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Max Johny Sano: Empowering Youth to Redefine Climate Action

Max Johny Sano: Empowering Youth to Redefine Climate Action


Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.

Hey, pals! It's Spiffy, your trusty interplanetary journalist back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making the world a better place! I have another great interview for you this week. Today, I’m excited to cruise around with Max Johny Sano, the founder and editor-in-chief of The Greenzine. Are you ready to be inspired?

Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Max! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing?

Max: My pleasure, Spiffy! The Greenzine is a youth-led platform organized by students and environmentalists under 30 years old that amplifies our work around redefining what climate action means. Our work includes written stories and articles, panels, interviews, social media, artwork, entrepreneurship, gardening, and advocacy. We encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to explore our site so that they can think more critically about environmental, social, political, and economic issues.

Spiffy: Amazing! What motivated you to tackle this challenge?

Max: I created The Greenzine in the middle of the pandemic in order to provide an outlet for students at my college’s environmental club, Environmental Action Alliance. It began as an email newsletter that incorporated original research from faculty/students, top environmental stories in the news, and occasional poetry/photography inspired by nature. After several months where more and more young people heard about, and wanted to get involved with, the project, I decided to expand into a website.

Spiffy: How are you and your team working towards a more equitable world?

Max: At The Greenzine, we do not only care about being critical thinkers about climate action, but also which voices are amplified. We make sure to amplify voices from the Global South and subjects that emphasize environmental justice, as well as encouraging stories around structural issues rather than individual choices. For example, in our last issue we focused on using comic books to think about climate justice and rethinking how we approach thinking about the environment.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent initiative by The Greenzine. What impact does that make?

Max: Recently, we established a new Partners page so that we can expand our community of changemakers and environmental advocates beyond just the United States to also include Ghana, Canada, and the United Kingdom. We also recently had the chance to interview four youth advocates from Iraq, Canada, Papua New Guinea, and Malaysia for their commitment to the 2030 SDGs as UNITE 2030 youth delegates. We are emphasizing amplifying stories that would normally be overlooked in American media.

Spiffy: Congratulations on your expansion! Please also share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from that experience?

Max: I have struggled to keep people on the team engaged with this project since everyone does it on a voluntary basis alongside working or studying full-time. This prospect of failure motivates me to continue doing this work, regardless of if I get paid for it, because I know that there are dozens of young people that have already been impacted by this project. So, I want to continue to offer opportunities for new and returning members of our movement.

Spiffy: Thank you for sharing that. What is something you've unexpectedly learned from someone recently?

Max: I learned about the importance of putting yourself out there even when you hold self-doubt about it. I have felt this way after moving back home from college and sharing this project with family friends that did not know anything about it. Even though I was expecting some people to not take it seriously, everyone that listened was excited and proud of me for pursuing something I cared about. Not only that, but they also congratulated me for making space for others to share their stories.

Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

Max: Never stop following your passions! If you aren’t energized and excited to spend time on whatever it is you are studying or thinking about for the future, then you should reconsider whether or not it is a right fit for you. Writing, storytelling, and facilitating conversations with people is what energizes me, but that might not be the right fit for you. Climate action comes in all forms, and it needs a diverse array of approaches and people to be effective.

Spiffy: Thanks again for speaking with me today, Max—it’s been an honor!

Max Sano is an environmentalist and award-winning writer from New York City. He has received multiple micro-grants to run the grassroots news collective, The Greenzine. He has experience in researching environmental policy, sustainable and ethical food systems, climate change, and immigration, among other areas. (Nominated by the Ladderworks team. First published on the Ladderworks website on August 4, 2022.)

© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by George Romar. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.