Valeria Horton of Green Reconnection: “You can start by paying attention to what you consume”

I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the idea of making changes in a very complex world. When this happens, I just remind myself that nothing is static and that we can always find ways to improve. It’s a matter of dedication, courage and passion for our environmental and social well-being. Making a difference doesn’t mean having […]

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I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the idea of making changes in a very complex world. When this happens, I just remind myself that nothing is static and that we can always find ways to improve. It’s a matter of dedication, courage and passion for our environmental and social well-being.

Making a difference doesn’t mean having to be an entrepreneur or a leader, it means finding how you can make a change from where you are right now reading this. You can start by paying attention to what you consume. This will make a huge difference and a positive impact.

As part of our series about young people who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Valeria Horton.

Valeria Horton is the Founder of Green Reconnection, a virtual space designed for people who want to become more sustainable in their daily practices and enjoy the transformation. She graduated from Universidad Panamericana with a degree in Communication. Valeria was selected among 400 students for the “Leaders UP” event, in which companies can contact distinguished college students. She presented her outstanding career achievements in front of companies such as the Walt Disney Company, Amazon, P&G and 40 others.

Valeria has always been passionate about sustainability. After taking courses in “Social Marketing” and “Sustainable Development” she decided to kickstart her career path as a content creator on sustainability issues. Valeria also participated in the Jane Goodall Institute’s “Environmental Leaders” program.

Inspired by the phrase “everyone can be an imperfect environmentalist”, she has decided to make Green Reconnection’s mission to make scientific information more relatable and entertaining so we can learn daily actions that help mitigate climate change.

Part of our conversation can be viewed here:

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us about how you grew up?

My parents worked day and night to provide me with the best education possible. I am sure this is the best gift I will ever receive. Thanks to it, I have become a passionate learner, especially when it comes to history and science. I believe that these two areas of study can resonate strongly in our daily life when we learn about them through stories. I grew up believing that stories can change our lives. Every time I watched a movie, I was amazed by the perfect combination of dialogues and astonishing images, and how these shaped my life’s vision.

Because of storytelling, I have traveled around the world, become more sensitive towards environmental and social issues and learned about some of the most remote places on Earth. I remember sitting on the couch watching a documentary and thinking that I wanted to help and explore the world. Since then, I have asked myself how I can make a change that improves the environment and the society in which I grew up?

I was born in Mexico City, and grew up exploring the country. I fell in love with nature while traveling across one of the most biodiverse territories in the world. In elementary school, my best friend invited me to join a group called The Green Squad, which was inspired in Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots program. We were 11-year-olds and we took our mission very seriously. We gave talks, collected Tetra Pak containers for recycling, soda can tabs for donations, and created the best animated powerpoint slides for our campaigns. Little did I know that this experience was going to be the beginning of my career as an environmental communicator.

Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I have always been a believer in the power that movies have. I think that they can help us understand the urgency to fight climate change. That’s why I decided to study Communication and Media Studies, so I could become a cinematographer. Nevertheless, I kept thinking that I could do so much more than making movies, so I started to doubt my career choice.

Luckily, a friend recommended that I read Ikigai, a book inspired by a Japanese concept that helps people find their purpose and a balance between their true passion, vocation, mission and professional life. Green Reconnection was born from finding my ikigai, my true purpose. I understood that I could be an environmental activist and a storyteller, even if my medium of choice would not turn out to be films.

I have always been determined to dedicate my life to building a better world by helping society adapt to the irreversible consequences of climate change and mitigate other impacts by living sustainably. I hadn’t found a clear guide on how to do this until I found the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The people there gave me the hope that we have an existing alternative to a healthier world and that people and countries are already working on. The foundation is known for helping accelerate the implementation of a model called circular economy, whose goal is to design a model that eliminates waste from our current system. It’s not a perfect model in practice but I believe it is the best proposal so far.

You are currently leading an organization that is helping to make a positive social impact. Can you tell us a little about what you and your organization are trying to create in our world today?

Green Reconnection is a space designed for people who want to adopt sustainable ways of living and enjoy the transformation.

We are a generation that has been locked in concrete cities and behind screens for excessively long periods of time. As the philosopher Byung Chul Han says, we are being less creative and more stressed, even burned out. We are losing our connection to one another and our surroundings. Consequently, we have forgotten that nature is crucial to our survival, to having a balanced life and staying healthy. Green Reconnection provides a positive space where people can learn how they can be part of the change we urgently need.

I have met people who have decided to live sustainably after traveling to natural paradises, doing volunteer work or reading inspiring content. We don’t need more catastrophic climate change news; we need a clear plan of action that benefits both the environment and our health.

Finally, our mission is to inspire people to become a Green Voice, an actor and messenger of the benefits of sustainable living. People who share hope for a better and more just world teach by example. Green Voices affirm that change is possible.

Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?

There are two reasons why I started Green Reconnection. In April 2016 I visited three schools in Cuetzalan, a town in the state of Puebla, Mexico. Every year, the high school seniors organize fundraisers whose proceeds help these schools. I met outstanding young students who wanted to continue studying and whose future was in jeopardy because of their social and economic conditions.

