The New Eco Role Models
Saving the Earth one village, turtle, and bag of recyclables at a time. (And what you can do too.)
Xavier Bishop
Xavier Bishop, 52
Mayor, Moss Point, Mississippi, the River City

How He Started: I ran for mayor because I wanted to help transform and improve Moss Point's economy. We used to be known as an industrial city, but the last big plant closed in 2001. These businesses damaged our environment—we're still learning how much. I vowed to create an economy that didn't have such a negative environmental impact. I think the area's greatest asset is its natural beauty. It is on the Escatawpa and Pascagoula rivers. The Pascagoula is one of the largest free-flowing rivers in the United States.

Darkest Moment: I took office in 2005, just weeks before Katrina hit. After the hurricane, city hall, the police station, and the fire station were flooded. We lost more than 100 homes.

What His Team Does: The terrible damage from the storm turned out to be an opportunity. Government funding enabled us to rebuild in new, green ways. For instance, instead of just repairing our city offices, we moved them away from the river, which protects them from flooding and opens up public access to the waterfront.

Biggest Success: Forging partnerships with groups like the Institute for Sustainable Communities was key. They are experts in not only environmental management but also leadership training.

Just One Thing You Can Do: Don't litter. Many of the products we dispose of don't degrade.

Kinari Webb, MD
Kinari Webb, MD, 37
Founder, Health in Harmony, Oakland, California, and its counterpart, Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI), West Kalimantan, Indonesia

How She Started: I was studying orangutans in 1993 in Gunung Palung National Park in Borneo—a beautiful but threatened place. In the past two decades, 38 percent of the park has been damaged by illegal logging, one of the few sources of income for the local citizens. They're now feeling the consequences: Floods are frequent, and infection from mosquito-borne illness is high. I went to Yale School of Medicine with the goal of returning to Indonesia to improve local health conditions and preserve the environment.

How It Works: We established a medical clinic in Sukadana, a large village in southwest Borneo, in July 2007, and we've seen more than 6,000 patients. We started a healthcare rewards program that provides discounted ambulance service and monthly mobile clinic visits to communities that stop the destruction of Gunung Palung. Also, anyone who cannot afford the clinic fees can work instead at our organic farm and seedling nursery, which is growing trees to be used in reforestation efforts.

Biggest Success: The day the head of a village—in a center of illegal logging—said he had personally hiked around to ensure that there was no more illegal logging.

Just One Thing You Can Do: Avoid palm oil. [Clearing land for palm plantations] is one of the major causes of rainforest destruction in Indonesia.

Carole Allen
Carole Allen, 73
Founder, Help Endangered Animals–Ridley Turtles (HEART), Houston

How She Started: I moved to Houston in 1973, and a few years later I went to the Galveston coast to see the Kemp's ridley hatchlings; they were kept in buckets until they could fend for themselves in the ocean. When I came back to see them in 1982, the program's budget was about to be cut, even though there were only about 600 nesting females in the world. So I organized a field trip for my daughter's elementary school. Of course, the kids loved the turtles. We started HEART, wrote letters to President Ronald Reagan, and sponsored turtles. The program was funded for another 10 years.

Biggest Challenge: For years turtles were drowned by the thousands in shrimp trawls. So the National Marine Fisheries Service created a Turtle Excluder Device (TED) to allow turtles to escape. The shrimp industry didn't want to use the TEDs. A lot of hardworking people resented a homemaker telling them to alter the way they fished.

Biggest Success: Watching the Kemp's ridley population grow. Seeing some of the turtles raised on the Texas Gulf Coast return there. Last year we had 195 nests.

How She's Done This for So Long: There was never a point I could say, "Time to quit." There's always work to be done.

Just One Thing You Can Do: If you see a sea turtle, don't touch it. Protect it from traffic and people; if you're in Texas, call 866-TURTLE5 and volunteers will provide information or come to the site.
Ron Gonen
Ron Gonen, 33
Co-founder and CEO, RecycleBank (, based in New York City and operating in 15 states

How He Started: I was getting my MBA and wanted a way to combine my professional experience with my strong interest in social policy and the environment. I wanted to do something I could make an impact with today. Everyone, whether in a city or a suburb, whether rich or poor, can recycle.

How It Works: As part of our contract with cities, we give every home a RecycleBank container with a chip embedded in it. When a recycling truck picks up your container, the weight is electronically recorded and translates into RecycleBank points. You can use the points—worth up to $400 a year—at retailers such as and Whole Foods, or for Coca-Cola and other products.

Who Pays: The program actually saves money. In Wilmington, Delaware, for example, RecycleBank has diverted 33 percent of the city's waste into recycling, saving it $1.5 million a year. RecycleBank gets a portion of the city's savings, and citizens get paid to recycle.

Most Bizarre Moment: I used to joke that I was the only Columbia Business School grad who, a year out of school, delivered recycling containers and picked through garbage for bottles.

Just One Thing You Can Do: Recycle. It costs your municipality a lot to take trash to a landfill—and your taxes are increased to pay for waste disposal.

Ken Cook and Nneka Leiba
Ken Cook, 57 and Nneka Leiba, 28
Co-founder, Environmental Working Group ( ), and Nneka Leiba, 28, an environmental health researcher for the group's Skin Deep website (, Washington, D.C.

How It Started: Since 1993 EWG has used computer investigations to protect the environment and public health. In 2000 we learned that a study by the CDC found a chemical—dibutyl phthalate—in the blood of several women and suggested it may have come from personal care products. We downloaded ingredient lists and used regulatory databases to match them against toxic properties. Now we have over 41,000 products up. — Ken

How It Works: We score products for toxicity on scale of 0 to 10: 0 to 2 is "green," a low hazard; above 7 is pretty high. If a product isn't on our site, you can type in the ingredients and how it's used (say, "rubbed in") and the site generates a score. — Nneka

Biggest Mistake: At first, we focused on media instead of individuals. Our e-mail list had only 6,000 people in 2006. Today we have 480,000. When we e-mail them, tens of thousands take action. — Ken

Is It a Drag That Polar Bears Get All the Press? I'm all about charismatic mega-fauna. I like polar bears, organic cows, pandas. We're comrades in arms. — Ken

Just One Thing You Can Do: Don't use bottled water. Our study of 10 brands found an average of eight contaminants in each. Also, it has to be transported, which produces emissions. — Nneka 

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