Environmental Hero. Entrepreneur. Visionary.
Chad grew up on the banks of the Mississippi River and spent the majority of his time on, in, and around it. For his first job, he swam along its bottom, searching in the dark for mussels. He didn’t like what he discovered, trash and generations of discarded treasure. One day he decided to do something about it. At the age of 17, Chad started making calls to government agencies to notify them of the problem, assuming someone would take care of it. Year after year passed by and the problem only worsened. In 1997, Chad decided that if no one else was going to clean up the river, he would.
In 1998 at the age of 23 with one boat, Chad founded Living Lands & Waters. Today, the nonprofit organization has grown to include a full staff, a fleet of barges, two towboats, six workboats, and ground vehicles. The crew with the help of more than 100,000 volunteers averages nine states a year along the Mississippi, Illinois, and Ohio Rivers, as well as many of their tributaries. They have removed more than ten million pounds of garbage from America’s rivers and they have planted more than 1.3 million trees.
Chad’s vision, charisma, non-stop work ethic, and natural leadership style have garnered him an abundance of awards and honors over the years. Among the honors he has received, in 2002, Chad accepted the Jefferson Award for Public Service (America’s version of the Nobel Prize) at the United States Supreme Court in Washington D.C. alongside co-recipients Bill and Melinda Gates. When he received the 2011 Points of Light Award, all four living U.S. Presidents honored him with a standing ovation. National Geographic published his book, From the Bottom Up: One Man’s Crusade to Save America’s Rivers, then in 2013, Chad was named CNN's Hero of the Year.
Photos: courtesy Chad Pregracke
From the Bottom Up
Chad shares how cultivating a team dynamic—even in the most challenging environments—makes a difference in not just morale and employee retention, but in bottom-line results.
How to steer a 350-ton barge with a bicycle chain (creative problem solving)
How to make the leap from finding a solution to championing a cause
How to inspire a diverse group of people to work together towards a single vision
An average person can make an extraordinary difference
Strong leadership and teamwork can scale a solution, no matter the size of the problem