One particular school, Tetsijtsilin, changed my perspective forever. In addition to the traditional classes, the students took courses in special subjects regarding sustainability. Children from the age of 11 and up took care of medicinal plants and knew how to compost and had an orchard. They investigate, rescue and promote the care and reforestation of their local biodiversity. Cuetzalan’s community knows how to live with nature. They make her an ally and value their heritage.

Comparing their lifestyle to that of Mexico City, one of the most polluted cities in the world, I realized that something wasn’t working. Three years later, I decided to write a report investigating the reasons Why We Don’t Care About Climate Change. To my surprise, 53% of the 100 college students surveyed said that they are not encouraged to help more because they don’t know where to start. That is when I realized that there are millions of good intentions but unclear guidelines.

That is why I decided to start Green Reconnection, to be a positive and motivating guide that shows that we don’t need to abandon everything we like in order to live sustainably. On the contrary, we can still have a great lifestyle and live more healthily.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

For the report Why We Don’t Care About Climate Change, I had the privilege of interviewing Cristina Ayala, the first woman with a PhD in Sustainability in Mexico.

A couple of years ago, I found her Instagram account and became a dedicated follower. When I first thought about my report’s thesis I thought that it would be an excellent opportunity to interview her. I was very nervous when I contacted her. She was very sweet and answered every question thoroughly.

She was very excited when I told her about Green Reconnection and that the report would be the first published article on my website. She left a mark on my work because I was impressed by her vision of wanting a fairer future for everyone. I am hopeful that more women become empowered, just as Cristina did, and grow into the essential leaders we urgently need.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I was thrilled when a friend from college, who had recently started following Green Reconnection, wrote to me saying that she wanted to live more sustainably. She asked for advice and suggestions on personal care products. It was a very genuine conversation and she shared some of her fears and doubts about using sustainable products. I felt really proud of my friend because deciding to be an eco friendly consumer can make you feel uneasy at first. I will never forget our conversation because it was the first time someone approached me saying they wanted to adopt new sustainable habits because of Green Reconnection.

How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I believe that “Making A Difference” is a process in which an idea is born out of the hope of creating a positive change. This idea results in taking action, however small it is. It is an emotive cycle in which inspiration becomes reality. Having the perfect idea is not enough until you share it. Making a difference happens when you start writing about it, discussing it with your friends or taking action.

I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the idea of making changes in a very complex world. When this happens, I just remind myself that nothing is static and that we can always find ways to improve. It’s a matter of dedication, courage and passion for our environmental and social well-being.

Making a difference doesn’t mean having to be an entrepreneur or a leader, it means finding how you can make a change from where you are right now reading this. You can start by paying attention to what you consume. This will make a huge difference and a positive impact.

Many young people would not know what steps to take to start to create the change they want to see. But you did. What are some of the steps you took to get your project started? Can you share the top 5 things you need to know to become a changemaker? Please tell us a story or example for each.

You can check the video if you are interested in some of the top pieces of advice I think every changemaker needs to know.

Additionally, here are the top 3 steps you can follow if you have a project in mind:

Step one: Plan strategically.

Sometimes we get caught up in the moment and we want to launch our project as soon as possible. When the COVID-19 lockdown started, I was part of a team whose goal was to launch a platform that would help restaurants through the pandemic. We needed to act fast due to the situation, which impeded us from planning strategically. The project failed because it was a very difficult time to start a business and we didn’t analyze all the crisis fluctuations properly.

Step two: Be patient.

Expecting immediate results when you launch a project can be very frustrating. A great project isn’t defined by how promptly it becomes popular, but by the quality of the work. Some projects take longer to grow. Make an effort to be diligent. My advice is to avoid looking at statistics constantly because it can affect your emotional state. For example, you can feel overwhelmed with social media if you are not getting the results you expected. On the flip side, you may suddenly see an improvement and feel motivated. Emotional fluctuations like these can be exhausting. Set goals and check back after a set period of time.

Step three: Making your wishes come true requires a lot of dedication, however, nothing is worth as much as your health. I have always slept well and managed to create a habit of doing yoga. But when I started to get more involved in my project, I lost balance between my personal and professional life. I realized that because I was being absorbed by work, I wasn’t improving. On the contrary, I was less creative and motivated. I had to follow my own advice and reconnect with myself. It was the right approach to take. I have done some of my best work because of it.

What are the values that drive your work?

As a professional communicator, I commit to always inform the truth. We are oversaturated with content, and a percentage of it is inaccurate or even outright false. I want to follow the original purpose of the internet and of social media which was to connect, create a community and keep people informed and entertained. That is why we always share sources in our posts.

Data on climate change is constantly evolving, so I need to be persistent and be up to date on everything. Additionally, within the subject, there are complex debates on what specific steps we need to follow to reduce the consequences of climate change. I have learned from a sustainable development perspective that what works for one doesn’t mean that it will work for everyone else. For example, we can’t stop all the plastic production because we still need it for medical equipment and other life saving gadgets. I am open to different opinions and I always try to write about several solutions.

