Teens For Safe Cosmetics, as the campaign was originally called, launched in January of 2005. 80 forward-thinking and inquisitive teens attended a meeting in Marin County, California about the harmful chemicals in beauty and daily use products. Cancer, birth defects, reproductive harm, asthma, and other serious health risks were linked directly to many ingredients in products young people use daily. This information shocked everyone! Driven by outrage at lack of oversight, transparency, and protection of public health, coupled with a desire to raise awareness about eco responsible living amongst young peer groups, the campaign was born.
Under the guidance of Executive Director Judi Shils (who founded Search For The Cause in 2002, to probe into Marin County’s skyrocketing cancer rates), and her daughter, then 13-year-old Erin Schrode, teens began to come together for meetings each Sunday. What began around their kitchen table soon grew to have chapters throughout middle and high schools in the area.
Early work of the campaign focused on identifying the personal care products most used by teens – and collaborating with chemists to outline the risk factors of specific ingredients. This research is what created our Dirty Thirty: a list of common ingredients to avoid, what products contain them, and the health risks they pose. Subsequently, we developed a list of Greener Alternatives: personal care product companies we vetted for safety, sustainability and efficacy. These two resources encapsulate much of the spirit of our campaign – firstly, to develop and provide resources that allow young people and the greater public to make educated choices and secondly, to put forth the best in green, sustainable, eco, conscious, and responsible products, practices, and guidelines that allow for people to make real change.
And people listened to the voices of youth! From the start, we engaged in dialogue and joined forces with top innovators from all sectors – business, government, media, science, food, beauty, more.
As our movement grew in size and scope, legislative action became a vital piece of TTG. While we believe firmly in the power of individual action, pushing for laws that protect the environment and personal health is essential. Not deterred by industry lobbyists, a group of our campaign members went to Sacramento to lobby in support of SB484, a bill requiring disclosure of hazardous ingredients by manufacturers to the Department of Public Health. This eleventh hour push by TTG played a key role in the CA Governor signing the bill into law. Subsequent lobbying highlights have included the Toxic Toys Bill, Nail Salon Worker Rights, a ban on lead from lipsticks, TSCA hearings, and the Green Chemistry Initiative, among others ranging from local to national levels.
With our work clearly reaching outside the realm of cosmetics, into many aspects of eco responsible lifestyle, we changed our name to Teens Turning Green in 2007. This represents the transition, the journey to ‘green.’ New chapters began to spring up across the country, with a stronghold in New York City that hosted numerous events, garnered widespread school participation, and received high profile media attention from the New York Times, ABC, New York Post, People Magazine, ELLE, and much more.
After years of people asking ‘What do I use? What products work? Where can I get them?’ – in 2007, we developed a limited collection of skin and body care products, co-branded with seven companies in which we believe. It hit the shelves of 270+ Whole Foods Markets all across the country to an overwhelming response, including features in Seventeen and Teen Vogue Magazine. Eco products that were not only by teens, for teens, but also worked well and looked, smelled, and felt fantastic!
In 2008, TTG officially launched our Schools platform, using campuses as a palette for exploration around food service, janitorial supplies, landscaping, and classroom products. Through investigation and case study analysis, students raise awareness amongst peers and teachers about toxic exposures and seek to introduce and implement greener, non-toxic alternatives.
As prom season rolled around in 2009, after holding a highly successful public rally in San Francisco on that theme a couple of years earlier, we saw it as the perfect opportunity to highlight the ease, functionality, and availability of eco beauty, fashion, decor, and transportation options on one of the year’s biggest events for teens. Thus, Project Green Prom came to life as an online toolkit, as well as a physical Green Prom hub pop-up shop in the Bay Area. It was a smashing success!
Building on that momentum, we took on back-to-school in eco style with Project Green Dorm. As the co-founder of TTG, Erin, headed off to college, green dorm was a pressing issue for her and many campaign members. We researched the best products in every category, compiling a robust online toolkit and another pop-up retail and display shop in California.
Food rose to the forefront for us, particularly lunches, as health and nourishment affects students in direct and vital ways. Our county, like the rest of the country and much of the world, is experiencing an acute crisis of affordable, quality food that is good for people and the planet. Project Lunch, which we spearheaded alongside 400 stakeholders, aims to rethink and transform the system to ensure nutritious, locally-sourced, balanced, non-processed meals in schools and beyond.
In Marin County, we also worked tirelessly on legislation to ban single use bags under the BYOBag movement. The bag ban was signed into law and went into effect on January 12, 2012. There is much more to be done, but progress is invigorating.
The mother-daughter duo behind TTG, Judi and Erin, also created and launched the first ever Project Green Challenge. This 30-day eco lifestyle challenge took place in October 2011 – with over 2,600 students from 510+ schools in 48 states and 21 countries! Participants competed in daily themed challenges, generating and uploading massive amounts of content each day. Prizes incentivized deeper engagement and twelve finalists were selected (based on point totals, a video recap, and ‘final exam’ questions) to attend Green University, a two-day summit we held in Northern California. After listening to and learning from esteemed leaders and developing platforms for social action, each finalists each presented about the journey… from conventional to conscious.
That transformation, that spark, that catalyst for change is precisely why we do what we do. And we will keep on forging ahead, being the change we wish to see. Envisioning a safe, just, healthy, prosperous, sustainable people and planet. Inspiring young people to know, care, and act. Dreaming and doing. That is Teens Turning Green.
In Depth History: