Climate crusaders: How 15 NoVA teens are fighting for sustainability reform

While it began as a project for an entrepreneurship program, a student-led idea in Fairfax County is now an environmentally friendly business called Sipsy.

Sipsy’s team (from left) Abbie Marie Robles, Camille Gledhill, Jay Sharma, James Tury, Linda Wu, Rhea Tuli, Jennifer Yang, Vishal Kanigicherla, Abigail Adams and Elena Blessing. (Photo by Robert Merhaut)

When a team of 15 high school students came together to create a company as part of their Junior Achievement of Greater Washington seven-month entrepreneurship program, they knew they wanted to put some passion behind their product.

“We brainstormed a lot and came up with different causes that we were passionate about, and the cause we ultimately decided on was the environment,” says Jennifer Yang, a rising junior at McLean High School. “We felt like it was an important issue for this generation and we wanted to do something about it.”

That passion was the catalyst for the launch of the company Sipsy, an environmentally friendly business that sells non-toxic, reusable straws in an effort to fight plastic waste.

The student-led company quickly took off—they’ve already generated more than $6,500 in revenue, with 5% of profits going to the nonprofit SEE Turtles—and the team ultimately won the Junior Achievement of Greater Washington’s Company of the Year competition. This past June, they were one of just 15 teams to participate in the 2019 Junior Achievement National Student Leadership Summit in Washington, DC. Junior Achievement is a nonprofit organization that teaches financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship to students.

While the company has had some financial success, the students look at Sipsy as a platform to push for additional climate change policies and discussions within Fairfax County. The team even lobbied the Fairfax County School Board at a recent meeting to limit the use of plastic straws at local schools.

“I think that it’s a new time that we’re living in. This is such a huge responsibility for high school students to manage their own company, but we’re trying to use it as a tool to bring to life some of these really huge issues that a lot of adults are facing right now,” says Camille Gledhill, a rising junior at Woodson High School who serves as the marketing director of Sipsy. “Yes, we’re just students, but it’s our future that we’re dealing with and we want to make sure it’s a future that we would be proud to live in.”

While the Junior Achievement program officially came to an end earlier this summer, about a dozen of the Sipsy team members are hoping to keep the company going, says Jennifer, who works on the company’s marketing team.

“I’m just ready to keep going. I don’t want our success to stop here,” she says. “I’m ready to go on and do better things in the future.”

This post originally appeared in our August 2019 print issue. For more profiles on inspiring NoVA notables, subscribe to our newsletters.

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