|Miles Ezeilo, 10, and Cole Ezeilo, 7, the founders' sons, are members of the Greening Youth Foundation's Eco Force.|
The Ezeilos are captains of a globetrotting green team. Through their foundation and company, they're spreading eco-love to elementary schools and bringing more parks and paths to urban and rural communities on two continents. "The next generation should be aware of the finite side of our natural resources," says Angelou Ezeilo, 38, who founded the nonprofit Greening Youth Foundation last year. Her husband, James, 42, manages a for-profit sister company, Greening Youth LLC, which he started in 2007. The Ezeilos are helping schools and cities develop eco-conscious policies from the inside out. Their international effort teams schools, companies, small towns and major cities to raise awareness about environmental damage and work toward a cleaner planet.
The foundation's C.L.E.A.N. program, which stands for "children living energetically advancing nature," helps third-grade students understand the value of clean land, air and water. Its Eco Force Clubs bring together fourth and fifth graders, who spearhead green efforts in their schools. For example, the Eco Force Club at Brookwood Elementary School in Snellville, Ga., about 25 miles northeast of Atlanta, is working with Nike ( NKE) to hold a shoe-recycling drive in the spring. The goal is to collect shoes whose materials can be reused in playgrounds and gym floors. The foundation also evaluates schools' energy usage and waste creation, and tries to find ways to trim both. The biggest culprit is usually paper, which makes up 65% of school waste. The Ezeilo's organizations are working together to redirect paper to recycling plants instead of landfills.
The for-profit company spawned a group whose aim is to ship paper to plants abroad. The International Recycled Fiber Consultants researched alternate markets for waste paper once demand waned in China. The organization found paper mills in Africa that were hungry for paper. "People have to realize that Thomas Friedman is right," James Ezeilo says, referring to the New York Times ( NYT) columnist and author. "The world is flat and the best ideas may not be within our borders." The foundation is in talks with AmeriCorps, the public-service program created by the government, about teaching workers how to implement green programs at schools. James Ezeilo's Greening Youth LLC is working with Johannesburg's Office of Environmental Management to design a network of parks and pedestrian paths so that people without cars can get to work more easily. He's working on a similar project in Atlanta. The PATH Foundation, an Atlanta nonprofit, hired Greening Youth LLC to aid in its effort to connect 30 to 40 communities to the Atlanta Beltline, a greenway comprising a 22-mile loop of abandoned railroad lines that surround Atlanta. Besides the environmental and health benefits, these parks and trails could encourage people to visit and shop in neighboring areas, promoting economic development. "We want to get people walking again," says James Ezeilo, who practiced real estate law for 10 years. His company gathers appraisals, negotiates land acquisitions and facilitates easements with homeowners. Consultants conduct due diligence, including site assessments.
The groups also visit affected communities to engage residents and build support, which is essential to a project's success, says Angelou Ezeilo, who previously worked at the Trust for Public Land. If a park pops up and the community isn't vested, they may not use it, she says. "It's important that there are things in the park that mean something to them." The Ezeilos, who met while studying law at the University of Florida and married 14 years ago, say the struggles of their two asthmatic sons motivate their efforts to build a healthier planet. "If we can do something for them that will reduce the air pollution, if we can make them walk more to make their lungs stronger, I have done my job as a parent," James Ezeilo says. "My job is to protect them."