I’ll never forget that morning in 1996 when I caught a Today Show segment about a young man who was driving his “Veggie Van” across the country to promote alternatives to oil. The man was fueling his van with biodiesel he’d made out of used cooking oil.
That morning, at the age of sixteen, a light bulb went off in my head—I realized we didn’t need to go to war for oil or harm the environment by extracting fossil fuels from the ground. We could actually convert a waste stream into our energy stream!
I also had no idea that fifteen years later I would be married to the man I’d seen on Today, and that the same Veggie Van he’d driven across the country would sit in my backyard.
When I finally met Josh Tickell more than a decade after I saw him on TV, he showed me the footage he’d gathered over the years, and I instantly knew my life was about to change. More than anything, I wanted to help him get this message out: WE CAN SAVE THE PLANET! Our mutual love for saving the planet turned into a profound love for one another. I quit my job, sold my car, and we got engaged.
For the first time in my life, I felt truly empowered to make a difference in the world. I had found my calling and I decided I wanted to make a film about biodiesel and alternative fuels. I’d had some experience in the film industry, but only in front of the camera—when I was nine years old, I starred in a Christmas movie called Prancer, and I was still doing some acting in my twenties. I also made ends meet in between acting gigs by doing things like karaoke hostessing, interior decorating, and teaching English.
I’d never produced a film before though, but my experience as an actor, the tools I learned from each of my jobs along the way, and my passion for the environment helped me raise over three million dollars for what would eventually become our Sundance Award-winning documentary FUEL. But beyond my experience, ultimately it was my passion for what we were doing that made me unstoppable. Even Richard Branson, the Virgin mogul, has said that he “can’t say no” to me. The truth was, it wasn’t me he couldn’t say no to—it was my commitment.
Through that commitment, Josh and I raised over one billion dollars for alternative fuels, our film FUEL was screened at the White House, and we became the first people ever to drive a car powered by algae gas across the country.
As Josh and I continued beating the drum for alternative fuels, I started to realize that most of the major players in the environmental movement were men. I wanted to find a way to encourage women to be more proactive in leading the green movement. So I interviewed over one hundred women I considered to be leaders of the green movement to find out how they did it, what their biggest obstacles were, and how they overcame them. Those interviews turned into Hot, Rich & Green: The Secret Formula Women Are Using to Get Rich and Save the Planet, a book designed to empower women to harness their biological drive to protect the planet, find passion in their career, and make money doing it.
Since producing FUEL and writing Hot, Rich & Green, I’ve produced two more documentaries, most recently The Big Fix, which chronicles the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico following the BP oil spill. To film The Big Fix, Josh and I literally risked our lives to expose the true extent of the damage and cover-up that took place there. In the process, I was exposed to oil and dispersant and have since been diagnosed with an irreversible skin condition that prohibits me from exposing my neck and chest to the sun for the rest of my life. There has been a price to pay for our bold stand, but at the end of the day, my life is so rich and full of the joy of living my dream since becoming an activist and filmmaker that I wouldn’t trade one second of these past several years.
My advice to girls who want to make an impact? Follow your dreams, make a living doing what you love, and never take no for an answer. If you can find that thing that lights you up, the thing you’d do no matter what, find some way to turn that passion into your career. If you do, you’ll be unstoppable. If what lights you up can make this world a better place, others will want to help you…it’s contagious. Listen to your gut and don’t sell out on yourself or your dream. Focus on those things which can bring you success and happiness—don’t waste your time fighting small battles. You (yes, YOU) have the power to change the world, and we’re all counting on you to do just that!
Rebecca Harrell Tickell has dedicated her career to the advancement of women in green businesses. She specializes in providing women with tactics in order to profit from their passion for helping their communities and the planet. She has worked with hundreds of women who, collectively, comprise a substantial portion of the “green movement” – from CEO’s of major nonprofit organizations, to women who are designing new eco-friendly products, and to women who are fundamentally shifting the way corporations think and work within the environment.
Read our review of her bestselling book, Hot, Rich & Green, here!
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