We spoke with Erin Schrode, co-founder of Turning Green. She promotes global sustainability, youth leadership, environmental education, and conscious lifestyle choices, and inspires and educates students worldwide. We found out why she doesn’t get nervous challenging multi-billion dollar industries, how she’s involved with promoting peace + green living in the Middle East, and where to go to college for the most awesome worldly experience ever.
What were your original goals when you started Turning Green, and what are they now?
We began with a focus on cosmetics and personal care products to educate my peers (teens, as I was 13-years-old at the time) about the links between ingredients in what we use on our bodies every day and cancer, birth defects, and reproductive harm, AND encourage a shift towards safer, healthier practices and products. We quickly realized that we could not stop there – and expanded to think about apparel, campuses, dorms, food, an all-encompassing eco lifestyle. We now seek to inspire, educate, and mobilize young people to be the change and transition from conventional to conscious in their lifestyles, schools, and communities.
You travel the globe spreading your green message. Where in the world are teens most enthusiastic about sustainability + living consciously?
People are enthusiastic about sustainability and conscious living everywhere; that is the beauty of this topic. Environmentalism and health touch everyone, regardless of background or age or home or profession. I have struggled with being an environmentalist, in the face of pressing issues like poverty, famine, war, disease – but conservation, finite resources, waste, public health crises are topics with relevance and critical importance everywhere. I have heard the mandate firsthand coming from all corners of our globe; people want to become involved in and move the needle on actionable issues that matter in their communities and be able to see the positive impact of collective work. Many of our campaigns offer just that, particularly to youth.
As a young ecoprenuer, do you ever feel nervous taking on corporations, organizations, and governments?
I don’t get nervous following my heart, speaking my truths, or standing up for what I believe in. I hope that doesn’t sound presumptuous – because it is the farthest from it. I take what I do seriously and care deeply – and holding business and government accountable for their actions is an imperative. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to engage with diverse stakeholders around issues that matter – and heck, if that involves going up against multi-billion dollar industries, BRING IT ON!
Who would you love to sit down for lunch with? Where would you go? And what do you want to speak with them about?
Right now? Melinda Gates. Because she is such a fierce, tireless champion for advancing women and girls around the world, education, and global health. I have profound respect for the innovative, high impact work that she and Bill are leading across the board; it is fundamentally changing our world. If only more people used their resources and platforms to accomplish the seemingly impossible and invested in real, viable, lasting solutions both at the policy level and on-the-ground! Focused efforts can lead to groundbreaking progress, as their foundation has proven. And as a proud green girl, I would love to dive into how environmental education and healthy lifestyle choices can, should, and must be a part of this vital work, overlaid on community engagement, action, education, and communications strategies. Where would we go? Well, she is based in Seattle and I am a big fan of the Pacific Northwest, so a farm-to-table spot in the Emerald City or on a nearby island would be lovely. How does that sound?!
Why do you eat plant-based? Is it a challenge with all of your travelling?
I eat a plant based diet because it is the single most impactful thing that I, as an individual, can do to lessen my footprint on our planet. It’s a statement I am proud to make – as an environmentalist and as a human being. People always say it must be impossible to maintain a vegan and gluten-free (yes, I am one of those too – ten years running!) diet while on the road, but it’s not. Fruit, veggies, nuts, grains, and beans are my staples – and they are easy (and inexpensive!) to find anywhere in the world. Think about the basis of global cuisines: India has basmati and chickpeas and lentils, Ghana has cassava and red beans, Peru has quinoa and hundreds of different potatoes, Colombia has the most insane varietals of corn, Bhutan has red rice, Kenya has pillau, Cuba has Moros and Cristianos (beans and rice), and that’s just what I have enjoyed off the top of my head. I skip the meat or fish and am good to go! Plus, I seek out vegan or vegetarian restaurants everywhere; it’s one of the things I look forward to most when arriving in a new city! Some of my all-time favorite spots are in Ubud (on Bali in Indonesia), Kansas City, Missouri (yup!), Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tel Aviv, Israel… oh, I could talk about discovering and enjoying amazing, plant-based food around the world for the rest of time!
How did you manage to accomplish all you have internationally while getting a formal education at NYU?
I chose NYU because of its global campus network. Going into college, I knew that I wanted to study abroad – and designed my major to allow me to spend four full semesters (my entire sophomore and junior years) in Ghana, Israel, Spain, and Argentina, in addition to my freshman winter term in Italy and a good chunk of my freshman spring in Haiti working in disaster relief (my professors were so supportive, for which I am hugely grateful!). I used the global sites as amazing bases to lead and ground work in the respective regions.
What achievement are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the individual lives that I have touched, particularly the kids – and the parents and the teachers. It is truly humbling to hear from anyone that I have changed their course, shifted their views, compelled them to action. I treasure the letters, the tweets, the anecdotes shared along the way. I am on a crazy mission to make the world a healthier, happier, more peaceful, sustainable, joyous, beautiful, just place (simple, right?!) – and endeavor to be a catalyst that causes people to see opportunity to be forces for good in their own lives. What’s one concrete thing that comes to mind? Writing the curriculum for the first-ever environmental education center in the Palestinian Authority that brought together Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian youth to talk about shared resources and conservation as a means of peace-building and conflict resolution. That’s a powerful, meaningful application of environmentalism in action.
What advice do you have for youth who want follow in your footsteps and inspire positive change?
Find your passion, educate yourself on the issue, align with like-minded leading organizations and individuals, and get started. Doing something – dare I say anything – is the real test. Believe in your power Lead by example. See the ripple effect in action. Make an impact, even at the most personal or local of levels, and then scale it. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good or feel daunted in the face of mammoth challenges or a crowded cause landscape. The world needs YOU to be the change.