On Friday 24th May 2019, over a million people from 110 countries around the world coordinated protests challenging the lack of political action against climate change. They were united by their mounting distress for the safety of the planet - and the fact that they were all school students.
Theodora with Dr Jane Goodall at the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums - WAZA Conference in Bangkok, in 2018
A common criticism of young people today is that they’re glued to their phones, only interested in video games and social media selfies. The past four months of climate protests have shown that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, Gen Z are plugged into their devices; they’re just using them far more wisely than any other generation.
At Dr Jackson’s, we’ve been hugely inspired by the growing movement of young people rallying against global warming and the authorities that refuse to address it. Among these is H.S.H Princess Theodora von Liechtenstein, founder of Green Teen Team.
Launched in 2014, Green Teen Team is a now-global initiative that aims to save the planet’s biodiversity by empowering and educating young people. We were privileged enough to speak with Theodora herself to find out more about Green Teen Team’s mission and why she believes that her generation will lead the world towards a greener future.
“If you are wearing jeans, bees pollinated the cotton plants that were used to make them.”
What inspired you to set up Green Teen Team?
I was extremely lucky to grow up in the countryside and be surrounded by the beauty of nature. As I grew up, I became aware of what was going on - particularly habitat destruction, meaning species of animals losing their environment, even in Europe! Not all of my friends even knew about this, so I thought to myself that I had to get involved and make a difference for our future and that of the planet.
What is Green Teen Team’s mission statement?
Green Teen Team’s mission is to empower teenagers and young people to make a positive change for our future.
If we help people understand what is really happening around them, and that they can make a big difference by making small changes in their daily life, we hope to protect and even regenerate the planet’s biodiversity. Biodiversity is really important, as it’s the foundation of our wellbeing. From clean air to clean water and good food, the ecosystems we live in need complex biodiversity to function well and keep us healthy. Can you imagine a world without bees? Bees pollinate much of the world's food crops and wild plants. If you are wearing jeans, bees pollinated the cotton plants that were used to make them.
How many people are involved in Green Teen Team?
Green Teen Team is a charity in the UK and an ONLUS in Italy. Then we have some satellite projects around the world, from Australia to Zimbabwe. We have members and friends in lots of countries. Some set up their own GTT projects and some we help with ideas and funding. By 2020, we will hopefully have over 200 members.
“By the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish, with only 895 million tons of fish compared to the 973 million tons of plastic.”
Green Teen Team members looking for rare species of insects during a GTT UK Conservation Eco camp, July 2017
What would you say are the main challenges we face as a planet right now? Are there any statistics or stories illustrating these issues that you feel are particularly shocking?
It is difficult to pick the worst stories, as there are so many.
I recently met an amazing lady, Krista Krieger from Empowers Africa, who told us about rhinoceros poaching in Africa and it is truly so sad; I cannot understand how anyone could ever hurt such a majestic animal. The last male Northern white rhino died last year and this could be the case in the near future with lots of animals. We’re working with an organisation called Protecting African Lions this year to help raise funds to protect the lions left in the wild.
Also, I personally feel sad about our oceans. By the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish, with only 895 million tons of fish compared to the 973 million tons of plastic. [This plastic] will be found in the ocean collecting in these awful gyers, creating garbage patches larger than the state of Texas. 70% of our oxygen comes from the phytoplankton plants in the ocean and now we are destroying their habitat with our use of plastic.
When we did GTT beach cleans, one of the most common things we found were cigarette butts. It's bad enough to smoke but then people don't dispose of their cigarettes properly, which become part of the plastic pollution problem. Did you know cigarette butts can be recycled? We support The TerraMar Project's #nomorebutts campaign.
“Changing daily habits is not that difficult - lots of things are actually things our grandparents did!”
How is Green Teen Team trying to resolve these issues on a daily basis?
Green Teen Team motivates teenagers to take action in their local area, and we show them about the biodiversity on their doorstep and how it is threatened by how we live our lives. Some people don't know this - I was shocked to find out that some of our GTT friends who live in the Maldives have never seen a whale shark. Many people travel as tourists to the Maldives to see this majestic but endangered species, but people who live there may never have seen it! How can they help protect it? Just by helping people become more aware of the issues not only close to them, but that they can actually influence, is really important to help resolve issues like plastic pollution. Changing daily habits is not that difficult - lots of things are actually things our grandparents did! Using beeswax paper instead of cling film is a good example. Using a metal razor instead of a disposable plastic one. In the end, these things will save us money too.
What can people reading this interview do to address these issues?
We don’t say people need to drastically change their lifestyles. However, small changes like supporting ecological brands, like Dr Jackson’s, and using bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic ones. By making habits from small actions like turning the lights off or only washing your clothes or dishes when the machine is full, you can make a huge difference in the long run. Even turning off phone and computer chargers when things are charged make a difference. Wearing sustainable clothing brands would help. By spreading the word about living a sustainable life and doing things that collectively make a big difference, we are already making a difference in a short period of time. It's amazing that governments around the world are banning single-use items such as plastic straws. I think this is really encouraging.
