HUBweek Change Maker: Robin Organ

Executive Director & Founder, Project Green Schools

As a formally trained educator, Robin believes the key to a sustainable future is to develop the next generation. She is responsible for designing and implementing Project Green Schools’ programs across Massachusetts, New England, the US, and now internationally. Robin has participated in discussions with the former President and Vice President, Dr. John Holdren, US EPA, US Agriculture and others on the topics of: Climate Solutions, Public Health, Environmental Education, and Workforce Development. Recently, Robin was excited to launch the Green Up New England Challenge with the Boston Bruins, the Boston Bruins Foundation and Walmart. She works to develop partnerships and opportunities for young people looking to create a healthier future for people and planet. Most days you can find Robin on Facebook somewhere across the US working on developing the next generation of environmental leaders.

In your role at Project Green Schools, what problems are you working to solve? Or better yet, what opportunities are you trying to create? Project Green Schools works to address a variety of issues related to the topics of; Energy, Environment, Water, Food & Agriculture, Climate, Public Health, Asthma, Obesity, and Indoor Air Quality.

We work to develop sustainable solutions in all of the identified topics/pathways while simultaneously developing partnerships, opportunities for the next generation, and creating environments where big conversations can take place.

What inspired you to start this project in 2007? How has it evolved since launching the Green Up New England Challenge? The original inspiration for Project Green Schools came following my 3rd life-threatening anaphylactic attack following the birth of my 2nd daughter. The short version…

I grew up loving nature, summer camp and the outdoors. Flash forward. I was a teacher of middle and high school for close to a decade and loved working with the next generation. I always had a thread of illness…allergies, ear infections, respiratory issues and more. I had never pulled all of the pieces together that I had a compromised immune system and those issues became amplified during and post-pregnancy with my second born. I woke up in the land of auto-immune craziness and feel blessed that my body and my personal environment became a teaching tool from which to learn.

My healing was a process of education, trial and error, mindfulness practices, and making changes in my environment. When I noticed my 2 young children were about to suffer and having learned how to heal and quiet multiple systems the choice was obvious.

I was a mom on a mission who had to protect her 2 young children as well as the children around them, which then turned into the children of our nation and now our globe.

Flash forward 9 years and I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to create a challenge with the Boston Bruins, the Boston Bruins Foundation and Walmart. We challenged schools to think and act differently when it comes to water usage, energy usage, school food, sustainable practices and making meaningful connections to communities. Since the challenge wrapped up this past year I am happy to report we have inspired meaningful change in schools and communities across New England. More than 10,000 students were directly impacted as result of the Green Up New England Challenge and we look forward to continuing this work and collaboration!

Since the Green Up New England Challenge we have new opportunities growing in New Hampshire and across the region. Stay tuned.

What impact (personally or collectively) do you hope to have? I dedicated my life to this work because I believe I have something to give that transforms others for the better. Lots of people paid it forward while I was healing so this is my way of giving back, leaving a legacy and staying spiritually connected.

Collectively, Project Green Schools hopes to leave this world healthier, more beautiful, more vibrant, more Green. We want to build communities that care for our future and that implement and sustain meaningful projects and work for a better tomorrow. We invest time, energy and resources in those who can design and implement innovative projects with measurable impact. We believe investing in the next generation is the pathway forward.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career? I am not sure if our biggest challenge was coming before a time where sustainability made sense to people, or if it is the fact that change is constant. Both challenges have impacted us greatly. The good news is that people easily connect the ideas of creating a generation of thinkers, citizens, the doers if you will, mindful of people and planet. As for change, that will continue to be a constant so we keep at it, stay positive and introduce and reintroduce ourselves to people constantly, and hopefully each time you see or hear from us, we get stronger.

One thing people might find surprising about you or what you do? I had no formal business training prior to founding Project Green Schools. I am grateful for my dad, Stan Sidman, a serial entrepreneur, founder of the Business Development Group, who supported both me and Project Green Schools since inception, and it was he who taught me to follow my dreams, to challenge the norm, and to have compassion for everyone.

3 things you wish you knew when you first started out? Sometimes it is better not to know what you don’t know because who knows if we would have gone this far if we knew all that we did not know!

  • Many would say be sure you have funding secured before starting a project. The idea of “If we build it they will come” is not always truth, though I do have a soft spot the innovative entrepreneur and activist. While it is often important to push forward without having everything you need, it is much easier to operate with funding first, then design, redesign, secure more funding, redesign again and sustain your work and this model.
  • In this day and age I wish I had more of a technical background to be able to comprehend, implement, and support teams and schools with multiple tech-based applications. Tough to operate without technology in this day and age and wish I had acquired more knowledge in this area prior to founding Project Green Schools.
  • Lastly, I wish I knew or was trained how to make a good “ask.” Sure, I asked people for lots of things, but I did not know how to make a good one. The notion of asking for what you need goes far beyond seeking funding for a good program or idea. It’s about positioning your needs and your why with something that resonates, and I think everyone could benefit on learning how to make a good ask whether for personal needs or professional.

Best and worst piece of advice you’ve ever received? Think outside the box and/or think inside the box. The truth is both are good and both are limiting. Thinking outside the box is no longer actually “outside the box” because everyone says that, right? I have also heard if you want to be successful get inside the box with decision makers and models that people can replicate. True innovators create their own box…or no box at all with language from other boxes so that people can comprehend their ideas and opportunities and move to a new way of thinking, creating, designing, and implementing. Whether inside or outside of the box, the idea is to keep thinking.

What’s next? We want to grow more chapters of National Green Schools Society, turn more states onto implementing Project Green Schools programming, and honor Environmental Excellence by joining forces with statewide recognition opportunities that amplify the student voice.

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The HUBweek Change Maker series showcases the most innovative minds in art, science, and technology making an impact in Boston and around the world.