Alberta engineer Michelle Avis had a great job in the oil and gas industry. Then – together with her husband Rob, also an engineer, she walked away from oil and gas for a greener career.
Michelle and Rob, both 40, are the cofounders of Verge Permaculture, an internationally recognized, award winning regenerative design consulting and education centre in Calgary that helps people in Canada and around the world create a sustainable future and meaningful life. The Avises teach sustainability-related topics – including permaculture design and rainwater harvesting.
Leaving the oil and gas industry after nearly a decade was a carefully thought out decision, and it wasn’t because they didn’t enjoy the work, Michelle says.
“We were both quite happy in a lot of ways,” she explains. “We had great bosses and colleagues, challenging work and great compensation.”
Instead, their decision to change course was driven by their excitement about working in the up-and-coming regenerative and sustainability sphere, which they are both passionate about, and mapping out a plan for how to get there. They asked themselves, ‘This where we want be in 20 years – what needs to change?’
“When it comes to goal setting, one thing we’ve done really well is we never focused on, “we must have this house; we must have this trip; we must have this car,’” Michelle says.
Now, a dozen years later, Verge Permaculture, and the Avises, are thriving.
“If you make decisions based on your vision and your values, you’ll end up going where you want to go,” Michelle says.
“We feel so incredibly wealthy when we broaden our definition of capital to include living capital (all the biological resources around us), social capital (our connections in the community), cultural capital, material capital – all of these things.”
Backing Michelle and Rob in their dream of a greener, better world, has been Michelle’s mother, Annette St Cyr, who has been a financial planner for the past 27 years.
“I really feel we need to support women and the move toward greener careers,” says St Cyr, who describes her paid work as “a coach and mentor to women in how to age gracefully, gratefully and financially independently.”
St Cyr herself was “blessed with a very amazing woman as my own mother, who was an entrepreneur and very supportive of anything I did.”
One of the ways that St Cyr, a widow, has materially supported Michelle and Rob, is to open her home to them, where they have been living as a multigenerational family for the past dozen years. The Avises have replaced the front lawn with a food forest, and built a large greenhouse in the backyard, as well as a wood-fired pizza oven. They did a low energy retrofit of the house’s exterior, which lowered energy costs and made the home more comfortable to live in.
For her part, St Cyr, 65, says she has also gained a great deal from the arrangement. In addition to an improved house and yard, “it’s been the companionship and the push towards getting more excited about aging well,” she says. “I have benefited tremendously from eating organically. And it’s kind of fun living amongst a food forest with abundant greenery and a greenhouse. I’ve given myself the opportunity to continually be a student of life. To me, it’s exciting to see how many more people are looking at how do we do things differently, so that we can all live better.”