May 15, 2011
From left to right: Cole Rasenberger, Nik Young, Liam Donoghue, and Kaela Rasenberger visit KFC headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky to drop off 6,000 postcards advocating for KFC to use post recyclable fiber in their throwaway paper containers. Photo courtesy of Kerry Rasenberger.
He started by targeting McDonalds directly. With the help of 25 friends, and his elementary school administration, he got every student in his school to sign postcards to McDonalds. In all, Cole sent 2,250 postcards to McDonalds.
"I asked my principal and teacher if I could get my whole school to sign my postcards. I told them I am only one voice; if we get my school to sign it would be thousands of voices. I think that would be better than just me," Cole says, telling mongabay.com how he was able to get his whole school to join in his activism. "McDonalds is always doing things for kids, so I thought it would be a great place to start. I drew handmade postcards of animal habitats. […] I asked McDonald to be the environmental leader for my generation and please increase your use of post consumer recycled fiber."
Clearcutting in Green Swamp—Brunswick County, North Carolina for KFC paper packaging. Photo by: Dogwood Alliance.
But Cole, who won the 2010 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes for his activism, was not yet done: "The reason KFC was my next choice was because they are such a big company," he says. "They don’t use much post consumer recyclable fibers in their paper products. If we could get them to use even a little bit, it would save a lot of trees. If KFC and McDonald become the Environmental Leaders for my generation, everyone else will follow."
This time Cole and his friends got 6,000 postcards signed. Then Cole, his sister, Kaela, and two friends, Nik and Liam, flew to KFC headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky to deliver the letters in person. Two KFC executives met with the children; they did not commit to changing their paper sourcing policies, but gave the kids $5 gift cards for KFC.
Cole says he understands that it is difficult for KFC to quickly change their policies.
"They are a huge company and huge companies can't make decisions fast. They have so many people that have to OK things before it’s approved. […] The KFC executives were wonderful to us. They were very kind people. I look at our trip as an opportunity to open doors for future environmental changes. Hopefully, KFC will use more post recyclable fibers in their paper products in the near future. That's all I can hope for right now."
INTERVIEW WITH COLE RASENBERGER
Logging projects and clear cuts in the Green Swamp, Southeastern North Carolina. Green Swamp—Brunswick County, North Carolina. Photo by: Dogwood Alliance.
Mongabay: How did your activism to help save North Carolina's forests start?
Cole Rasenberger: My second grade TD (Talent Development) teacher gave me an assignment to be an activist about something we cared about, like an animal. We were supposed to write a letter to a government official supporting what we believed in. After doing many weeks of research, I decided I wanted to save a bunch of animals and their habitats when I came across the problem the North and South Carolinas Coastal forest are facing.
I learned that writing a government official would not help the situation, because most of these areas are privately owned by the paper packaging mills. One of the biggest users of these mills are fast food restaurants. They buy the paper products from these mills. I learned the only way to make a change is to write them since they are the customers of these mills. I thought maybe the fast food restaurants can ask the mills to change to use more post consumer recyclable fibers.
My teacher's main point in this assignment was for us kids to learn we have a voice as long as we are standing up for something that is right and helpful to our environment. Ms. Beard wanted us to believe in ourselves and learn our voice is just as important as an adult's.
Mongabay: Why are North Carolina's forests worth saving?
Green Swamp—Brunswick County, North Carolina. Photo by: Photo by: Dogwood Alliance.
Mongabay: Will you tell us about the campaign with McDonald's?
Cole Rasenberger: I asked my principal and teacher if I could get my whole school to sign my postcards. I told them I am only one voice; if we get my school to sign it would be thousands of voices. I think that would be better than just me. They gave me permission after I showed them my plan. McDonalds is always doing things for kids, so I thought it would be a great place to start. I drew handmade postcards of animal habitats. I couldn’t write too much on the other side. I asked McDonald to be the environmental leader for my generation and please increase your use of post consumer recycled fiber. I had copies made. Then I had a team of 25 kids go to all the classes to get signatures on Earth Day. I could not have done this as a second grader if my friends didn’t help me. I am very thankful for all the help my friends, teachers, my little sister and other adults have given me.
