Entrepreneurs: Kids Earn Money Helping Parents Go Green by Kelly Price

“Essentially, it allows you to be green by saving green—and by that I mean money,” says AJ Glassman, 15, of GreenMyParents, an environmental movement making its way through social networking sites and dinner table discussions across the country. Launched on Earth Day 2010, founded by Tom Feegel, and championed by teenage environmental savant Jordan Howard, GreenMyParents (GMP) adds a layer of economic incentive to simple eco-friendly tasks kids can do around the house, allowing families to save money and the environment in one fell swoop. There are only four basic steps. In step one, a child identifies an area in her home she feels can be greened. A starter kit on the GMP site identifies “energy vampires.” If left plugged in, energy vampires like fax machines or DVD players can waste up to 10 percent of an average family’s monthly electricity bill. Per family, that’s $100 a year. Extrapolated nationwide, the amount is a head-scratching $10 billion. Having identified her target area, the parent-greening child proceeds to step two: pitching her parents on the merits of eliminating their home’s energy vampires. If her parents agree, a contract is signed, whereby the parent greener would earn a percentage of the money saved. Motivated by her success—the extra change in her piggy bank—and the feeling of doing grown-up stuff, she takes step three: broadening her green endeavors to other areas in the home. Feegel is quick to cite a food example. “If a family switched three pounds of meat for three pounds of vegetables one day a week, they would save $750 a year.” Lastly, in step four she uses the limitless possibilities of social networking to advocate on the movement’s behalf: A post on GMP’s Facebook page. A tweet about how much money she saved her folks.

“They become not just a chief sustainability officer for their home, but to their friends. It legitimizes social media, in a way,” says Feegel.

A Bumper Sticker Birth A few years ago, Feegel, who is also the CEO of Brand Neutral, an environmental consulting firm, was searching for a way to unite the “different slivers of the environment’s micro-movements.” Be it through his business dealings or his personal charitable donations, he had been in direct contact with many environmental nonprofit organizations. “There are organizations that do such great work and they have to be funded and they have to acquire new members—but that isn’t what they are in the business to do,” says Feegel. “Fundamentally, it raised a difference of opinion for me of about how we should all be keeping score.” This need for a new calculus, plus a recurring theme Feegel observed when he was chief of staff to former Vice President Al Gore’s 2007 Global Concert event—that many adults said they were only going green “for their kids”—were percolating in the back of his mind in 2008 when he and his young son stopped at a red light in the family car. “There was a bumper sticker on the car in front of us that read ‘Proud Parent of an Honor Student’,” says Feegel. “And my son asks me, ‘What if kids put stickers on their parents’ cars that said ‘I’m proud of my parent’?’” Meeting Jordan Howard

After churning out a rough draft of the Green My Parents book, Feegel sent the manuscript to local kids for feedback.

This is how he met Jordan Howard, 18, the green advocate extraordinaire who “changed GMP forever,” says Feegel. It was Howard—of Girls Gone Green and Rise Above Plastics—who came up with the idea to intertwine Feegel’s nascent concept with economics. “Who doesn’t want to save money? Who doesn’t want to put money in their pockets?” says Howard. Howard doesn’t just preach; she practices, and has pitched GMP to more than 200 children since April. “I came up with the idea of creating this garden and trying to grow most of the things we eat in our home,” says Howard, whose parents bought into the notion of GMP almost immediately. She estimates that the backyard garden, which produces onions, Swiss chard, zucchini, and paprika, has saved her family of six roughly $40 per month over the past year. Howard says she declined to accept the money owed her as a result of the contract she signed with her parents, choosing instead to create a “family fund” to be used for something big, “like a vacation.” GMP’s accounting is on the honor system, similar to how a Boy Scout says he learned to tie a knot and then earns a badge. “Kids get enough report cards, we’re not going to audit them,” laughs Feegel. “A parent-endorsed pledge of a specific number is plenty.”
Everyday Kids, Everyday Actions “My parents were just whatever about it,” says Rudy Sanchez, 17, a high school senior from Lawndale, California, of the first time he approached his folks about partaking in GMP. Eventually, Sanchez persuaded his parents that the family’s addiction to two cases of bottled water per month had to go. Now, the Sanchezes use filters and re-usable canteens. Sanchez estimates that move combined with their other GMP actions—composting, unplugging electronic equipment at night, and a switch to energy-saving light bulbs—will save his family more than $1,000 a year. And what of the money Sanchez earned through his contract? “We’re putting it in a bank account for my college fund,” says Sanchez. Some families don’t take as much convincing. “To my kids, saving the environment is just a given,” says Lisa Glassman, a development director at an elementary school in Santa Monica. Her two children, AJ, 15, and Clara, 13, have both edited chapters of the GMP book. Like Howard, they practice what they preach. Using Energy Star, the U.S. government’s program that walks consumers through the marketplace of energy-efficient products and practices, AJ was able to help his family purchase a new eco-friendly refrigerator. He estimates it will save them around $150 per year in lower utility bills and pay for itself in seven years. Clara has placed environmental reminder sticky notes on the door of this refrigerator—and roughly 15 other spots around the family home. The refrigerator sticky reads “Think about what you want before you open me.” The sticky on the washer reads “Use cold water only.” And in the bathroom: “Turn off the water while you brush your teeth.” “I went a little sticky crazy,” laughs Clara. A Paradigm Shift The money saved by Howard and the Sanchez and Glassman families contradicts the theory of “slacktivism,” which is the do-good feeling one gets from partaking in a social cause (like signing an online petition) but which has very little real-world impact. But defeating slacktivism is hardly GMP’s long-term goal. If the scheme spreads and takes hold—after three months, there’s every evidence it will—GMP could help raise a generation of children for whom the very thought of sticking quotes around the phrase “going green” elicits confusion; where environmentally-conscious living will be as normal as buckling seatbelts; where the solutions to climate change are inextricably linked to the entrepreneurial ambitions of millions of kids. Again, the means to this end is the pay-it-forward methodology. One hundred youth champions, like Howard, will recruit 100 kids, each of whom will recruit another 100—and so on. To date, Feegel says more than 20,000 children have contacted GMP to say that they’ve greened their parents, including more than 6,000 on Facebook alone. “Kids today are defining a new green lifestyle as their own domain, and it’s about innovation, not sacrifice,” says Feegel.

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