National Corporate Environmental Manager, EllisDon
Bachelor in Environmental Studies, 2007
“Innovation and entrepreneurship is a theme within the Faculty, and [FES] really creates alumni who go out and transform and engage the environmental industry and norms.”
Before Sophia Sestito (BES, 2007), construction services company EllisDon did not have a go-to person to consult with for environmental management – fast-forward five years since Sophia joined the organization and an environmental department may very well be the next step. With multiple projects on-the-go – some days as many as 45 – Sestito’s days are never the same. From conducting risk assessments, daily inspections, creating emergency response plans, facilitating the development of a site-specific Environmental Management System to presenting project plans to construction teams, Sestito is a crucial part of her company’s mission. Her role is a great testament to how industries are changing to improve on their environmental responsibility.
“There’s a circular economy now with a different perspective on waste management to hold suppliers accountable for how their materials are recycled. For example, over the past five years, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change has been moving towards a circular economy – developing and reviewing an ‘Excess Soils Management Framework’. This proposed law aims to divert acceptable excess soils (not for use onsite) to be used as resources as opposed to being treated as waste and dumped into landfills. The construction industry is anxiously awaiting this Excess Soils Regulation in Ontario.”
Her journey to the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) was not always as clear-cut as her passion for environmentalism is now. When she first started at York University, she had accepted a scholarship for psychology with dreams of becoming a psychiatrist. However, an elective politics class in first year that looked at the exploitation of oil in Africa changed her outlook. For the first time in her life, Sestito was drawn towards environmental studies. Sestito transferred to FES in her second year, and “never looked back”.
Sestito is cognizant of the role that FES played in her career, “knowing that there would be a team of people that I could rely on if I needed some guidance” said Sestito. During and after her undergraduate degree, Sestito utilized support services offered by the Faculty. Among the services were those offered by Joseph Cesario, Student Resource Coordinator, who guided Sestito while she evaluated her ambitions and interests post-graduation. “I knew no matter what I could always come back and explore a different avenue or get the guidance that I needed along the way,” said Sestito.
Now, Sestito is the one giving back. She recently established an internship at EllisDon to FES students so that they can figure out “firsthand what it means to actually do environmental inspections not just read about [them]”. When asked why she thought it was so important to give back, Sestito explained “I remember when I was in school, the students that I was in class with and the friendships I made. They were passionate, free-thinking, and non-judgmental, many of which used principles of interconnectivity taught in FES to look at environmentalism from various and new perspectives. These are all qualities we would want in a company that’s looking to grow and continue to be successful and taking environmental stewardship to the next level.”
Sestito’s journey is a reflection of what FES aspires to instill in their students. In Sestito’s words, “FES fosters people who are innovative. Innovation and entrepreneurship is a theme within the Faculty, and [FES] really creates alumni who go out and transform and engage the environmental industry and norms”.
Sestito’s passion and drive for her work is evident in conversation with her and her advice to incoming and current students stems from her own ambition: “Get involved as much as possible in a variety of different areas because you never know what connections you may make, or where the need for environmental initiatives can be born. Network, and engage with things you are passionate about. If you can, get yourself in front of as many people as possible and be a part of different communities”. For parents and/or guardians and prospective students looking into environmental studies but unsure of career stability within the field, here is what Sestito had to say, “Don’t limit yourself in traditional ideas of environmental careers, there is so much more out there; do a little research and figure out what you’re interested in – whatever you want to make of your career, believe that you can achieve them, it just might take shifting paradigms in this ever-evolving field”.
Cesario affirmed Sestito’s drive saying. “my experience interacting with Sophia, it is quite evident to me that she demonstrates great initiative, enthusiasm and willingness to support students in our community. She is always willing to help out and give back to the Faculty. Whether it is participating in alumni events or creating student placement opportunities at EllisDon, Sophia is an active member of our community.”
Her perseverance in pursuit of an environmental career after graduation took her to “every place [she] could imagine, every ministry, and every construction company” to get “a foot in the door”. From moving up in every company she has worked for since, to where she is now as EllisDon’s National Corporate Environmental Manager, Sestito continues to push both personal and industry boundaries with environmentalism at the forefront.
Written by Abigael Pamintuan