Eleni Andreadi has irresistible passion, organised thinking, unstoppable energy and many talents. All these contribute greatly to the work that she has been dedicated to, concerning environmental sustainability so that our children can live in a better world. And knowing full well that children must have this consciousness first of all, she writes books to make them aware in a tender and clever way.
By Mia Kollia
Translated by Alexandros Theodoropoulos
My perception of sustainability changed with a book.
My first degree, 20 years ago, was in England, where I studied Business Administration. I took a sustainability lesson and as part of that lesson I read a lot of books related to sustainability, including Al Gore’s, and so everything changed. My perception changed. Then I worked in the field of Consulting for Non-Profit Companies and as a volunteer in environmental organisations. Later, I did my master's degree in America and specialised in the field of Environmental Policy.
After living abroad for 12 years, I returned to Greece and founded the Non-Profit Organisation "Planet Agents", which implements experiential environmental programs for children. At the same time I work in the field of sustainability as a business consultant. I still remember participating in campaigns when at school, such as the one for the Arctic seals, which were killed for their hair, and another one for the rescue of the rainforest, while I was also a volunteer in the WWF.
Contact with nature was something that moved me from a young age. But the difference was made at university when I realised that all this has to do with man.
One usual mistake of environmental organisations was that the polar bear was used as a symbol of climate change, due to the loss of ice, while man should be used instead. We now know very well that harmony with nature is needed for each and every one of us, as a species, to live well. Of course there are the ethics concerning the other species with which we share the planet, but even if you want to see it only from a utilitarian perspective, it is clear that we are very much at risk from the climate crisis. It is the plastic pollution, the rapid disappearance of biodiversity - look at the issue of bees, and what their disappearance means for us and the crops - and so much more. Also, my experience abroad changed me – before that, I thought that dealing with the environment was a hobby. There, I realised that it could become a profession.
If you find a way to do something you love, you won’t work a single day in your life. I decided to find a way to make my passion a profession. I would suggest to anyone who is interested, to try it. If you do, it is very important and a great blessing. I feel grateful that I was able to do something I love.
Environmental awareness is a family issue and a school issue.
It is impressive, however, that I know many children, especially through the actions I have done in schools with the "Planet Agents", who are much more aware than we were at that age - imagine that they show to parents how to reduce garbage at home for example. The environmental messages derived by society play an important role too. In Greece we are far behind in this and in the lack of infrastructure. Children in Greece do not get the stimuli they need concerning the environment, so suspicion is caused. Children often ask me "why should we recycle, since in the end the materials are not recycled?".
The main activity of the organisation is educational programs in schools.
Our organisation builds a program and submits it to the Ministry of Education. After getting the approval it can be implemented, so the schools choose if they want it. For the past two years, we have been implementing a program specifically for disposable plastics and plastic pollution in many islands and coastal areas with the participation of over 5,000 children from the partner schools. Our organisation donated the program material to the new unit of the Ministry, the Skills Laboratories. We have also implemented other programs, regarding energy, forests, biodiversity and garbage.
I am optimistic. If I was not, I wouldn’t be able to work in the field I work in. And whoever thinks that something doesn’t concern us because it will happen in 50 years, they’re wrong. I want to believe that knowledge, combined with the experience of the pandemic, will change the situation a lot.
We once thought the catastrophe was far away but the effects of climate change are already here. We see the increase of extreme weather phenomena, like for instance what we saw in Germany, or the floods in Belgium, or the harshness of the air we experienced here in March, the terrible hot waters we have in Greece even in winter and the foams in the sea.
The planet is currently experiencing extremely high temperatures, such as those in Canada - temperatures that have not been recorded ever again.
The pandemic shook beliefs.
I think it shook those who used to take some things for granted. It has shown that everything touches us and we see that with climate change as well. We will have more and more old and new diseases spreading on the planet. An example is the Zika virus, which has been around for decades, but was limited at certain places. Unfortunately, due to climate change, it has spread more. So, as our relationship with nature is strained, as wildlife diminishes, diseases will increase and spread. We are not as omnipotent as we thought we were. Each of us eats plastic every week equal to a credit card, through sea salt, fish, and even drinking water. This has uncertain, but certainly not positive, effects on our own health and that of our children.
