From co-founding Turning Green to announcing our Erin For Us campaign, I share about my grassroots upbringing and passion for justice with Eco-Sense! Read on about how my work continues to evolve…
Be the Change You Wish to See In The World
by Chanel Kadir
Let’s rewind to 2005, Erin Schrode is thirteen years old and she has just launched her first ever meeting called Safe Cosmetics 101, educating people about the ingredients in our everyday skin and beauty routine. Why? Because Schrode’s hometown Marin County has the highest concentration of organic farms yet a study came out in 2002 that ‘the county had the highest breast, prostate and melanoma cancer in the world and nobody knew why’, she exclaims. The local government put the point across that there wasn’t enough money to do the testing, so her mother took matters into her own hands.
They created a Grassroots campaign and thousands of people went door-to-door and asked why? ‘Nothing correlated so they worked with the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) department of epidemiology and found that it wasn’t the water or demographics’, Schrode explains, ‘so we started looking at lifestyle choices and what could contribute’. A couple of years later a study came out that linked the ingredients of personal care products to cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm, ‘that was my real wake up call’. She was born into a world where everything was organic and waste-free, ‘my mother has always protected me and I just assumed that the government ere doing the same, but it was a really rude wake up call to find out that wasn’t the case’, she says exasperated. This was the beginning of Schrode’s journey as an activist. ‘I wanted to show them solutions, I wanted to show them how green can be everything you have and more’, she explains. With her non-profit organisation Turning Green, she has done exactly that.
With Turning Green, Schrode stuck with what she knew and what she was experiencing – focusing on schools and teenagers. They spoke her language. ‘We spend 6 or more hours a day at school for 13-17 or more years of our lives and using that as a palette for exploration in terms of food service, janitorial, landscaping and the classroom products themselves’, she goes on to explain, ‘the campaign grew with me so we focused on prom when I went to prom and that included fashion, food, beauty, décor and transportation. We needed to focus on fashion considering the textile industry is the second most polluting after oil. When I went to college we did a big dorm project because you’re curating your own space for the first time and what does that mean? The purchasing power is in your hands’.
The non-profit organisation now has three main initiatives that they focus on. One of them is the Conscious College Road Tour that they’re actually doing at the moment. It’s a six-week, cross-country tour from Idaho to Mississippi, from California to Philadelphia, from Texas to Minnesota. They go around the nation and do pop-up eco expos in the heart of the campus and a town hall meeting in the evening to bring together everyone from dining services and social entrepreneurs and eco-reps and dorms to talk about solutions and projects that they can collaborate on. The second initiative is the Project Green Challenge, which happens every autumn. This challenge is a 30-day eco-lifestyle challenge in October, that includes ‘simple, fun, high-impact steps everyday’, Schrode explains. ‘Everyday has a theme, to really offer you a chance to dive in for 24-hour periods and to change your life and therefore, your friends, family, school and community. We see unbelievable transformations.’ Over 25,000 kids have participated so far. The last initiative is called The Conscious Kitchen, which is 100% fresh, local, seasonal, non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) food for breakfast and lunch that is served to students at a school where 95% qualify for free and reduced lunch. This aims to prove ‘the impossible, possible, that we can nourish our children well surpassing nutritional guidelines and within budget’. The Conscious Kitchen now makes up the whole district, so the only non-GMO and organic school district in the county.
