Going ‘Green’ for a New Generation with Turning Green’s Erin Schrode

October 5, 2015

John Shegerian: Welcome to another edition of Green Is Good. This is the Green Sports Alliance edition of Green Is Good brought to you here in downtown Chicago, and we are so honored and excited to have with us today Erin Schrode. She is the co-founder of Turning Green. Welcome to Green Is Good. Erin Schrode: Thanks for having me. I’m thrilled to be here. John Shegerian: Oh, well, we’re thrilled to have you, Erin. Before we get talking about what you are doing with Turning Green can you share a little bit about your journey because you started your journey very, very young in green and sustainability. Erin Schrode: I did. Well, I’m going to rewind about 24 years to when my mom was pregnant with me. John Shegerian: Wow. Erin Schrode: She read a book called “Diet For A Poison Planet” that completely changed her world and therefore that of her unborn child. My dad went to work one day, came home and she had “organicized” – as I like to say – the entire house. Cleaning products were out – lemon and vinegar were in. No plastic. All organic food. Farm fresh. Local. That is how I grew up. That was my norm. John Shegerian: Wow. Erin Schrode: And being in the Bay Area – you know – it helped. We would search for tadpoles in the creek at school and grow our own food in the garden, and it was a rude awakening for me to find out that this wasn’t how everyone was raised. And that moment for me, when I became an environmentalist, when I really owned that cause as my own – we’re in counting of the highest breast, prostate and melanoma cancer rates in the world. John Shegerian: Whoa. Erin Schrode: In 2002, it was announced and no one knew why. There were studies and nothing correlated so we started looking into lifestyle choices. And the energy of youth around these issues, around getting to the bottom of it, asking the simple question “why?” John Shegerian: Yeah. Erin Schrode: “Why are cancer rates off the charts?” So looking at products we use in our home, products we use on our body, products on our food, products outside. And that was the beginning of me really delving into the depths of eco-lifestyle. John Shegerian: Really? And so what was your high school experience and your college experience like? Erin Schrode: When I was in eighth grade, I co-founded this organization – Turning Green. John Shegerian: OK. Erin Schrode: There was a study that came out that linked the ingredients in personal care products – it’s not mascara and lip gloss; it’s soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste – to cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm. So I was 13. I was seeing melting polar ice caps. I understood the impacts of climate change. But I couldn’t fix that. I couldn’t take my house off the grid. I didn’t have a house. I couldn’t buy a hybrid car. I didn’t have a car. John Shegerian: Right. Erin Schrode: But I could swap my lip gloss. I could change these personal choices. So for me my advocacy journey was really what carried me through high school and college. John Shegerian: Right. Erin Schrode: But we started and we realized it couldn’t just stop with personal care, looking at that, looking into apparel, looking into dorm choices. So for me I went to school. I love learning. I got to learn, but it all was through this eco-filter. John Shegerian: Where did you go to college? Erin Schrode: I went to NYU. John Shegerian: NYU. So did I. Erin Schrode: Really? John Shegerian: So we are both Violets, right? I think, unfortunately. Erin Schrode: School pride. John Shegerian: Exactly. Erin Schrode: It was an amazing school that gave me an opportunity. I spent four semesters abroad. John Shegerian: Wow. Erin Schrode: I did my entire sophomore and junior year in Ghana, Israel, Spain and Argentina. John Shegerian: How interesting. Erin Schrode: So four continents. John Shegerian: And what did you decide to study there? Erin Schrode: My major was social and cultural analysis. John Shegerian: Yes. Erin Schrode: I did Comparative Africano and Latino Studies. John Shegerian: Got you. Erin Schrode: But my thesis was on the evolution of cause marketing and supply chain efficiency in waste management. So in all of these markets, the U.S. included because I was – contrary to popular opinion – a student in New York for quite a bit, I got to compare the way in which people were embracing this environmentalism from a cultural standpoint, the way which companies were marketing towards it, greenwashing or not, and it was fascinating. It was. John Shegerian: That’s so interesting. Erin Schrode: It was a really unique education journey but a lovely one. John Shegerian: Talk a little bit about NYU. I was asked once to come back and speak