Erin is a breath of fresh air and taking on world change head on! I love following her on twitter and learning about all the projects she is working with. From creating eco consciousness among teenagers to donating school supplies to children in need aboard, Erin is inspiring real change around the world. She was kind enough to give me an inside look into her journey and shared her vision. Thanks Erin for your amazing work and keep the energy flowing!
1. What was the spark for you to live a green and vegan lifestyle?
When my mom was pregnant with me, she read a book called Diet for a Poisoned Planet. That book changed her life – and thus, changed mine. I was born into a world of green – not only my personal home, but also the greater community. I feel incredibly lucky to have been raised in the Bay Area in Northern California for its heightened awareness and eco-consciousness. That is the mindset from which I approach every decision in my life, placing health and sustainability at the top of my list – from food to fashion, beauty products to cleaning supplies, transportation to home décor. The list is endless, truly. Through Teens Turning Green, the non-profit I co-founded in 2005, I have been able to show my peers and the public the importance of environmentally responsible and socially just choices in the contexts of lifestyle, schools, and communities.
My parents never gave me meat growing up; it simply was not a part of our lives. When I was 15, I spent the summer living with a family in Spain – and that was the very first time I ever tried steak. I recall that moment so vividly… and, I must say, I liked it. So, for the next two years, I ate it small amounts of organic locally-raised grass-fed beef from time to time. One day, however, I decided I had simply had enough. I wanted to make a statement for the environment with my actions. The water, energy, and land-intensive meat industry is not something I wish to support. So, just like that, I stopped… and kicked dairy (cow dairy had been gone for a long time already) and eggs (which I never ate anyways) as well. Thus, I became “vegan Erin.” Oh, and I’m gluten-free!
2. Do you think living this lifestyle has helped you creatively as well?
Conscious living, eco lifestyle, “a kind diet” – as Alicia Silverstone calls it, a concept I love – is such an integral piece of my identity. I cannot imagine my life without these elements. My day-to-day is driven by a desire to do right by my body and the planet – and encourage others to join me on “the path” – to borrow a term from the incredible company which is Nature’s Path. The green space is such a compassionate and innovative community, one in which I have been privileged to be raised. These are the thought-leaders, the innovators, the creative and impactful change-makers.
3. What projects are you currently working on?
Teens Turning Green, The Schoolbag, and One Young World are my main focuses. What are they? Well, here’s a tid bit on each… and some other things I am up to…
Teens Turning Green is a student led movement devoted to education and advocacy around environmentally and socially responsible choices for individuals, schools, and communities. TTG seeks to promote global sustainability by identifying and eliminating toxic exposures that permeate daily life, often unknowingly, yet threaten public and environmental health. What began in California in 2005 now has a presence at elementary, middle and high schools, universities, and student organizations across the United States, as well as a strong virtual platform and media presence. Chapters nationwide lead grassroots efforts that aim to raise awareness, encourage behavior change, and lobby for policy that will lessen local and global impact.
The Schoolbag enables children to pursue an education by providing basic school supplies to young people in need, beginning with Haiti. Raising awareness about the lack of access to education around the world, each bag contains adequate materials for one student to learn for one year. The Schoolbag features environmentally sustainable and ethically produced tools and materials to initiate environmental education. Lack of access to, or availability of, satisfactory school supplies and materials prohibits many children from learning. Acquisition of knowledge is the first step on the path to global sustainability, prosperity, and world peace; innovation and progress stem from education, a universal right. The Schoolbag allows students to further their studies, particularly those living in disaster or conflict-stricken areas or chronic poverty.
One Young World is the premier global forum for young people of leadership caliber – and I am honored to be a United States Ambassador. Rooted in the reality of common humanity and the shared existence of all peoples, OYW aims to connect and bring together the youngest, brightest, and best to ensure that their concerns, opinions and solutions are heard. The 2010 Inaugural Summit drew 823 young leaders from 112 countries. Plenary sessions focused on key resolutions based upon the world’s most pressing issues: environment, global health, media, leadership, interfaith dialogue, and global business. Counsellors such as Kofi Annan, Bob Geldof, Muhammad Yunus, Desmond Tutu, John Kerry, and Wyclef Jean facilitated debate and dialogue between delegates and a global audience. The Ambassadors are now collaborating on numerous projects, leading up to the second summit in Zurich in September 2011.
I spent the fall semester in Ghana, West Africa, where I launched a recycling program for plastic water sachets with young kids and a local factory – to turn waste that litters the ground into valuable raw materials for fashionable TrashyBags, backpacks, and more. I am now studying abroad in the Middle East and interning with the Israeli and Palestinian branches of EcoPeace / Friends of the Earth Middle East. I have developed environmental education curriculum and materials for the very first environmental education in Palestine, where students will come to learn about the importance of stewardship and how an understanding of shared resources can promote peace-building.
4. What is your #1 green living and vegan lifestyle tip?
Support organic. Why? It reduces the toxin load, keeping chemicals out of the air, water, soil, and you – yes you! – as well as future generations. It nearly eliminates farm pollution and drift, helps to build healthy nutrient-rich soil, and uses less energy (on average, 30 percent less). It supports family farms that are economically and environmentally sustainable and is safer for the people that harvest our food. It promotes biodiversity and thriving local habitats. Plus, I think organic just plain ol’ tastes better.
5. What’s next for you?
There are numerous exciting things on the horizon for me. Teens Turning Green is launching one of our most exciting initiatives, Project Green Challenge, this coming fall. The PGG Challenge will invite young women (and men too!) from across the country to go from conventional to green in 30 days, through fun and simply daily steps and in depth discovery. We are also continuing to work hard on Project Lunch, rethinking school lunch and striving for nutritious, local, organic, and non-processed food offerings, through education, engagement, innovation, AND simultaneous policy change. Project Green Clean will launch soon, an initiative that seeks to inform the public about products that meet the highest health and ecological standards, promoting safer products, practices, and guidelines for households and schools.
With The Schoolbag… after spending additional time in Haiti this past summer, gathering information and further assessing educational needs; meeting with the Ministry of Education, Department of the Ouest (government of Western Haiti), UNICEF, and other NGOs with ground presence; visiting reopened elementary and secondary schools, orphanages, and pediatric wards of hospitals; speaking with dozens of teachers and educators to identify priorities and receive feedback on The Schoolbag components; documenting the French education system that is followed throughout the country; and distributing hundreds of notebooks and pencils to students… we have worked tirelessly over the past few months with donors and our partner companies to gather and produce the supplies needed for thousands of Schoolbags! We are going back to Haiti with 11,210 (our goal!) Schoolbags – full sets of school supplies – to distribute to primary school students prior to the start of the coming school year.
I am gearing up for the second One Young World Summit, collaborating with my peers globally on a variety of projects, some of which are featured in this month’s Vanity Fair! Honored to be in the magazine, photographed by the remarkable David Bailey, talking about the greater good and the power of the next generation! I am all about youth leadership; we are the future! We are “being the change” we wish to see in the world.
On elephant journal, I am writing about all things eco, as well, beginning with my twenty favorite places around the globe. Traveling is a true passion of mine… forty-one spectacular countries thus far. Off to live in Spain beginning in August!
I have also just started writing an eco fashion section for ecofabulous.com! Be on the look out for simple and fantastic ways to “eco-ize” trendy outfits! And there may even be a gluten-free recipe column coming soon… hmmm. Cannot wait to spend hours upon hours in the kitchen this summer!
Lots of things happening and, certainly, much more to come!