Mongabay: Last year you were the youngest winner of the 2010 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. How did it feel to win such a prize?
Cole Rasenberger: It was pretty cool to win this prize. It was neat to read about the other kids too. They did some amazing projects. I was very impressed with them. The people from Gloria Barron are very nice.
Mongabay: You've now moved onto KFC. What's wrong with KFC's paper policy?
Cole Rasenberger: The reason KFC was my next choice was because they are such a big company. They don’t use much post consumer recyclable fibers in their paper products. If we could get them to use even a little bit, it would save a lot of trees. If KFC and McDonald become the Environmental Leaders for my generation, everyone else will follow. That would be a great math fair problem to solve…."how many trees were saved because McDonald and KFC now use post consumer recyclable fiber in their paper products?"
Mongabay: Were you disappointed by KFC's response to the 6,000 postcards you collected?
Cole and Kaela Rasenberger visiting Louisville, Kentucky. Photo by: Kerry Rasenberger.
Mongabay: Are there any plans for a next step?
Cole Rasenberger: Well, I have my End of Grade (EOG’s) testing coming up in mid-May, so that has to be my focus for right now. After the EOG’s, I’ll probably get my friends together to come up with the next plan. Don’t really know my next step.
Mongabay: What advice would you give kids who like yourself are interested in protecting forests, but are not sure how to start?
Cole and Liam Donoghue on the airplane out to Louisville, Kentucky. Photo by: Kerry Rasenberger.
Mongabay: Why is it important for kids to get involved in environmental issues? There are so many different environmental issues out there.
Cole Rasenberger: I kind of feel if we aren’t careful now we might not have that great of forests when I’m an adult. We need to start looking at things differently. I have family that lives in Europe and other different countries. Those countries seem to be head of us in preserving forests, recycling, not using plastic bag at grocery stores, etc. We are a huge country and it’s time to start protecting it.
Kids found organization to save endangered species
(02/22/2011) Many American children under ten spend their free time watching TV and movies, playing video games, or participating in sports, but for siblings Carter (9 years old) and Olivia Ries (8) much of their time is devoted to saving the world's imperiled species. The organization One More Generation (OMG) not only has a clever name (yes, it is meant to pun the common Oh-My-God acronym), but may have the two youngest founders of an environmental organization in the US. "We started OMG because it hurt our hearts to know that there were so many animals in danger of becoming extinct," Carter told mongabay.com. OMG, which is run with help from the Ries' parents as well as an impressive list of conservation and wildlife experts, has taken on a number of local and international campaigns, including raising money for cheetahs, working against throw-away plastic bags, and taking action to change the US tradition of Rattlesnake Roundups where thousands of rattlesnakes are killed for a community festival.
12-year-old on a mission to save Africa's most unusual animal, the okapi, an interview with Spencer Tait
(02/16/2010) Anyone who says a kid can't change the world hasn't met Spencer Tait. At the age of five Spencer had his first encounter with the Congo's elusive okapi at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Spencer—now 12 years old—describes that encounter as 'love at first sight'. He explains that while the okapi "looks like a mix between a zebra, horse, and giraffe [...] it's really only related to the giraffe." Seeing the okapi at the museum led Spencer not only to learn all about the okapi, but also to find out what was threatening the animal's survival, including the long civil conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the okapi's home. Most kids—and adults too—would probably leave it at that, but not Spencer.
Reaching kids with a conservation message via animation
(03/06/2011) During the Wildlife Conservation Network's October 2010 Wildlife Expo, mongabay.com encountered an animation that powerfully illustrates the concept of biodiversity loss in less than two-and-a-half minutes. Yesterday's Zoo recounts species that have disappeared and warns that a similar fate could befall many more unless urgent conservation action is taken. The animation is being used to raise money for wildlife protection efforts. In a March Q&A with Shane DeRolf, President & Executive Producer of Yesterday's Zoo, Mongabay learned more the project.