to their sustainability program – or maybe not program, club. How big is sustainability at NYU right now? What was your experience there? Erin Schrode: I actually got involved with the sustainability lead at NYU prior to even arriving there. John Shegerian: Wow. Erin Schrode: And they are doing a lot of really amazing work. The fact that we are in the city of New York. John Shegerian: Yeah. Erin Schrode: I mean, that gives us an upper hand just in terms of the access that we have but it’s an enormous institution with a massive, massive, massive footprint. So I think just like with personal lifestyle, with anyone, reduction, less consumption, using less across the board is really, really important. I remember my freshman year we had an energy challenge and I didn’t even necessarily – my friends didn’t think about this as environmentalism, turn off the lights and whoever did the best would get a pizza party at the end. John Shegerian: Right. Erin Schrode: But I have used that in my own work in looking at incentives and looking at what drove my friends, what drove 18-year-olds then to change their habits? What was effective, and how can we use that at Turning Green when we go out onto campuses and say, “OK, we want you to change something.” Well, I was there just a couple years ago. Really. John Shegerian: Not that far removed. Erin Schrode: No. Class of 2013. John Shegerian: My gosh. For our listeners and viewers out there, we have got Erin Schrode here with us. She is the co-founder of Turning Green, and to find Erin and her colleagues and all the great work she is doing, please go to www.ErinSchrode.com. So talk to us a little bit about Turning Green and what is going on there and what projects you are working on. You are still in New York. Erin Schrode: Yeah. John Shegerian: You’ve got Turning Green in New York. Erin Schrode: Well, our headquarters are in the Bay Area. John Shegerian: OK. Erin Schrode: Born and raised. Proud NorCal girl. John Shegerian: Right. Erin Schrode: And that’s where our staff is. I co-founded the organization with my mother – she is the Executive Director. John Shegerian: Perfect. Erin Schrode: My mom and my role model, my best friend. John Shegerian: Right. Erin Schrode: And so we have three main programs. After about six years of running a plethora of programs related to prom, dorm, cleaning, space, body care, we realized we needed to distill down the content but amplify the reach. So we did that by creating something called “Project Green Challenge,” and it’s a 30-day eco-lifestyle challenge that happens every October. It’s for high school and college students, and every day has a theme. They say it takes 21 days to change a habit. John Shegerian: Right. Erin Schrode: So this is 21 and a little extra. You get a little leeway in case you skip a day. What do you do every day? What do you do? John Shegerian: Work? Erin Schrode: Every day? John Shegerian: Well, maybe not every day. Erin Schrode: OK, what do you do every day? John Shegerian: Brush your teeth. Erin Schrode: OK. What else? John Shegerian: Eat food. Erin Schrode: OK. So there is not that many things that we actually do every single day for a month so our idea was that if people had to do – people, students. John Shegerian: Right. Erin Schrode: Had to do an additional thing every day or change the way they did something every day that would have a lasting impact on their own life and a ripple effect out to their friends, to their family, to their communities. John Shegerian: Right. Erin Schrode: So days had themes like sustainable agriculture, school lunch, organic cotton, energy, transportation, paper, and you have different levels of challenges and they are deliverable. So there are specific asks. On the zero waste day – which is a theme, the green, greener and greenest – the green challenge is you have to walk around all day with a bag and anything you would typically toss you have to put in the bag. John Shegerian: That’s cool. Erin Schrode: So you think twice before you grab the extra napkin, before you take the straw, before you take the silverware, and you realize – with a visual manifestation – the waste that you as an individual create. John Shegerian: Create. Erin Schrode: Every day. And that is one person. But also if you walk into a classroom with a bag of trash, people go, “What are you doing?” so it’s that sort of personal lifestyle, school campus and community impact we seek to have. John Shegerian: And how big has this grown? Erin Schrode: So we work with about 500 or 600 campuses in the United States. John Shegerian: 500 or 600. Erin Schrode: Hundred. Campuses. Thousands of students. For the challenge, about 4,000 to 5,000 students take it each year. We are now four years into that. John Shegerian: It’s huge. Erin