Meet The Environmentalist Who Is Leading Millennials In Making Change

At 24 years old, Erin Schrode has already founded two companies, lobbied for environmental reform, consulted with multinational corporations on their green initiatives, and visited 50 countries. Oh, and the White House has called her “a dynamic, passionate, and ambitious young woman committed to creating big change.”

Not a bad résumé.

I recently chatted with the self-proclaimed “Green Girl” to learn more about where her incredible sustainability journey began and where she's headed next.

“Young people with passion and vigor and education can change the world.”

It all started with a book. After reading David Steinman’s Diet for a Poisoned Planet — an exploration of how to find quality food in the age of pesticides, insecticides, and toxic chemicals — Erin’s mom was inspired to detox her entire home.

Before long, she had replaced the family's cleaning supplies with lemon and vinegar, tossed their plastic water bottles to make way for glass ones, and added beach cleanups to their weekend routine.

Immersed in these green principles from a young age, Erin understood that low-impact living was important, though she didn’t quite grasp why until she turned 13. That’s the year the Cali native learned of the unregulated toxic chemicals present in certain cosmetics.

Appalled by the concept that the ingredients in her makeup could be linked to cancer, Erin gathered her mom and a few friends around her kitchen table to talk about wanting to take action. That day, eighth-graders’ disbelief spurred the creation of a sustainability nonprofit, and Turning Green was born.

“You can always dive more deeply — you can always go more green.”

Alongside family and friends, Erin set out to bring awareness about the toxins in cosmetics and educate girls her age about safer alternatives. As she moved forward in school, Erin’s interest in green campaigning grew with her. In high school, she added a program teaching teens how to rock eco-friendly fashions at prom, and in college she made a comprehensive guide to green dorm rooms.

The success of these early initiatives inspired Erin to package her ideas into something that students across the world could get excited about. In 2011, she launched Project Green Challenge — a program that invites young adults to compete in fun, high-impact daily challenges through the month of October. These challenges touch on various green categories like transportation, fashion, and food.

“The first year, we had no idea if people would stick with it and keep doing these kooky things,” Erin told me. “For waste day, we asked people to walk around with a bag and fill it with the trash they would have otherwise thrown away. Why? It’s a conversation starter that will make their friend start to ask questions.”

Erin trains student volunteers at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on this year’s Conscious College Road Tour — a program of Turning Green that brings interactive eco-education to college campuses.

Last year, nearly 4,000 students across 31 countries registered to receive an email with the day’s challenge. They were encouraged to share their successes on the Challenge website. The students who garnered the highest green marks at the end of the month were invited to attend the closing ceremony and compete for the grand prize: $5,000 to implement a sustainable project or put toward continuing education.

In the months the challenge isn't in session, Erin spends her time traveling to schools across the country, talking to young people who may have a limited understanding of the environmental movement.

"I go around to speak with people who don't hear these messages all the time. They're the ones we really need to reach to change the paradigm. They're the ones who are getting stuck."

She went on to explain how a recent trip to a small Iowa town reminded her of her Green Girl mission — to equip young people in all walks of life “with passion and vigor and education they can use to change the world.”

"These kids were asking specific questions about what they could do tomorrow, what their parents could do, and where they could go to find more information," she said. "It showed me that some people really are hungry for knowledge, and it's easy to forget that when you're in these bubbles of California or the Northeast."

Erin exudes an infectious passion, and her articulate maturity makes it easy to forget that she just graduated college. Ambitious and humble, Erin’s clearly proud of her catalog of accomplishments, but eager to add to it.

“I feel like I can always be more impactful.”

Eager to learn more about Erin and try out some October sustainability challenges for yourself? Follow Project Green Challenge to learn more about how you can do some good for the planet this (and every other!) month.

Photo courtesy of Erin Schrode.

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