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#iSTANDfor: activism over apathy

 

By Erin Schrode

I stand for people and the planet, for education and the environment, for activism over apathy.

Twenty-five years ago, when my mom was pregnant with me, she read a book that revolutionized her entire life and fundamentally shaped the world into which I was born. She raised me with organic food from local farmers’ markets, glass and metal containers instead of disposable plastic, homemade lemon and vinegar cleaning products; carpools, edible gardens, and beach cleanups were our norm. I lived a ‘green’ life in a forward-thinking Northern California community that embraced environmentalism and prioritized health. But in 2002, it was announced that my hometown of Marin County had the highest breast, prostate, and melanoma cancer rates in the world. No one knew why and when nothing correlated, attention turned to toxic exposures. At the age 13, a study came out linking the ingredients in personal care products to cancer, birth defects, and reproductive harm. Suddenly, environmental and public health issues – crises – became very personal.

I knew the importance of what we put in and around our bodies, but had never stopped to think about the toxins going on our bodies each and every day through cosmetics and personal care products.

It was a harsh realization to learn that no one was looking out for our health and wellbeing, that there was no government oversight, that there were no consumer regulations. I felt the need to share this information with my peers. We held our first event, Safe Cosmetics 101, in January 2005 with fellow teens from neighboring towns. The response was universal, with young people asking: what can we do? And thus, Turning Green was born – a now decade-old student-driven non-profit organization that works on education and advocacy with high school and college students around lifestyles, schools, and communities.

Momentum grew organically, both online and off. We could not stop with personal care and grew to examine fashion and the global impacts of the textile industry; school campuses as a palette for exploration around food service, landscape, janitorial and classroom products; prom to touch upon beauty, fashion, décor and transportation; dorms, including bedding, bath, cleaning, school supplies, and much more.

We run the digital Project Green Challenge, a 30-day eco lifestyle contest with simple, fun, high impact tasks on an array of daily themes to gamify sustainable action, shift habits, and establish healthy patterns among students worldwide.  We show up on college and university campuses with The Conscious College Road Tour to offer young people an opportunity to learn what eco/organic/recycled/healthy living looks and feels like firsthand – and how it easily fits into their lives, uniting diverse stakeholders from different departments, focal areas, and walks of life. We launched The Conscious Kitchen to serve students scratch-cooked FLOSN (fresh, local, organic, seasonal, non-GMO) foods with a complementary nutrition and gardening program. Deeply rooted in food justice and access, we began in a district where 95% of students qualified for subsidized free-and-reduced meals and have expanded each year based on concrete metrics around health, performance, and community.

My work with young people in local communities and around the world is proof in the power of individual and collective action. Just because I cannot do everything does not mean I will not do something; I will forever refuse to give that shrug of inevitability. A firm believer in the importance of education, I fight for environmental and social justice wherever, however, and whenever I can. We need to mobilize on the activism, business, media, and policy fronts to address the most pressing global challenges. Solving the climate crisis is a moral imperative; no challenge poses a greater threat to our collective future. Clean water, air, and a livable earth are not a choice or politicized issue. We must enact policies to prevent or mitigate further environmental degradation, while strategically planning for climate-related disasters. We must incentivize and employ new technologies in attempt to reverse damage, particularly related to emissions and the sequestration of greenhouse gases. We can be a leader on climate action and ensure not only a tolerable world, but a thriving one.

I stand for citizen activism, for innovative solutions, for collaborative action – because the decisions being made today will disproportionately affect my generation. I seek to inspire, educate and mobilize my peers and the public to protect, defend, and sustain our environment, our world, our home.