In the new podcast conversation between Handshake and the 2013 CNN Hero Chad Pregracke, founder of the nonprofit Living Lands and Waters, Pregracke shares his strategies on communicating the need for cleanup.
If you’ve ever tried to communicate how the world’s growing mounds of garbage threaten the environment and worsen the effects of climate change, you already know that the scale of the problem defies easy explanation. But that didn’t stop Chad Pregracke, head of the nonprofit
Living Lands and Waters. When he tried to work through local government to solve the garbage problem in rivers near his home in Illinois, no one responded. So he started circulating pictures of the trash in his community. These pictures captured residents’ attention, and they volunteered to pick up rubbish. With Pregracke at the helm, they kept volunteering; eventually, he launched a trash barge as a floating classroom to continue education and encourage group cleanups.
Fast forward 15 years: about 70,000 volunteers have pitched in, helping collect more than 7 million pounds of trash across the U.S. and in other parts of the world, including Belize and South Africa. In 2013 alone, Living Lands and Waters conducted 167 cleanup events. For his efforts to tackle the world’s waste problem starting at home, Pregracke was named 2013 CNN Hero of the Year.
Pregracke literally lives his job: nine months out of the year, he resides on a barge with members of his 12-person crew. As recounted by CNN, the team goes around the U.S. with a fleet of boats, and they try to make cleanup fun for the volunteers who show up in each city. As someone on the ground—and in the water—Pregracke’s perspective on what it takes to get others invested in the environment is practical rather than theoretical. Although he does now work in partnership with some of the local governments that first ignored his efforts, his corporate partners have been equally strong backers. In fact, as he tells Handshake, he reached out to his first corporate sponsor when its name flashed on the screen while he was watching a NASCAR race. “If they’re interested in the community, they should be interested in the community’s environment, too,” he says.
Though this particular “hero” is quick to give credit to everyone on his team, Pregracke’s effort to engage his community in cleanup efforts started for the most personal of reasons: he was appalled at how garbage littered the land he loved. The strategies he followed to attract others who shared his goals inspire and teach those who want to make a difference.