Ingrid Thompson combines the practical love of science with passion for the environment. As the newly anointed Chief Executive Officer at Pollution Probe, one of the oldest environmental charities in Canada, she brings over 20 years of real-world experience into the boardroom.
“One of my quirks is I have a certain amount of appreciation for the geekiness of science and the complexity of information,” Thompson says. “Energy is very important for building the type of societies we want, but if you sacrifice the environmental part, we aren’t getting very far ahead.”
Thompson began her career as press secretary to the Minister of the Environment, Norm Sterling, in 1996. She briefly left to take on a role as a Senior Consultant for National Public Relations and returned in 2000 as Chief of Staff for the new Minister of the Environment, Dan Newman. During her tenure with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, she had to deal with the Walkerton E-Coli outbreak, one of the biggest environmental crises in Ontario’s history.
“It was one of the bigger crisis experiences. On the May long weekend, a bunch of people showed up at doctor’s offices complaining of intestinal issues,” Thompson says. “They were noticing that there was a cluster of sick people and that it could be an E.coli infection. Eventually it became clear that the water was the source of the infection. Six people died and thousands got seriously sick.”
Thompson was very involved with the Walkerton Crisis, calling water supply companies to bring clean water to residents and attending town hall meetings in Walkerton, among other things. She also helped the environmental minister reconfigure the water administration. Thompson said the experience was a test for the minister and his staff, who were elected into cabinet barely two months before the Walkerton catastrophe struck.
After 2001, Thompson became the Director of Communications and Marketing for a government relations group invested in energy, the environment and infrastructure law practice, and was a subsidiary of the law firm, CMS Cameron McKenna. From there, Thompson played a leading role in a cellphone company called Vodafone in Prague, and moved back to Canada briefly to do environmental consulting.
“I met a Dutch marine on the beach and that screwed up everything. I met my fiancé and decided to hit a reset button on my career.” Thompson took a job across the ocean as an Independent Consultant at Thompson Marcom in the Netherlands for the next six years. In October 2016, she returned to Canada and accepted the role as the Chief Executive Officer for Pollution Probe.
Thompson emphasizes that Pollution Probe takes a unique approach to environmentalism and works with oil companies and not against them. “We are a pragmatic, science-based company. We don’t take the view of putting all oil and gas companies in an automatic black hat and we choose not to do that,” Thompson says. “If you work directly for an environmental solution, we would rather work with companies than fight them. We work with a lot of companies, including Shell. They are pushing for the decarbonisation of the economy.”
After 20 years in the environmental and energy sectors and amassing an extensive amount of job experience, what does Thompson believe is the single most pressing environmental problem affecting the world today?
She didn’t skip a beat before responding, “Climate change.” Thompson explains it is imperative greenhouse gases be managed by finding credible and reasonable solutions through networking.
Supporting women in the environmental and energy sectors is also an issue close to Thompson’s heart. “Twenty years ago when I was a young consultant at a PR firm, I used to bring an older vice president along with meetings with me because my clients were unfortunately middle-aged white guys,” she says. “In order for me to be comfortable, I felt I needed to bring a ‘beard’ to my meetings. It is important to make a point of supporting strong smart women and connecting with them.”
Recently, the Pollution Probe Annual Gala ‘Generation Now’, focused on youth engagement and innovation in the environmental sector. The event also included awards that were given to two young women named , Eden Full Goh for creating a solar panel from a gravity powered clock, and Nivatha Balendra, for discovering a bacteria that can digest oil spills. “I was so thrilled to be able to support our awards program because it happened to result in two young women being the ones selected for incredibly impressive accomplishments,” Thompson says. “They were both incredibly intelligent and as women tend to do, they also had a sense of humility.”
In her spare time, Thompson enjoys knitting and scuba diving — things she finds to be meditative and peaceful. Pollution Probe has a bright future with the energy and environmental veteran who is leading the way towards the hopeful decarbonisation of the Canadian economy.