Susan Newman and Mary Jo Rhodes (seen here right to left) are passionate about frogs, and they’re working to transform their passion into a full time job through Frogs are Green. We wanted to find out how this awareness-raising organization is drawing attention to the plight of frogs and amphibians, and how the efforts of these social entrepreneurs is clearing the way for an easier future for these green friends.
Tell me a bit more about Frogs Are Green.
Frogs Are Green is an animal conservation organization with the mission of alerting people to an ongoing environmental crisis—the potential extinction of frogs and other amphibians—and to offer solutions for their survival. Amphibians are threatened with toxins in the environment, climate change, invasive species, habitat loss, and over-collection by the pet, laboratory, and restaurant trade. Recently, the chytrid fungus, a skin disease that has spread around the world, has wiped out whole populations of frogs.
Because they absorb chemicals through their skin, frogs and other amphibians are extremely sensitive to environmental threats and serve as bioindicators. We ingest and absorb the same chemicals in our water and in innumerable consumer projects. Research suggests that these toxins are affecting humans as well—especially fetuses in utero.
Frogs are our environmental messengers—we need to listen to what they’re telling us. What is happening to the frogs should wake us up to environmental problems that concern us all.
What inspired you to take on the cause of frogs and amphibians?
So few people know about the global amphibian crisis. Most people are surprised to learn that we are in the midst of the greatest mass animal extinction since the extinction of the dinosaurs. As there were fewer websites and organizations devoted to educating people about it, we thought we could help more with this cause than with other more well known issues. The topic also lends itself to educating people about a variety of environmental topics: the effects of toxins in our water, habitat loss, global warming, conservation, animal rights, and generally about the need to live a “frog-friendly” life.
When we first launched Frogs Are Green, our biggest challenge was to get people to take us seriously—most found the cause amusing until they began to learn more about it. Some of our original skeptics, however, are now quite involved in Frogs Are Green.
Our other challenge is funding. We are looking into applying for grants, attracting sponsors, and seeking other ways to increase funding in order to create educational materials, videos, online activities, and other projects.
Where did you find the funding to launch and run this social enterprise?
We had a smooth beginning because we’ve been friends for many years and share the same goals. We have funded the Frogs Are Green organization ourselves and are helped by occasional purchases of the products.
We sell products such as t-shirts, calendars, and posters to help fund Frogs Are Green. Our goal is to spread the awareness of the amphibian crisis and to contribute to other amphibian conservation organizations such as Save the Frogs and Amphibian Ark. The contests are a great way to get children and adults involved in our organization.
In addition to the online store within the Frogs Are Green site, we have a donate button on the site for those people or organizations that would like to help our cause, but don’t want to buy a product. We are also currently building a separate Cafepress store, which will open up our product selections in both price and variety. In 2011, we hope to explore ways of attracting sponsors and increasing donations.
We have tried different methods to engage people, such as reaching out to both local and online news organizations. We also created a Frogs Are Green display, which is currently up at the Hoboken City Hall. We’ve appeared at environmental fairs and talked directly with people, passing out postcards and wristbands. We’ve also reached out to other amphibian organizations and have contacted herpetologists and others for guest posts.
Some of these methods have paid off well for us. We were featured, for example, in a slideshow on Discovery’s Planet Green about endangered frogs, and this past summer, we were featured in a cover article in the Waterfront Journal, a Hoboken and Jersey City paper. In addition, we’ve been featured in several online articles and interviews.
We build our web presence through social media by using Twitter (http://twitter.com/greeninnature), Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/frogsaregreen), and LinkedIn, especially the groups section. We’ve attracted a nice following, which continues to build everyday. Through these social media sites, we are connecting with photographers, educators, authors, herpetologists, and more. Social media has been a tremendous help to growing our blog readership as well as in helping us announce our contests and getting people involved in Frogs Are Green.
Do you both have jobs other than your work with Frogs Are Green or are you full time social entrepreneurs?
We have other jobs: Susan is a branding and identity designer for print and web and Mary Jo is a writer and does freelance editorial work. We hope to grow Frogs Are Green to the point where we would be able to work on it full-time.
Although we were passionate about our cause when we started, we didn’t start out with an organized plan, and now we are playing catch up. In some ways, however, this was probably for the best because we now have a track record: over 7,000 visitors a month on our blog, media attention about Frogs Are Green, and connections with other wildlife organizations and individuals. In 2011, we hope to expand our reach and to create promotional materials so that we can approach potential sponsors.
Photo courtesy of Doug Bauman Photography