In November’s 2018 and 2019 I had the pleasure of speaking in Bristol schools about plastic pollution and climate change, joining empowering conversations with children aged 10 and 11 to encourage them to be the leaders of sustainable lifestyles.
My day-job is running a start-up business, selling 100% biodegradable straw straws (Turtle Straws) and encouraging businesses to make the change from plastic or paper straws to a genuinely sustainable alternative. I set up this business 18 months ago after watching David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II and realising I needed to find a way to tangibly help tackle plastic pollution. In my first 18 months I sold 2 million straws, a figure I couldn’t have dreamed of when I first started.
My wider goal, however, is to educate children and future generations about sustainability and climate change. This is the audience who are arguably the most important and influential ambassadors for sustainability of all, because they are the people who the climate problem is going to affect the most. Inspiring young people to have entrepreneurial thoughts at a young age is the main objective of my sessions.
Most of the sessions began with discussing the undeniable signs of climate change; wildfires in the Amazon Rainforest and Australia, the raging hot British summers that didn’t exist when I was a child, Venice being under water, and the potential for these crises to become more prevalent and uncontrollable. I wasn’t trying to terrify anyone and it turned out my young audience were already very aware of these issues and offered up handfuls of examples they had seen in the news and on the television. ‘Climate change’ is a term already implanted in their everyday vocabulary, so giving them a platform to discuss it was just like opening the flood gates and allowed them to share their mutual concerns and understanding.
We spoke about climate influencers like Attenborough and Greta Thunberg; how they have spread such a positive message and changed the attitude and habits of millions of people worldwide with simple calls to action. Then we identified small lifestyle changes of our own that could help to make a difference, such as reusing wrapping paper, not wasting food, turning off unnecessary lights and appliances, trying not to buy plastic items.
Reflecting on these lifestyle changes, I then spoke about what we should strive for individually; how we shouldn’t be aiming to be a zero waste superstar, the same way when we play a musical instrument as a child we aren’t aiming to be Ed Sheeran, or when we pick up an egg-shaped ball or kick a round one, we shouldn’t be thinking about pulling on a white jersey with a red rose or three lions on it. We should be concentrating on improving week on week in every little thing that we do, including good environmental practice. The children were passionate about spreading these positive messages to their friends and family, empowering them with suggestions of lots of little changes they could apply to make a big difference
One child asked me, “How did you know that making straws out of straw was allowed?”.
This question resonated with me because I hear so many people with great minds and great ideas saying, “I’m not sure if I can do that.”
People worry too much that their thoughts and business ideas need to be completely original, but I don’t believe that’s the case. Amazon is just a very accessible, well stocked shop. Uber is a taxi company. Stance sell socks. Peloton is a business based on stationary bikes. These companies have simply improved on something that already existed, not reinventing the wheel but making it spin better. There is so much room for children to be an environmentally friendly Bill Gates or Richard Branson – they just need the encouragement to do so.
Another young guy asked me how I made the straws; he was shocked by the simplicity of the product, his eyes lit up and he told me that he could do that. This little boy realised that he could do something (he could easily be in my shoes) and in my opinion that’s all it takes: do something simple, implement an idea, encourage others to join in.
I have found it amazing to see how much care and compassion children have for the environment and the world they live in. Before I’d even stepped into their classrooms, these kids had a wealth of ideas and knowledge about what they wanted to do to make a difference; they just needed to be given the creative platform and confidence to voice them.
I want to visit more schools and talk to pupils of all ages about the problems we are facing and then run smaller, more intimate workshops where we delve into the potential solutions. Children thrive when offer them the opportunity to think entrepreneurially and we should be giving them confidence to talk about how much we can all achieve when we put our minds to a small idea.
If you want me to come to your school and take an assembly or run a series of workshops then contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info – I’d love to hear from you.