Many people struggle to find what their purpose is and how to stay true to what they believe in. What are some tools or daily practices that have helped you to stay grounded and centred in who you are, your purpose, and focused on achieving your vision?

Most people spend years worrying about finding their purpose. I was one of them. We are complex beings full of ideas, feelings and dreams, and I have come to believe that it is impossible to have only one purpose. Being worried only prevents you from realizing that you are capable of great things. Accepting that no purpose is static has helped me stay true to what I believe, because the only thing that doesn’t change is who we are and our core values.

As for daily practices, yoga and meditation help me when I feel I’m losing focus. However, it has been proven that finding an activity you enjoy, no matter what it is, helps you stay relaxed and positive.

In my work, I aim to challenge us all right now to take back our human story and co-create a vision for a world that works for all. I believe youth should have agency over their own future. Can you please share your vision for a world you want to see? I’d love to have you describe what it looks like and feels like. As you know, the more we can imagine it, the better we can manifest it!

Everyone imagines their own ideal world differently, but I believe that no matter how you picture it, I think that the majority of us want a fairer world. I imagine a world where even if we are 1 in 7 billion people, we know that our thoughts and actions have a powerful impact.

I want to grow old in a world where I can say we saved future generations as well as ourselves from climate change. I want to be able to say that the fight for social equality is finally over and that we coexist with animals. I want to wake up feeling safe in my home and knowing that everyone has the opportunity to go to school. In this world, there are less gray walls because we live in harmony with nature, we respect and enjoy it. I want to be able to take a walk and see the seasons changing.

We are powerful co-creators and our minds and intentions create our reality. If you had limitless resources at your disposal, what specific steps would take to bring your vision to fruition?

I am certain that we need a world designed by people and not only by business people, leaders or politicians. I believe that if we really want to make a change, we have to try to consider everyone’s necessities and build partnerships.

If I had unlimited resources, I would invest in programs and social marketing campaigns where all the stakeholders become co-creators. For example, for some stakeholders it would be beneficial to destroy a natural area to build factories that would provide food for a large percentage of people, however, it is crucial to consider local necessities and how this will impact the environment. That’s why I suggest creating programs that take into account interdisciplinary collaborations and engage with communities so that together deliver change.

Additionally, I think that we need to start building change from the core. Environmental education can be a great way to accelerate change. I would urge schools to teach the benefits of living sustainably from a young age. Finally, helping governments expediting legislations, society would profit and have clear guides and plans of action.

I see a world driven by the power of love, not fear. Where human beings treat each other with humanity. Where compassion, kindness and generosity of spirit are characteristics we teach in schools and strive to embody in all we do. What changes would you like to see in the educational system? Can you explain or give an example?

I would like to see a system where equity in education is the norm. By achieving this, policy makers could support women’s businesses and farms which can help reduce CO2 emissions. We can also see an improvement in family planning, which benefits the environment and secure women’s future. These two social fights, like many others, are interconnected and we need to start looking at them as one.

On the other hand, it is urgent that the countries that have not added a sustainable development class to their curriculum, do so. As I concluded in my report Why We Don’t Care About Climate Change, students want to help but don’t have a clear guide, so the education system can be a great start to help.

Adding this subject would make us appreciate nature and help us understand how to use its resources while working within its limitations. It would also teach us how to achieve a balance between the environment, society and the economy without compromising anyone’s future. Let’s not forget that school should also be a place where we reinforce socialization and our empathy for one another.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Empathy is one of the most powerful human forces. It makes us more sensitive, comprehensive, analytical and humane. Empathy encourages us and it is the first step in thinking how to progress and grow. All of us have pictured a better world, because that is what humans do.

Think about the last time you were empathic. Didn’t you think about how you could make things better for a person? Imagine if we transform these thoughts into actions. I guess it all comes down to asking yourself, in what world do you want to live in and why don’t we build it?

A question that troubles me is whether I don’t wish that older generations had done things differently. Well, I can assure you that future generations will think the same way about us if we don’t act now. We can’t wait for others to make the change we want to see. If everyone keeps waiting no one is really building the world we want to live in.

I encourage you to think about the climate crisis as a social justice fight, and if we give it a chance we will realize it is a healthier, fairer and peaceful option. And well, as experts have declared, it is our only option.

Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Since I was young, I have admired extremely remarkable people, however, most of them were always adults whose trajectory stood out because of their years of experience and the quality of their work. My perspective changed after reading about two environmental activists about the same age as me. Finn and Jack Harries were the first activists I admired. They share their passion through filmmaking. It would be an honor to meet them and tell them that they inspired me and made me believe that, regardless of my age, I could fight for one of the most difficult but at the same time wonderful causes there is, climate change.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

If you want to be part of our supportive community and learn how to live sustainably, you can check out our website or follow us on social media @greenreconnection. Feel free to contact us if you would like more information!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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