Schrode: Yeah, but in the spring, we do a road tour where we actually physically show up on different campuses in a six-week period – it’s called the “Conscious College Road Tour” – set up in the middle of a quad or a green with tables and visuals and products sampling. For us, education is paramount, first and foremost, but we are all consumers in the end, so buy less but buy better. So we show best-in-class, spoon-feed students that information before their blind brand loyalty kicks in. So for us that reaches about 400,000 students on campuses. You think – we go to OSU. Ohio State. John Shegerian: I’ve been there. It’s amazing. Erin Schrode: That’s 60,000 – 70,000. Boom! John Shegerian: Right. Largest campus in America, I think, right? Erin Schrode: It’s either that or ASU. John Shegerian: Yeah. Right. Erin Schrode: They are enormous. John Shegerian: Right. Erin Schrode: But Ohio State has a zero-waste stadium. John Shegerian: Wow. Erin Schrode: So talking to the students about what they have on campus, what they want on campus. We are all student driven on our chapters. So we have chapters on all of these campuses that lead unbelievable change, and the reason they are so effective is because of student voices going in and making demands of their leadership, of their administration,and that is what we hear from all of these universities. That’s what they want, that’s what they need. They need the mandate from the student body. So we are fighting the fight. John Shegerian: What is the next step, Erin? You’re a young woman – you are 24 – you are doing amazing stuff. What do you want to do with it? What is the evolution of Turning Green? How do you and your mom vision this out? Erin Schrode: So for us it’s very important that we stick this sort of 14 to 22, maybe skewing a little bit younger. John Shegerian: Yeah. Erin Schrode: But that is our core demo. Really, really important for us as an organization – not to mention stretching. We are focused on young people. We believe in the power of young people, the impressionability. I always say “a mind-melding for good,” right? I’m brainwashing, but you know…. John Shegerian: It’s OK. Erin Schrode: It’s OK. John Shegerian: For the good. Erin Schrode: Exactly. I’m really passionate about policy change. I think that it takes grassroots activists. I believe hugely in the power of business to change the world at a scale larger than a lot of nonprofits and at a pace faster than a lot of government. But I have seen the real need for policy change so it’s that multipronged approach. And I’ve gotten to – I’m really involved in the crusade to label GMOs right now, which is something that is important to me. John Shegerian: Is Turning Green a sustainable business model? Is it a for profit or a nonprofit? Erin Schrode: It’s a nonprofit organization. We get our funding from grants and foundations and from corporate partnerships so we align with companies that we really, really believe in. We have high standards. We vet for safety, sustainability and efficacy so it’s safe for the body, it’s sustainable for the planet and it works. John Shegerian: Awesome. Erin Schrode: Because if something doesn’t work you’re going to chuck it and be turned off from our whole hippie movement anyway. John Shegerian: Exactly. Right. So next steps for you and mom is the GMO? Keep working on GMO? Erin Schrode: Yeah. Really pushing on GMOs. But we – me and my mom – are an incredible staff and our army of interns and fellow campaign members really will keep fighting the fight focusing on issues like dorm. Move-in is a huge one for us. The things that are relevant – hyper relevant – to the college experience. John Shegerian: Right. Erin Schrode: I don’t want to add something to your life. Trust me. We’ve got enough going on. John Shegerian: Right. Erin Schrode: Just seeing it through a different lens, approaching it from a different mindset. But for me, personally, it’s that intersection – millennials and sustainability. John Shegerian: I love it. Erin Schrode: The sweet spot. John Shegerian: Well, continued success. We’re going to want you to keep coming back on the show. Erin Schrode: I would love to. John Shegerian: And sharing your journey. As we know, there is no finish line to sustainability. Erin Schrode: No. John Shegerian: It’s just a journey and we want to keep hearing about the Erin Schrode journey. Erin Schrode: Thank you. John Shegerian: For our listeners and our viewer out there to learn more about Erin and her great work at Turning Green please go to www.ErinSchrode.com. Erin, you are making the world a better place; you are truly living proof that Green Is Good, and thank you so much for joining us today. Erin Schrode: My pleasure. Thank you for having me. John Shegerian: Thank you.