“Young people are the future.”
There’s a lot of doom and gloom surrounding the environment, which is why it’s so fantastic that Green Teen Team empowers future generations to activate change. We saw recently with the global climate protests that young people are a real source of hope! Do you have any inspiring stories that show we’re making progress towards a greener planet?
Thank you very much for saying that! Young people are the future. I think the Fridays for Future movement is a very important indicator of how young people feel. Last week (24th May 2019), over 1.5 million people from 119 countries took part in the marches for the environment. This has to make policymakers and big corporations understand that we are not happy.
The media has been extremely negative. It is like they use shock tactics to engage people and I feel that this discourages people, especially teenagers who feel like their voice is never heard. Being a teenager is not easy, there are many pressures already; that's why it is so important to be positive. We recently started mentoring a group called Arise and Shine in Zimbabwe. The initiator of the project Anele Sibbs, a teacher, gathered a group of girls that meet up twice a week. She encourages young school leavers to be involved in their community. These meetings give the girls the possibilities to gain more skills, giving them more opportunities that they already have, which in turn discourages them from becoming involved in poaching. The girls really love being part of this group in a place where there are few other positive opportunities. Recently, they attended a workshop teaching then how to make sanitary pads. It made me realise how much we take for granted in some parts of the world.
What role can social media play in raising awareness around biodiversity and conservation? How are young people, in particular, using it?
Social media is our way of communicating. For example, Instagram is an amazing platform that is very useful in raising awareness about conservation as well as brand awareness and entertainment! It is particularly useful in connecting environmentally engaged teenagers together to show that we are all worried about the environment, and regardless of culture or religion or wealth we are all vulnerable to changes to the planet. There is a strong feeling that we all want to be part of the change. It's definitely something I use a lot and is helpful for GTT.
“If people don't take young activists seriously, then maybe they are not really listening to what we are saying.”
Has your age ever been an obstacle to running Green Teen Team? What would you say to someone who didn’t take young activists seriously?
All of our projects have been met with a lot of enthusiasm and positive feedback. I think that no one should be taken less seriously because of their age. Instead, young activists should be proud of what they are achieving. It is not always easy to make changes - it takes a lot of time and effort. I think that's why adults don't like it very much! Being young has the advantage that we won't give up until we get what we want. If people don't take young activists seriously, then maybe they are not really listening to what we are saying.
Theodora on her mission of making every possible available space greener
Besides Green Teen Team, which young environmental activists should we be following right now?
Clearly, Greta Thunberg has changed our world. But there are many more young people working hard to make a difference.
Our friend Bella Burgemeister who is 13, from Western Australia, wrote a book called Bella's Challenge, which brings the United Nations’ Global Goals to young people.
Lilly Platt from Holland started 'Lilly's Plastic Pickup' when she was nine years old.
An inspirational example of what we can do comes from Felix Finkbeiner, who started a tree planting project in 2007 when he was nine years old. He managed one million trees after three years. Now his organisation, Plant For The Planet, has 70,000 members in 67 countries and leads the United Nations Billion Tree Campaign. He is only 21. If all the young people followed paths like this, the planet would be much better off.
Consumers are becoming much more conscientious in their purchasing habits. Can you recommend any brands that support the cause of conservation?
I think lots of brands are trying to become more sustainable; some are genuinely working to improve their supply chains and create sustainable products.
I recently found out about a shoe brand from Brazil called Veja that sell vegan and sustainable trainers made from organic fair trade cotton and wild rubber. They are the first brand to use fabric made entirely from recycled plastic bottles. Seriously, check them out! They don't advertise but they have some cool followers.
This is an example of how one does not need to sacrifice one's lifestyle to live sustainably and make a difference.
And what are your top recommendations for sustainable skincare products?
My favourite product is the Dr Jackson’s Day Cream with SPF 30. I have always been a devoted user of sunscreen as it is extremely important to protect one's skin from harsh and damaging UV rays - this is part of the story of our changing climate. I really like products with natural ingredients, and Dr Jackson's ethos to provide ethical and sustainable products with no animal testing is really important when choosing a skincare brand.
What are Green Teen Team’s goals for the future?
We are very grateful to have come this far. We are still quite small and this is important, as it is manageable - I am still at school! We are thankful that GTT’s growth is organic and has a strong base. We will continue to build an active global community that, through local community and school projects, will increase the empowerment of young people to make positive changes all around the world.
Join Theodora and GTT members in Germany this July for the first GTT Youth Forum. For details and how to support GTT please contact Ellie - firstname.lastname@example.org or call +447767665115 +393383433443.