobedience approach, perhaps working with Greenpeace. The other was trying to influence change from the “inside” using some of my skills and talents, and that is when I decided that my purpose in life was “to change the world through businesses, politics and music!” I have been actively working to fulfill this purpose ever since.
It’s impressive you were able to realize your life purpose at such a young age. Since then, how have you put it into practice?
AN: I really had no idea what achieving this goal looked like, but pretty much every decision I’ve made has been geared in this direction. At age 23, I began to take a serious interest in politics during the BC provincial election when I stumbled across the website for the Green Party of BC. I was immediately attracted to their platform and called to find out how I could help. I learned there wasn’t a candidate in the area, and the next day I called back and volunteered to run. After debating seasoned politicians and receiving 11% of the vote in conservative Kelowna, I was hooked!
I went on to run for the Green Party in two more provincial and two federal elections, and sat on both the Federal and Provincial Green Party Councils during that time. I was finally elected when I ran for Kelowna City Council in 2008, on a platform of sustainability. During all of the campaigning I knew that even if I wasn’t elected, I was still influencing hearts and minds with a new way of thinking. Then, as a City Councillor, I had the humbling experience of getting to affect real change and influence some major pieces of policy in Kelowna, such as the Official Community Plan and the Downtown Plan.
On the business front, I used to keep a file cabinet full of “business ideas” knowing that one day I would start something that would have a positive environmental and social benefit. It’s amusing to look back at those ideas now. In 2008, I finally figured out my niche and co-founded GreenStep Solutions Inc. We’ve worked with over 1,100 business to date and are in the process of taking two of our programs, Green Tourism Canada and ecobase Certified, across Canada and into the United States, with the goal of helping thousands of small and medium-sized businesses reduce their environmental impacts, while saving money at the same time.
The combination of music with business and politics is quite unique. Can you tell us how you’re using music to create positive change?
AN: Well, I’m a singer/songwriter, but with all the time spent on business and politics, I haven’t picked up my guitar or written a song for a long time, and all of my old stuff is about broken hearts or falling in love. However, my plan (there’s always a plan…for everything), is that sometime in the next five to seven years, when I sell my company, I’ll be able to focus on more creative pursuits. For me, writing music is something that comes straight from my heart, and I need serious inspiration. I have a two and half-year old daughter, Sage, and am expecting a son any day now. I think my inspiration will be my children, and all of the other children out there, who are going to be left with the big environmental mess created by previous generations. I feel a calling to write children’s music and stories, to help inspire them to be change-makers in their own lives.
Most of your professional work focuses on helping businesses to become more sustainable, all while improving profitability. What made you tackle environmental issues from a business standpoint?
AN: Business is the fastest ticket to change. In my experience, government change is too slow, and according to science, we don’t have very much time to make some massive shifts in how we do things in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. It’s kind of a big deal.
Unlike governments, businesses are much more nimble. Small and medium-sized businesses, specifically, make up 98% of all businesses in North America. They also have a tremendous amount to gain from taking advantage of the business case for sustainability. Reducing their consumption of fuel, energy, water and other material inputs not only reduces their environmental impacts, it reduces their operating costs and increases profitability. One of my favourite authors on the subject of businesses sustainability is Bob Willard, and his research shows that businesses can improve profitability by at least 51% and up to 81% in only 3-5 years, with the strategic implementation of greener practices. That is huge and is why tackling environmental issues from a business standpoint makes a lot of sense. If businesses can start shifting their practices and influencing employees, consumers and governments, we just might change the world.
I’m curious, how do you live out your life goal outside of work?
AN: I try my best to practice what I preach in my personal life. The majority of our food is purchased through local certified organic farmers at the farmer’s market and through our weekly deliveries from Urban Harvest, and 98% of everything we eat at home is certified organic.
I’ve just finished planting a pollinator garden in our backyard, for butterflies, hummingbirds and bees, along with our veggies, and I’m in the process of planting a little food forest. Of course, we compost and don’t use any chemical pesticides or herbicides.
After longing after an electric car for many years, I’ve just became the proud new owner of a Chevy Volt, allowing me to do the majority of my driving on clean hydroelectricity. Although we just moved out of the downtown core where I was less than a kilometre from my office, our new home’s location is within five kilometres from downtown, making cycling to work an easy choice.
Angela, your commitment to making a difference is truly inspiring. What advice do you have for someone who has an amazing idea for creating a positive change in their own community, and wants to make it a reality?
AN: Just go for it! Arm yourself with knowledge and surround yourself with people who will both challenge and support you. Even the smallest positive changes will create a ripple effect that can inspire others to make shifts and changes of their own.
Angela Nagy is the CEO of GreenStep Solutions, a company that provides sustainability solutions for small and medium-sized enterprises. In 2008, Angela was elected to Kelowna City Council and appointed to the Board of the Regional District of the Central Okanagan.