Emma Riley

The Woman Fighting to Keep Our Oceans Strawless

Emma Riley says her greatest achievement has been joining Lonely Whale, an ocean advocacy group behind the Strawless Ocean initiative. As the director of strategic partnerships, Riley spearheads radically collaborative efforts including the company’s flagship campaign, Strawless in Seattle, which resulted in the permanent removal of more than 2.5 million single-use plastic straws from the city.

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What’s something you’d like people to know about you or your job that they probably don’t?

“A goal with Lonely Whale is not to have to exist in the future. Then we’ll know we’ve done our job. We want to solve for the marine debris issues as fast and as thoroughly as possible.”

What are you most grateful for?

“I’m most grateful for a few people in the world who keep me breathing and smiling. I’m really, really grateful for mountains to hike on and whenever I find a sand dollar at the beach. I’m grateful for the New Yorker magazine and for doughnuts and for acupuncture.”

What does being a woman mean to you today?

“This is a hard question to answer. It means a lot to me. Good and bad. Being a woman means possibly having to decide between motherhood and a strong, steady and strategic career at a young age. It means multitasking and managing thoroughly. It means having to prove yourself two times over but sometimes being able to maneuver in ways men can’t. It means still finding societal norms thought to have died applying to my life—some which I’m OK with, some which I’m not. I think more than anything I’m just trying to live one very positive life during which I have fun and make a difference. I think less about my footprint as a woman and more about my footprint as a human.”

What advice do you have for other women working toward their own dreams?

“Everyone, including you, deserves to work with colleagues who are kind and respectful and value your insights. Also, red lipstick. Always.”

Favorite podcast?

“I love listening to the local NPR stations when traveling: Morning Edition, in particular. I’m also completely addicted to How I Built This, which is a great podcast for entrepreneurs of any age.”

Whom do you admire more than anyone else?

“Single moms who also work full-time jobs. And firemen.”

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