However, being ethical and sustainable is subjective, to Schrode it means ‘making a choice that benefits people and the planet now and into the future without causing any harm. Without preventing other ability to enjoy the same. The collateral damage about which I speak, you know it’s a beautiful and delightful life for yourself now, so don’t destroy that for future generations, for people a world away, for animals and for the planet’, she says in a meaningful tone. It’s then that you really know how deeply she feels for the cause and it pulls on your heartstrings because we live in a world where we are discussing and preaching why we shouldn’t be harming animals or our planet. When the message should be loud and clear
There is only so much that the people and non-profit organisations like Turning Green can do, when big companies are going against the grain. We are consumers at the end of the day, more so than ever. The high street is filled with fast fashion brands that exploit their workers and use up so much of Earth’s produce. Fashion has a problem with being fast and it is a problem that needs fixing quickly. ‘There is a lot of money to be made for making more sustainable choice for companies. I think efficiency is one that we can talk a lot about for businesses: using less energy, less resources, less packaging and less shipping. There is better ability to prevent social injustice and efficiency on the front end but on the back end there is waste management and upcycling’, Schrode states. She has done her research, so why haven’t these companies? The message is loud and clear that they can do more to promote a sustainable and ethical lifestyle. Unilever is a company that has led the way in this field. Around five or six years ago they set up a sustainable living plan and challenged the notion of quarterly reporting. They made a commitment to cut their environmental footprint in half and double the size of the business. They have a brand portfolio of around 400 brands including Dove, Lipton and Ben & Jerry’s, the latter of which Schrode sees as incorporating sustainability into its core business practices. There is a new business model called B Corporations where these businesses have as much responsibility to the people and planet as they do to profit. Brands that use this philosophy are Reformation, Patagonia and The Whole Food’s Market.
Schrode is on the same wavelength as Leonardo Dicaprio when it comes to the most important issue the planet is facing right now. ‘Climate change, hands down’, she states, ‘we deny or we ignore the effects down the road from a standpoint. I’ve been working on the refugee crisis for the past six months and the climate impacting people. We are desecrating our Earth. We are destroying food supplies; we are creating massive dust balls that there are so many impacts of climate change. If we don’t wise up, we need to talk about reversal strategies. I think carbon sequestration is one of the most exciting we have, using soil as a carbon sink. We have one planet, it’s going to be fine, and we’re not. If we want to survive or thrive, we have to take immediate action’. She sounds almost tired and helpless as she talks about the fight against climate change. It’s one that has been going on all throughout our lives and isn’t getting any better.
This is why activists make it their living to fight for these causes. If they don’t, who will? One of the people she looks up to in this fight for environmental and social justice is Vandana Shiva who worked on ‘The True Cost’ film about the social issues within the fashion industry. She is an activist, a pioneer and an environmentalist from India. Shiva predominantly works on seeds and agriculture, GMO’s and chemicals. Schrode describes her as a really powerful woman and eco-feminism. Another person she looks up to is the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard who is an outdoor adventurist, surfer and rock climber and built his business in line with his principles. ‘Yvon is just a visionary, a genius, he has written some phenomenal books’, she says passionately. Then there is Adam Werbach, a longtime friend and mentor. He was the youngest president ever of the Sierra Club (an environmental organisation) and wrote the book ‘Strategies For Sustainability’. Last but not least, her mother of course is someone she looks up to the most. ‘She walks the talk more than anyone I know, she is in it for my generation and I. She’s a radical Grassroots activist who won’t take no for an answer and always sees possibility, always sees hope and who always sees a way to something better. My mother is an incredible force of nature’, she says with much adoration. Her favourite words to live by are also from her mother which are ‘strive and aspire for tomorrow but let it evolve’.
So what can we do to get more people onboard this journey and think more consciously about our actions and choices? Just ‘DO IT!’ she screams. ‘Start somewhere, commit to make one change in your life and more will follow I promise you that. I think you have to start living it, you have to experience it, and it just can’t be some idea. There’s way too much talk and talk is cheap. Act and be it committing to organic food or zero waste lifestyle or doing an audit of your closet. Swapping out your beauty care. Just start somewhere please and through that you learn a lot but also you realise how doable it is, how possible this lifestyle can be. We need more people actually showing that it is possible. Actually going there is that sort of success that inspires others to see the possibility’, she says with so much enthusiasm. Even though when this conversation happened it was 8am and she was sleepy, she never lost her enthusiasm and passion about the topic of environmental issues and the change we hope to see.
Schrode is filled with so much positivity about the change we wish to see that it is contagious. The tone in her voice throughout this conversation just drew you in and is the motivation that you need to begin making a change. It’s no wonder that she is now running for congress in California District 2 and is the youngest woman to do so, at the mere age of 24. Schrode proves Margaret Mead’s quote true, ‘Never doubt a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed it is the only thing’.
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