Dr. Karen Farbridge: A Political Gamechanger
Dr. Karen Farbridge is inspired by nature and the natural world. In 1979, she began her zoology stuides at the University of Guelph, completing a Ph.D. in fish endocrinology. During graduate school, Farbridge visited a fish hatchery. She noted the degree of pollution and waste it created and the impact this had on people and the planet. This experience was a pivotal moment for Farbridge. While she enjoyed doing research on animals and the natural world, she wanted to use her critical thinking skills and scientific background for social justice and the environment.
When she launched on her political career, Farbridge had three main goals: 1) sustainability, 2) community engagement, and 3) the need for more women in politics. Farbridge saw a wealth of knowledge and passion for environmental issues in Guelph and moved to create a collaborative relationship between the local government and the community to facilitate positive social and environmental change.
Farbridge was elected to Guelph City Council in 1994. Six years later, she became the first female mayor of Guelph, serving for two terms (2000-2003, 2006-2014). She is the second longest sitting mayor in Guelph's history. As mayor, Farbridge made great strides in advancing local environmental sustainability. She led the city in diverting waste from landfills, developing one of Canada’s earliest community energy plans to address climate change, and engaging more citizens in conversations about sustainability. Most importantly, Farbridge’s influence as a female politician has had a lasting impact. Many women have written to her expressing how her leadership inspired them to use their voices to speak to social justice issues, to run for leadership positions, and to break the molds that confine women in society.
Although she was mayor, Farbridge still faced sexism and discrimination. She addressed these prejudices head-on. When she was challenged by male colleagues, she used her voice to stand tall as a leader. Farbridge’s main priority was serving the community and using her elected power for the betterment of Guelph. After her final term as mayor, she created Karen Farbridge & Associates. Her consulting company extends her vision of integrating sustainability, community engagement and female leadership in different contexts, specifically around climate change and environmental issues.
Farbridge has inspired many to show up, speak out, and be engaged in environmental and political issues. She has fostered positive change in politics, green initiatives, community engagement and female leadership. Farbridge encourages young women to step into leadership roles and to use their power to advance the status of women and others who are excluded from civil life. She wants all women to know that their identity as women is essential and valued and, above all, that women have an important role to play in the health of our planet.
Dr. Karen Farbridge photographed for London Environmental Network. Trina Foster Photography. She is wearing a brown jacket and a paisley scarf and is smiling.
Portrait of Dr. Karen Farbridge for Karen Farbridge & Associates. Trina Koster Photography. She is wearing a jacket and a necklace.