A Florida Keys native, SeaStraws Chief Sustainability Officer Sophie Kennedy ’15 grew up an eyewitness to the rapid decay of the state’s coral reef system. But Kennedy’s passion for environmental sustainability really took off when she came to Peddie.
“I still remember that first day in Masters when CoJack (former Peddie English teacher Courtney Jackson ’04) handed me my recycling bin,” recalled Kennedy. “Even though I had come from a family who loved and valued the outdoors, I had never recycled before. This was the first of many instances during my time at Peddie where I was made aware of how I could personally make an impact on the environment.”
Kennedy spent several weeks at The Island School in the Bahamas for her Peddie Research Science Signature Experience. There, living with students in a sustainable community, she studied issues affecting coral reefs. She later explored her passion for the environment in AP Environmental Science class.
Inspired by a Peddie trip to India, where she remembered being horrified over the vast quantities of plastic floating in the Ganges River, Kennedy used her Honors Studio Art senior thesis as an opportunity to educate the Peddie community about plastic waste. Using garbage she collected around campus, Kennedy built a raft and, donning a handcrafted dress (also made from plastics), paddled across Peddie Lake to the cheers of onlookers.
Since then, Kennedy has made it her mission to educate others about the dangers of plastics. “I found my voice on that lake,” she said.
Kennedy co-founded SeaStraws in 2018 with fellow New York University (NYU) students while earning a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies. The sustainable straw company has sold over four million paper straws to date and in doing so, according to Kennedy, prevented the use of more than four thousand pounds of plastic. The SeaStraws team has received venture capital funding and in May won the grand prize for social ventures in NYU’s $300K Entrepreneurial Challenge, one of the largest university entrepreneurial competitions in the country.
While straws only account for 1% of the world’s plastic, Kennedy believes they serve as an introduction to many about the importance of environmental sustainability. “Straws serve as a gateway for a bigger conversation about what is truly sustainable, and the responsibility of the consumer to speak up. I see all of these environmental issues not as problems, but as opportunities to make change,” Kennedy said.
She added, “I have Peddie to thank for helping me build that mindset.”