Changemakers@USGBC Episode 6: Stephen Ritz | U.S. Green Building Council
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Published on
Posted in Community
Published on
Posted in Community

When we launched Changemakers@USGBC, our goal was to go beyond the buildings and spotlight ordinary individuals making an extraordinary difference in sustainability. As we approach the new year, we’re ending the season with a changemaker who epitomizes what this show is all about.

Stephen Ritz is a public school science teacher in the poorest congressional district in America. Born and raised in the Bronx, he fundamentally believes that students shouldn’t have to leave their community to live, learn and earn in a better one. Stephen has taken the farm into the classroom, teaching his students how to grow, cook and eat healthy food and to make green graffiti—that is, edible walls and green roofs.

What does any of that have to do with school? Daily attendance has gone from 40 percent to 93 percent, and in the process, students are learning reading, writing, science, math and problem-solving. Stephen has focused on creating a replicable model aligned to the Common Core so that marginalized and high-need communities around the country can copy him. Stephen’s students are also the youngest nationally certified workforce in the United States. Other states and countries are now looking to get trained by his kids in the South Bronx.

Stephen’s eloquence and enthusiasm is infections. Stephen was a top ten finalist in the Global Teacher Prize, the "Nobel Prize of teaching," and his work has been featured on major TV networks, and in best-selling author Michael Pollan’s newest documentary. Authenticity and intention are in everything he does. Following his own advice, Stephen lost more than 100 pounds! And even though his organization is known around the world, Stephen doesn’t take a cent from from Green Bronx Machine

My conversation with Stephen was easily one of my favorites. He had so much to say, with lots of quotable moments along the way. Here are just some of the things we talked about:

  • One thing you can do right now to be a better public speaker
  • How to start a social enterprise without leaving your job 
  • Why he refuses to call Green Bronx Machine a nonprofit
  • Advice for the hyper-ambitious striving to be the next 30 under 30, or 40 under 40.
  • The importance of having mentors
  • Zip code and skin color
  • Advice for anyone who wants to “change the world” but doesn’t know where to start
  • Preventing overwhelm and finding time to get it all done
  • USGBC taking on big interests
  • The importance of being an accessible resource

As always, we’d love to know what you think. Leave a comment below or use #ChangemakersUSGBC on social media. You can also binge-listen to our first season.

Resources and links from the show:

Tweet: #ChangemakersUSGBC closes season w/ @GreenBXmachine Captain, Stephen Ritz: changing lives in #greenschools movement