This post was originally produced for Forbes.
The assumption that Philippe Cousteau, 38, had no choice but to follow in the footsteps—er, wake—of his famous, sea-exploring grandfather Jacques Cousteau is wrong. While the younger Cousteau revere’s his grandfather, it was his own experience exploring that connected him to his grandfather’s work.
The senior explorer died in 1997 at the age of 87. By the time the grandson was ready to explore the world, the grandfather was resigned to the role of “elder statesman” rather than intrepid explorer.
An expedition to New Guinea at age 16, with Eugenie Clark, known as the Shark Lady, convinced Philippe Cousteau that there was simply no other way to live.
As with his grandfather, his love for the sea and the natural world includes a passion for protecting it. One of the ways that Cousteau manifests his environmentalism is through the nonprofit organization he founded called EarthEcho, focused on engaging young people in the environmental movement.
Jill Belasco, an entrepreneur who served on the board of the organization for six years, including a term as the Vice Chair, says, “EarthEcho is about education; they not only develop programs for the next generation of environmentalists but work closely with teachers and schools to get kids involved with hands-on projects.”
“I have worked with other environmental non-profits and have yet to find any organization that connects directly to our youth in the way EarthEcho does,” she adds.
The full-time staff at EarthEcho is small—just six people—and the budget of “over $1 million” is modest but leveraging the Cousteau brand and passion to build partnerships, the small organization is able to play above its weight class.
Cousteau says, “We don’t like to reinvent the wheel. There’s far too much of that already in the environmental movement—in most movements actually.” He believes the partnerships provide leverage to allow the small organization to maximize its impact.
In addition, EarthEcho has a Youth Leadership Council with 15 people from age 16 to 22 from around the world that also support the organization’s programs.
Watch my full interview with Cousteau in the video player at the top of the article.
Cousteau hopes that his nonprofit will help to galvanize a generation of activists. He notes with obvious frustration, “We saw in the last election, climate change wasn’t even a topic that came up in the debates.” He observes that environmental issues have become politically divisive.
“I always like to remind people that Richard Nixon passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. He founded the EPA,” Cousteau says. “We can argue about foreign policy, we can argue about economic policy when it comes right down to it clean air and clean water are non-negotiable.”
In recent years, EarthEcho recognized an opportunity in the movement to improve STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—education in schools. The science-focused curriculum EarthEcho provides aligns well with the movement so the organization has adapted its materials to emphasize this connection.
“What better way to study biology chemistry and engineering than nature because that’s where it all comes from,” Cousteau says.
The young Cousteau is also continuing some of his grandfather’s work in front of the camera and has been nominated for multiple Emmy Awards. He is the star of Caribbean Pirate Treasure on the Travel Channel.
Alex Morrison, a current board member at EarthEcho and SVP of Business Development at Strada Education Network, says he met Cousteau while working at the Discovery Channel.
Morrison says EarthEcho is empowering a generation of young people through education to identify threats to oceans and bodies of water in their own communities and to address them. “That type of approach has tremendous magnification.”
The late Cousteau said, “The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.” Now his grandson is trying to get a new generation aboard.
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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!