I have written seven children's novels (published by Metaixmio) on environmental issues and I focus on the solutions in all of them.
Of course you have to provide information about the problem, but it’s not enough. I approach the issues with a lot of optimism, precisely because I believe that there are solutions and the great challenge is to implement them. What is needed is the will and the cooperation to implement them.
Consumerism doesn’t bring happiness.
In my preschool book "A cloud for my birthday" I connect consumerism with the environment. I think this is the hardest thing to teach to children of this age – learning that we don’t become happy by looking for more and more things to be happy. The book focuses on the fact that the moments we share, the experiences and the love with other people are what ultimately bring us happiness, and not to have something tangible in our hands. The book series "Planet Agents" (five in a row) also refers to the importance of consuming less. My latest book "The Abduction of D" talks about how recycling is a very important part of waste management but it is not the solution - we have to reduce our waste from the beginning - only 8% of plastics ever produced, have been recycled! Recycling is a difficult process as some materials are not recycled, especially if different types of plastics or colors that cannot be separated are mixed. What I emphasise is "the product cycle", that is, how we should think about the whole product cycle before we decide to get it: where will this thing end up when I'm done? All of this is about reducing energy use and focusing on renewable energy sources.
The messages that the books convey are very much about the importance of collaboration, the need to work together. They show that we humans are a whole - humanity - and that it is important for us to live well, to work together for the problems we share.
My book "Justin Gray and the Guardians of the Earth" is for older children like pre-adolescents. It discusses how we should take initiatives and not wait for someone else to solve the problem for us. In this book, written before the arrival of Greta Thunberg, a group of teenagers decide to address the issue of climate change, ending up protesting outside the White House at the Summit of the richest countries in the world.
I believe that children have a lot of power. Actually we all have power as long as the individual initiative is activated.
In other words, it is crucial for every one of us not to feel weak in relation to what we experience, but to try to take action. And I am very happy to see a lot of people doing this, in Greece as well. Especially the "Save your hood" movement (https://saveyourhood.gr/) and others, where children and adults gather to clean their neighborhoods from garbage, is very promising.
The most important thing is to be informed and to read constantly, but of course, constant engagement and experience are also important.
The specialisation that your studies give you is necessary as a scientific basis and documentation. But, especially in the field of Environmental Policy, the data is constantly changing - new information is constantly coming out. What I studied so many years ago has changed a lot. My dissertation dealt with the negatives of climate change and a large part of it focused on conspiracy theories such as “the rise in temperature occurs because the planet is coming closer to the Sun”.
Today, however, all relevant arguments have been refuted. I may recall and use knowledge, but things are moving so fast that constant updating is the most important thing. But experience also counts - you cannot learn at university how to be a good Business Consultant and teach a company about sustainability. This is something that is constantly evolving. In addition to the pressure of consumers who are increasingly aware of these issues, there are various projects such as the Green Deal of the European Union, for example, which gives very strong incentives - lending and funding, better terms, greater access to programs and more. From my experience in the field, I can confirm that large companies are strongly mobilized. We must all take action: ourselves, the state, the children, the companies, everyone!
Who is Eleni Andreadi?
Eleni Andreadi was born in London. She has traveled and worked in many countries, including England, Germany and the United States, where she majored in Environmental Policy and Media at Harvard University. There, she took a creative writing class and wrote a novel, which she quickly hid in her drawer. When she returned to Greece in 2009, she founded the Non-Profit Organisation "Planet Agents", which invites children to save the planet through secret missions. The organisation's experiential environmental programs are implemented in primary schools across the country and have been awarded for their innovation by the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs. Her first book, "Become a Planet Agent", won the State Children's Book Award in the Knowledge Book category 2015, while the second book of the series was shortlisted. Her books are translated and distributed in countries such as the US, China, Korea, Turkey and Egypt. Metaixmio has published four other books of the series of Planet Agents, her book "Justin Gray and the Guardians of the Earth" as well as "A cloud for my birthday" which is addressed to infants. Visit the official page of Planet Agents and discover many top secret missions and information about its action here: http://planetagents.org/
For the book titles: https://biblionet.gr/%CF%80%CF%81%CE%BF%CF%83%CF%89%CF%80%CE%BF/?personid=110348