Olivia and Carter Ries: Greening Sports, Saving Wildlife, and Taking on Plastic Ocean Waste; All While Doing Their Homework

14 year-old Olivia Ries and her 16 year-old brother, Carter, are like most kids in some respects. They participate in sports (lacrosse and soccer, respectively) in the Atlanta suburb of Fayetteville, play instruments, do their homework and “OMG!” is part of their lexicon. OK, they’re not like most kids in one important way: That’s because OMG is the acronym for One More Generation, the non-profit they started seven years ago, that works to protect animals and the environment for the next generation, the one after that, and the one after that. GreenSportsBlog spoke with Olivia, Carter, and their dad Jim, about OMG, and how sports can help it realize its goals. OMG, indeed!

 

When Carter and Olivia Ries were 8 1/2 and 7 years old, respectively, their aunt visited South Africa and brought each of them back a certificate stating they were adoptive parents of cheetahs who are at risk of extinction due to massive habitat loss and persecution by farmers. When a crestfallen Olivia asked her dad, Jim, why animals even needed to be adopted, he replied that if there were not agencies like the one with which they were working, there may not be cheetahs left in the wild for her children to see.

Olivia did not like this answer and pressed Jim about what she and Carter could do to save animals. At first, Jim admits he tried desperately to get out of doing anything but the kids persisted and eventually he said they could start a nonprofit that would protect animals and the environment they—and we—inhabit.

Two weeks later, Olivia and Carter had their first board meeting and One More Generation—OMG!—was born. The nonprofit’s initial goal was to educate children and adults about the plight of endangered species. The kids’ long-term intention is to preserve all species for at least One More Generation…and far beyond.

Carter and Olivia

Carter and Olivia Ries (Photo credit: OneMoreGeneration.org)

 

Not long after OMG’s founding, Carter and Olivia were horrified to watch on CNN as the devastation wrought by the Deepwater Horizon-BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico spilled right into their living room. In what would become their pattern, instead of wallowing, they sprang into action. “For four months straight, we collected all sorts of supplies,” said Olivia. “Then, on my 8th birthday, dad drove us 11 and a half hours down to the Gulf where we donated the supplies to a marine mammal rescue center. We saw sharks, sea turtles, birds and dolphins, all sickened by oil pollution. It was tragic.”

You might think that would’ve been enough for Carter and Olivia. After all, there was school, music lessons, sports and all the rest.

But this was just the beginning.

In fact, Jim, who, at the time OMG was founded, worked for fitness equipment manufacturer Precor, soon became full-time CEO. The OMG C-suite is an all-in-the-family affair as mom Lauren, who works for Ivantis, a company dedicated to the development of innovative solutions for glaucoma, fills the CFO role.

Jim’s and Lauren’s commitment to OMG allowed the kids to be able to balance (sort of) their home and school lives while expanding OMG’s letter writing, public speaking and other grass roots campaigns in three verticals:

Endangered Species: Letter-writing plays a big part here as the kids, among many other examples:

  • Spearheaded an effort to save rhinos that resulted in 10,000 letters being written from kids all over the world. The kids then presented the letters to authorities in South Africa.
  • Led another letter writing effort, this one on behalf of sea turtles, which led to an invitation to the White House last June.

Carter Olivia White House Sea Turtles

Carter and Olivia Ries outside of the White House as part of their mission to save Sea Turtles. (Photo credit: OneMoreGeneration.org)

 

Youth Empowerment: Carter and Olivia believe children must stand up, be heard, and make a difference, no matter what their passion may be. They’ve shown how it’s done via TEDx Youth Talks.

 

Carter and Olivia’s 2016 TEDx Youth Talk (14:51)

 

And Carter was one of only two youth representatives who spoke this Friday at the UN’s 2017 World Wildlife Day. Carter commanded the attention of the entire room when he pleaded for the adults to “take responsibility to preserve wildlife for the next generation. Because if you don’t, you’ll be teaching us, the youth of the world, that protecting wildlife isn’t that important. And then we’ll teach our kids that same lesson. But if you change, that will inspire us.”

