The recent e4 Eco Expo for Environmental Education in New York City was dominated by two perceptions: 1) the teens who organized and led the event were extremely impressive and inspiring, putting many of us adults to shame, and 2) it was disappointing that more of their "non-choir" peers didn't show up. The event was held at the prestigious Collegiate School on the Upper West Side, a K-12 private boy's school that's part of the elite Ivy Preparatory School League. It's older than most colleges, having been founded in 1628.
The e4 Conference was organized by eco-minded students from Collegiate, as well as other private schools in the city, in association with Teens Turning Green. One of the highlights was checking out the rooftop garden. Knowledgeable students demonstrated their passion for planting an oasis in the heart of the city. They showed off the plastic horse feed troughs they use as beds (they said they didn't think anything leached into the soil), as well as their worm bins, complete with red wrigglers happily munching through garden clippings and food scraps.
The students said they love enjoying the fresh produce from their own labor, as well as selling at their local farm market (proceeds are put back into the garden). Any extra unsold food is donated to feed the hungry.
The garden was sunny and breezy, and afforded breathtaking views of the city. But what was perhaps most inspiring was the contagious passion of the student gardeners. As they babbled about Michael Pollan, the poor quality of fast food, the imbalance of farm subsidies and the nutrient content of just-picked onions, one couldn't help but notice the seeds of the next green revolution.
The rest of the e4 Conference was equally impressive, with student leaders who gave speeches as skillfully as the professional keynoters, and who moderated expert panels like seasoned pros. Workshops included stitching together a dress from reclaimed fabric, learning about green maps and getting a beauty product makeover. My panel, with Karen Stewart Brown of Stewart + Brown green fashion, Julie Gilhart, the fashion director of Barneys New York, and Jane Iredale of Iredale Mineral Cosmetics, went swimmingly. When my buddy Remy C. asked around of the students as to why more of their peers weren't there, they said everyone was burned out from finals and end-of-the-year work, unfortunately. They missed a great event.
At the pre-conference dinner the night before, Matt Peterson of Global Green spoke about his group's inspiring work to rebuild New Orleans green. We've covered that fairly extensively, but what I hadn't known is that, according to Peterson, the idea originated with a (now deceased) community activist, a local grandmother from an impoverished ward who wanted the rebuilding of her home to stand for something better.
Speaking about his group's frequent work with celebs, Peterson said, "It's amazing that these prominent people help us get the word out and raise money, and it's fun, but what really matters is future generations." He continued, "How dare we think we can take away their clean air and water? We need to work through the fear and get to the love: those are really the only two human emotions when you boil it down."
Peterson, who has the good looks and connections of a rockstar advocate, also made everyone stand, raise their hand, and repeat after him..."Go Lakers!" Then he made us all say, "I love where I live." Peterson then had to jet off to make his son's baseball game the next morning. Rockstar.
Judi Shils, executive director of Teens Turning Green, told the crowd that she had never worked with an all-boy's school before. "I was so impressed," she said. "They learned how to fold napkins, set tables and put on such an important event."
The uber-impressive Erin Schrode, a freshman at NYU, spoke on behalf of Teens for Safe Cosmetics. She explained that when she co-founded Teens Turning Green as a 13-year old in Marin County, she was horrified by studies that warned of all the toxic chemicals in products she used every day. She said she still wanted to look good and feel normal, which is why she has searched for alternatives, and pressures the industry to clean up its act. "Young people, there's no one better to lead this movement," she said, with the poise and polish of a national spokesperson.
"My friends make fun of me because I 'do it all' when it comes to green," said Schrode. "But I want everyone to 'do one thing.' People say 'it's elitist or it doesn't matter.' I say, 'Yeah, if everyone thinks that.' One person can have a huge impact."
Of course, what Schrode didn't mention is that "doing one thing" can be highly contagious, and people rarely go backwards once they start a green path. That, in fact, is the premise of The Daily Green.
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