Clean-Water Activist Andrea Neal on Raising Eco-Conscious Kids

andrea neal and Stephen Proulx dive into their passion for clean water

andrea neal and Stephen Proulx dive into their passion for clean water

By Dawn Van Osdell

It started with an unexpected life-changing moment at a Jack Johnson concert—a performance often celebrated for its conservation message as much as for its music. In 2008, Andrea Neal, an avid surfer, was newly graduated with a Ph.D. in molecular genetics and lipid biochemistry, and celebrating her birthday when famed oceanographic explorer and environmentalist, Jean-Michel Cousteau, took the stage to speak about the need for better marine conservation efforts.

“Hearing him, I knew I needed to leave academia and pursue helping people and the environment in a different way,” says Neal. The next day she was in his office, offering her help and embarking on a journey in which she explored 8,000 miles of pristine ocean; studied devastating marine pollution—including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch off the coast of California and the aftermath of Japan's Fukushima nuclear power meltdown—and ultimately, founded Hope2o, a company that enables consumers to test their tap and filter water for harmful toxins.

Andrea Neal and her team at hope20

Andrea Neal and her team at hope20

“It’s my way of making my safe water dream a reality,” says Neal, now a new mom and step-mom living with her family in Noleta, a wee, tiny California town wedged between Santa Barbara and Goleta. If, as she maintains, “Everyone has a right to both understand and make decisions about their family’s resources,” then with Hope2o she’s giving them—giving us—an affordable, reliable way to do just that.

Here, Neal shares six ways that her fervor and commitment to clean water translates into raising environmentally conscious kids. Maybe there’s something in here that will inspire you to talk a little differently to your kids about what they see at home and in your own neighborhood, and to involve them in making changes that may well improve the world.

1.   Share your passion. Neal’s family is involved in her work, which—lucky for her—also happens to be her passion. Her husband, Stephen Proulx, a professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology at University California Santa Barbara, is credited with naming Hope2o and being a constant support system and sounding board. Neal’s father, Dr. Gordon Neal, is the company’s chief operating officer and a major investor “in both time and money,” she says. Her stepdaughter, Sabrina, helps educate and spread the word at informational booths. And baby Rowan is the star of the company’s advertising campaign. “They are very exposed to my work,” she says. “My environmental passion directly links to a healthy, happy future for them.”

2.   Do your best with the resources you have. Neal admits that her family isn’t always as green as they aim to be, but she’s found simple, healthy approaches that are realistic for her busy family life. For instance, they do not drink from plastic (plastic constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, a whopping 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile. They eat local and organic when they can. And, she confesses, they have more reusable bags than anyone on the planet.

3.   Choose an environmental cause that speaks to you. No surprise—Neal’s cause is anything that has to do with water. “I have been to the middle of the ocean and have seen our trash floating there,” she says. “This makes me a huge advocate for environmental solutions.”  She supports many eco-conscious organizations, including Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society for which she is an advisor; Mission Blue, led by famed National Geographic Society Explorer in Residence Dr. Sylvia A. Earle; Blue Frontier Campaign, which inspired Neal’s Operation Water Legacy program (OWL), an initiative to chemically map the New Jersey water system; and Blue Marble Project, a program that links mental and physical health with a connection to water.

4.   Go outside to play. Both in and out of the water, Neal’s family spends a lot of time outside. She and her husband surf, dive, and snorkel. “We don’t get in the water as much right now with a small baby, but I am very much looking forward to some board time with him,” she says. Their daughter occasionally surfs and is the resident boogey boarder. They also enjoy hiking and camping as a family, and they all play soccer. “As Jacque Yves Cousteau used to say, ‘you protect what you love,’” says Neal. “There is something special with nature that is healthy for us both physically and mentally.”

5.   Encourage critical thinking skills. “You can’t protect what you don’t understand,” says Neal, again paraphrasing Cousteau. “With so much information on the Web, it is hard to sort out what is real and what isn’t.” Help your kids find accurate information and help them process it. “You want them to put their energy and time into real causes,” says Neal.

6.   Commit to your kids’ future. “I hope that our efforts help secure clean water and a clean environment for our kids,” says Neal.  “With the rate of population growth, our ability to support everyone with the resources we have is diminishing quickly. It is going to take a global effort to try and change the current path that we are on. But my kids are 100 percent worth all of my efforts.” The above tips will hopefully help you to maximize the impact you have on yours!

andrea neal and her son rowan

andrea neal and her son rowan

Photographs courtesy of Andrea Neal