Carter at UN

Carter Ries, speaking at World Wildlife Day at the UN on March 3. (Photo credit: OneMoreGeneration.org)

 

They also launched We’ve Got You Covered, a program that empowers kids to collect donated materials, including blankets, and have them delivered to homeless kids.

 

Environmental Conservation: The BP-Deepwater Horizon spill was the spark here. In fact, the kids learned quickly enough that, as Olivia put it, “Cleaning up the animals is one thing but, if we don’t protect the environment that they’d be going back into once they become healthy, then our efforts are largely wasted.”

This led the kids to plastics; specifically, the plastics that end up as waste in the oceans.

In 2012-2013, Carter and Olivia created an award-winning plastic ocean waste awareness and recycling curriculum that is being used by K-6 teachers nationwide. The response by students was positive, according to Olivia, but “some of the teachers reacted a bit ‘strangely’ to having kids teach.” To date, thousands of students and dozens of schools here in the US have already completed the weeklong curriculum and the program is currently being tested in the UK and soon in Australia. Olivia and Carter are working with The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Ocean First Institute on having their curriculum converted to an online format that will dramatically expand its availability.

Then they turned their attention to straws, many of which end up in the oceans. How many?

When Jim quizzed me about how many straws are used each day in the US, I guessed 50 million (out of a population of 327 million). “You’re a little low there, Lew” Jim replied. “Over 500 million straws are used daily in the US! That is 1.6 straws for every man, woman and child living in this country and none ever get recycled”

Talk about OMG!!

So Carter and Olivia went to work, designing and deploying the One Less Straw Pledge Campaign, in which children, adults, schools, restaurants and other businesses commit to not using a plastic straw for 30 days. If a kid catches a parent using a straw, the parent gives 25¢ to the kids’ school.

It’s early days, but so far, 15+ schools have already signed-on to the campaign and the kids’ have received thousands of individual “I’m going strawless” pledges via their website from people in over 30 countries around the world.

Now, I rarely drink out of a straw so it seemed like a very easy behavioral change to effect but, as Carter put it, it isn’t that easy: “People say they don’t want to drink directly out of a glass. This makes no sense to me. You eat off of plates, why not drink from a glass?? Especially when 90 percent of people surveyed said they don’t need to drink out of straws.”

 

SPORTS AND ONE LESS STRAW

At this point, you may be saying to yourself, “What Carter and Olivia are doing is incredible, but what does it have to do with Green-Sports?”

Potentially, a lot.

Jim, Carter and Olivia realized that a marriage of One Less Straw with sports venues and teams was a no brainer: Sports venues use massive amounts of straws and the pop-culture power of sports would provide a program like One Less Straw with unmatched awareness. In the kids’ own backyard of Atlanta, they’ve made initial contacts with Phillips’ Arena, home of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and with Georgia Tech University. And, now that the finishing touches are being put on Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the dazzling, first ever LEED Platinum facility in the NFL and MLS, which opens on July 30, it made sense for the kids to meet with Scott Jenkins, its General Manager and Chairman of the Board of the Green Sports Alliance.

Making the new home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United F.C. straw-free right off the bat might be a bridge too far, thought Jim, Carter, and Olivia. So, when they met with Jenkins, their ask was to make straws a request-only item. “It is expected that a ‘request only’ policy would result in a reduction in straw usage of up to 70 percent!,” enthused Jim. “Those savings go right to the stadium’s bottom line and means fewer straws in the oceans.” Obviously, Jenkins and his team are laser-focused on getting the stadium ready for its late July opening. That said, I hope that, at some point in the next year or two, Mercedes-Benz Stadium will hop on board the One Less Straw train. And if that happens, other stadiums and arenas will no doubt follow suit.

Participatory sports are another outlet for One Less Straw. Olivia reported that many school districts use thousands of sports packs—including fruit, juice and a straw, between lunch and sports—every day. One Less Straw is working on a program to get straws out of sports packs, protecting the oceans and saving schools and taxpayers 0.5¢/straw.

Somehow, I have a strong feeling we will be writing a lot more about Carter, Olivia, One More Generation and sports in the months and years to come.

 

If your school, sports team or community organization is interested in getting involved in the work Olivia and Carter are doing, we encourage you to reach out to them via email at info@onemoregeneration.org

 

 

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