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TikToker Gabrielle Langhorn, 24, a student conservationist, wanted to change the way people approach sustainability.
After all, for such an Earth-friendly practice, the concept has often gotten a bad rap — or, at least, suffered from complicated messaging.
“A lot of the sustainability community sometimes can shame people and make them feel bad for what they do,” Langhorn told In The Know by Yahoo. “Or it’s about promoting the most expensive new things.”
That’s why Langhorn, a Ph.D. student studying integrative conservation and anthropology at the University of Georgia, partnered with a friend to launch Eco OG (@eco_og) on TikTok, to spread the word to their fellow Gen Z followers and beyond that sustainability is not only easy, but affordable.
“Sustainability should not be expensive at the end of the day,” she said, “and I have saved a lot of money since being sustainable and living that way.”
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Becoming a conservationist
Langhorn hasn’t always been an active conservationist. She says she didn’t always believe in man-made climate change.
However, after studying the science and the effects of climate change — including the recent increase in natural disasters — she “realized how powerful that education was for me to completely shift my mindset.”
That’s when she wanted to actively share that information — but not in a way that would shame people for not knowing.
“I just realized how powerful education is. And having a platform like TikTok, you don’t know who you’re going to reach — like whose For You page you’re going to pop up on,” she said. “So it was really just about: If I can educate and share this knowledge with people, then I will. … Because if you’re not aware, you’re not going to know to change these habits, or why these habits are so important.”
Langhorn’s TikTok messaging has come at a time when the climate crisis is really grabbing people’s attention.
“I think a lot of times, we wait until it’s crunch time to start really focusing on issues,” she said. “[It’s] really hard to hide the climate crisis when we’re looking at coastal communities, the rise of hurricanes and all of our natural disasters.”
The doctoral student has since taken a deep dive into where conservation meets anthropology, studying the “why behind people’s actions” based on culture, economics and other factors.
In addition to studying communities in Brazil, Langhorn has also visited Indigenous communities in the U.S., namely the Eastern Band of Cherokee, to research burn prioritization and how to introduce fire to the landscape in the Appalachian Mountains.
In addition to helping the soil through burning and taking care of the water supply, she notes how Indigenous practices put huge value on leaving enough for those who come after us.
“It’s just understanding we have to give back to the Earth that gives to us, and we can’t just continue to take and take and take,” she said.
Easy and affordable ways to be more sustainable
Langhorn believes we can all start by making simple yet meaningful changes.
“I got rid of my paper towels,” she shared. “I just use old towels that I have. If I have towels that have holes in them, I just cut them up into smaller pieces. You reuse things that you already have.”
Not only is she avoiding paper waste, she also says that she’s saving money by throwing the dirty towels in the wash and reusing them.
Another sustainable money saver, this time for women and people who menstruate? Menstrual cups.
“I have one and don’t buy tampons anymore,” Langhorn said. “Being able to have a cup, you pay $20 for it once, and it lasts you several years.”
Langhorn also recommends switching out plastic baggies for reusable silicone bags and trading your shampoo and conditioner bottles for bars.
While these changes may admittedly cost more upfront, Langhorn said the tradeoff is worth it.
“It saves you so much money in the long run,” she said. “And of course, just the value of saving the planet is priceless.”
Changing minds about sustainability
While Langhorn admits that challenging people to become more sustainable is no small feat, she said there are ways to meaningfully engage in the conversation.
“A huge part is trying to convince people how it would benefit them, because at the end of the day, it’s like, ‘Why am I going to do this if it doesn’t do anything for me?'” she said.
Whether it’s people wanting the convenience of a plastic bag or choosing to eat beef every day (which stresses land and production costs), Langhorn invites them to just talk about it, to see how everyone’s needs can be met.
“You can still have your steak — which I know is not what many like environmentalists say. But you can still have your steak,” she suggested. “But try to limit it to once or twice a week. Or, if you want to eat steak, let’s buy it locally. Let’s try to find a way you can still enjoy this. You’re going to buy it locally. It’s going to be a better cut. It’s going to taste better, and you’re supporting someone in your neighborhood.”
And while some audiences might be skeptical, Langhorn’s nearly 30,000 TikTok followers have been more than receptive.
“When I hopped on TikTok, I realized that people truly do care about making a difference,” she said. “It’s this desire to really make an impact.”
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