Our Story

The paradigm shift

Our story begins in 1989, when David Suzuki’s award-winning CBC radio series It’s a Matter of Survival sounded a worldwide alarm. Scientists had proven that human beings were having a larger — and more detrimental — impact on the Earth than any other species in history. It became clear that we needed to change the way we were living, consuming and thinking about our natural world.

More than 17,000 shocked listeners wrote letters to David Suzuki asking for ways to avert the impending environmental catastrophe. A movement was born.

The roots of our Foundation stem from this single, transformational paradigm shift: that respect for nature and interdependence with it must be our species’ top priority.

Solutions are in our nature

Following the radio series and the public reaction to it, David Suzuki and Tara Cullis hosted a gathering of a dozen thought leaders and activists on Pender Island, B.C., in November 1989. The group identified the need for a new solutions-based organization to tackle the environmental crisis. On September 14, 1990, the David Suzuki Foundation was incorporated.

Early projects focused on fisheries, forestry, species at risk, pesticides and the economics of sustainability. Highlights included international projects, as well as several projects working with Indigenous communities on Canada’s west coast:

  • Working with the Ainu of Japan to protect salmon
  • Partnering with Indigenous peoples of Colombia on sustainability issues
  • Working with the Kayapo people in Brazil’s Amazon to protect their lands from development (part of a project that preserved the largest tropical forest protected by a single Indigenous group at 28.4 million acres / 11.5 million hectares)
  • Researching a controversial dam project in Australia
  • Working with the Hesquiat people of Vancouver Island to restore a clam fishery
  • Building straw-bale houses and other vital infrastructure with the people of the Tsilhqot’in Nation in B.C.’s Nemiah Valley
  • Supporting the court case that eventually led to the historic Tsilhqot’in title decision of 2014
  • Partnering with the Musqueam First Nation to launch the Musqueam Watershed Restoration Project, bringing a salmon stream in Vancouver back to health
  • Contributing to the launch of the ambitious Pacific Salmon Forests Project, working with communities on the central and northern coasts of B.C. and Haida Gwaii

With each of these projects, the Foundation partnered with local peoples to develop alternative, sustainable models of economic and community development. We realized that the history and teachings of First Nations offer Canadians a unique opportunity to learn how to be stewards of the lands and waters. We still have much to learn.

Over time, our work continued to expand — including increased focus on the urgent need to address human-caused climate change. By 1996, the Foundation had published five reports leading up to the Kyoto Conference in 1997. By 2002, we had successfully lobbied for Canada to sign the Kyoto Accord.

As Canadians, we are especially fortunate for the gifts and influence we enjoy, but we often underestimate the power we have to make positive change in this world. My parents Tara Cullis and David Suzuki have shown me all my life that there is so much one (or two!) people can do. — Severn Cullis-Suzuki

Spreading the word

Social change starts with awareness.

To complement our activism and on-the-ground public engagement work, the Foundation has worked with the David Suzuki Institute and Greystone Books to publish more than 60 books, many of which have won national and international awards.

In lead-up to the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, we published a foundational text: The Declaration of Interdependence. “A heartfelt prayer for the preservation of the planet and a call to all people to become stewards of the earth,” The Declaration of Interdependence formed the Foundation’s guiding principles in its early years. Portions of the declaration were woven into the Earth Charter, which continues to gain adherents today.

Through all facets of traditional and emerging social media, we raise awareness of the most pressing environmental issues, and provide people with the tools they need to act. We enjoy daily communication with an online community of 300,000+ and growing.

Growing the next generation of environmental stewards

Since 1990 — thanks to the support of our donors, partners, volunteers and staff — the David Suzuki Foundation has proven that science and traditional knowledge together light the way forward, and that we are capable of making real progress toward solving environmental challenges if we come together.

Today, our work aligns with three priority areas:

01

Environmental rights

empowering people to make change in their communities, by enshrining the constitutional right of all Canadians to live in a healthy environment.

02

Defending biodiversity

protecting and restoring species and habitats in the face of the unprecedented biodiversity loss our planet faces.

 

03

Climate solutions

accelerating our transition into the new era of renewable energy and shared prosperity.

David and Tara have been instrumental in establishing our Foundation’s roots since the 1990s. Today, their daughters Severn and Sarika have assumed leadership positions on our board of directors.

Under their guidance, the Foundation’s core will remain:

We empower people in their place. Collective action by diverse groups of people moves us forward. Together, we are saving the people and places we love.

We are One Nature.

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