Charles Orgbon III isn’t your average high school student. At a time when most kids his age are enjoying their final days in high school and last few years as a teenager, the Mill Creek High School senior is running the nonprofit organization Greening Forward, one he started when he was just a seventh grader.
Greening Forward began as a website to address environmental myths that Orgbon wanted to debunk. Also misguided by traditional thinking that environmental issues began and end with littering and recycling, Orgbon learned as a fifth-grader that the world had larger problems than just trash.
“I started Greening Forward when I was 12 years old. I went to a school that required service,” said the 17-year-old. “What [started as] a requirement, led into me wanting to do litter pick-ups for fun; going beyond the requirement.”
Orgbon began to educate himself on environmental issues like climate change, alternative energy, global warming and the Reduce. Reuse. Recycle theory and the birth of his movement soon emerged.
“I felt like the same reasons people would litter is because they didn’t know,” said Orgbon “and they probably didn’t know about these other things too, so that’s why I started the website.”
After expanding his knowledge on issues concerning the planet, Recycling Education evolved into Greening Forward, the largest nonprofit of its kind. Run entirely by young people, Greening Forward supports other youth-driven environmental initiatives around the world through scholarships, grants and even a youth summit in the spring. To date, Greening Forward has given more than $35,000 in grants to fellow young environmentalists and has raised approximately $120,000 over the course of its five-year existence.
On Friday, Dec. 6, the Captain Planet Foundation (CPF), co-founded in 1991 by media mogul Ted Turner and producer Barbara Pyle, recognized the remarkable accomplishments Greening Forward has made on behalf of the environment by honoring Orgbon with the Captain Planet Young Superhero for Earth award at its fifth annual benefit gala. Held at the Georgia Aquarium, it also honored advocate Erin Brockovich, recipient of the CPF Protector of the Earth Award; husband-and-wife scientists Davis Suzuki, Ph.D and Tara Cullis, Ph.D, recipients of the CPF Exemplar Award; and Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle, who was the recipient of the CPF Green Innovator Award.
“Charles’ work with Greening Forward is a perfect example of what the programs of Captain Planet Foundation hope to achieve, activated youth who engage as environmental change-makers,” said CPF Executive Director Leesa Carter. “We believe that providing youth with environmental information, access, and engagement awakens their desire to improve the environmental and sustainability outcomes in their schools and communities. Greening Forward is not only engaging youth, but they are providing a critical platform for peer-to-peer information exchange.”
The crowd of celebrities, civic leaders and environmental enthusiasts attended the Friday gala as a show of support for the foundation inspired by the animated series “Captain Planet,” a show that ran from 1991-1996, before the generation CPF is seeking to influence was able to talk. Nevertheless, the message of that unprecedented cartoon is still relevant today.
“In a world of seven billion people, we’re going to have to find creative ways to create a more equitable and sustainable world for one another,” said Orgbon. “And in our seven-billion population world, we’re going to have to find more sustainable and equitable ways to live together to meet the demands and the needs of all of these people, and the answer is being environmentalists.”
As a board member for the Atlanta Chapter of Environmental Professionals of Color, Orgbon also believes in the importance of building diverse stakeholder groups. That cause was echoed by a few of Orgbon’s older environmentally-aware peers.
“Diversity is critical to the environmental movement. Traditionally, the environmental movement has been very underrepresented by minorities and this must change because issues such as climate change and resource limitations affect everyone on the planet, and therefore, everyone must engage in creating solutions,” said Carter. “Additionally, environmental degradation and pollution disproportionately affect minority communities and so this it becomes a social justice issue as well. Representative John Lewis has said that the environmental crisis is this generations Civil Rights Movement. We could not agree with him more.”
Already an accomplished public speaker, Orgbon will facilitate a conference on Jan. 20 to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day as well as continue the conversation on environmental diversity and Inclusion. His passion for the environmental movement has helped him to pave the way for young people, and people of color, to get more involved in the global initiative to improve the earth.
Reminded of the Native American proverb, “we don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children,” Orgbon, the young CEO, plans to study environmental science and public policy in college this fall. He looks to fulfill the promise of CPF’s mission and continue to personify its Superhero for Earth award.