Bright spark: Teenager puts ideas into action with paper recycling initiative
Ike Park has won over about 30 Hong Kong schools to his scheme and business groups such as the British Chamber of Commerce have offered support
When Ike Park took part in a leadership workshop in 2013, he had no idea he would become an environmental advocate with his own not-for-profit organisation.
The workshop, held by Nature Conservancy, ended with a task for the teams to carry out an action, and Park’s team decided to go tree planting.
After hitting walls in their attempts to even just find a site for the planting, then realising how many hands it required to plant a few trees, Park thought: “There must be a more effective way of going about this. How about saving trees from being cut down in the first place?”
Thus began his mission to get schools to switch from virgin copy paper to recycled paper.
Park, 18, speaks with an air of confidence unusual for a teenager. Explaining the business model for his organisation, Project O2, he says: “Since cost is the main problem with recycled paper, if I could gather enough demand, I would have leverage to bargain with suppliers for a lower price.”
And that he did. Many people have great ideas, but what sets people like Park aside is how they plunge straight into action. To make things happen, he boldly reached out to experts – total strangers – for help, emailing a PR firm for pitching advice, phoning an Irish scientist for views on carbon trading, going up to a panellist at a seminar for feedback on his proposal.
“Well, I’ve always liked to talk,” he laughs.
He asked for a meeting with the local branch of Tesla Motors, telling the multinational automotive and energy storage company that they share the vision of “wanting to make change by thinking differently”.
That outreach ended with his school becoming the first in Hong Kong to get an e-vehicle charger installed. He’s humble enough about it – “It helps that we’re students. People know we have no ulterior motive” – but his achievements are no small feat.
His recycled paper initiative now has about 20 ESF schools on board and 10 other schools have made pledges to make the switch, while business groups such as the British Chamber of Commerce have offered support.
The Nature Conservancy has nominated the 18-year-old for a Cultural Preservation Award in this year’s Spirit of Hong Kong Awards, organised by the South China Morning Post.
It all sounds easy now, but it’s been a pretty steep learning curve. After failing to win over certain groups, such as local schools, Park realised he needed a different approach. His team had been pitching different school administrators directly, but it wasn’t effective as they were outsiders.
“So I thought we could hold a conference and invite different students to talk to their own schools instead.”
This culminated in last year’s inaugural Hong Kong Youth Environmental Summit, which trains student representatives to write proposals, present them, and become change-makers.
Park feels lucky that his parents could see the value in his projects outside of school work and supported him. It has paid off. Before he even sat his final-year exams, the prolific teenager had been accepted into Harvard University. And he knows what he wants to do; he’s eyeing up its “Environmental Science and Public Policy” programme.
“After all, it’s no use just having science facts; you have to move the public to really make a difference.”