A Fierce Activist Behind a Gentle Gaze

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Often, activists get a bad rap for being too bold and blatant when it comes to shaking up the world.

“Cut your meat consumption” or “Meatless Mondays” usually resonates better with those seeking to transition to a plant-based diet than telling them to “Stop the slaughter – Go vegan!”. Showing whole rainforests burning to ashes is so dramatic that it turns the viewer into an emotionless receptor of information — but if you invite them to plant more trees or start their home garden, people will more likely react better.

When it comes to demanding environmental justice, compassion and empathy play an important role in stirring people’s feelings and getting them to take action. Elizabeth Teo, an intersectional activist better known by her handle @zerowastecutie, knows this quite well. It’s why each of her Instagram posts — whether it’s about transitioning into a circular economy or mental health awareness — has an honesty that makes it both approachable and informative.

Credit: Instagram, @zerowastecutie

“I started my platform in University because I really struggled with what else I could do to keep our environment healthy besides voting,” Elizabeth says when we ask her about the spark that started it all. “I am both a U.S. and Canadian citizen, so the 2016 election in the U.S. hit me hard.”

Elizabeth connected to the planet on a deep level since her student days in Tacoma, Washington, where she attended the Science and Math Institute, a high school with a very strong environmental curriculum.

“Our gym class was literally hiking through the forest and learning about all the plant species that are native to the Pacific Northwest. We also studied marine biology by the ocean,” says Elizabeth, reminiscing her earliest memories of committing to the planet’s wellbeing. “Being immersed in nature in high school was truly an experience and drove my passion for the environment.”

It was only expected that destiny would lead her to dedicate her time to sharing her knowledge on eco-literacy, social equality, and mental wellness, not only on her social media but also through policymaking institutions. “I work full time in communications at an environmental non-profit in Toronto called Toronto Environmental Alliance,” she says. “They do a lot of great work in climate and waste and creating a more equitable city.”

Despite her young age, Elizabeth felt she had learned enough to begin teaching to empower sustainable bloggers on how to use Instagram to spread awareness on pressing environmental issues. Such amount of work would drive most of us mad, yet Elizabeth remains composed and serene, a sentiment transmitted through each of her images and captions. Instead of feeling judged — like some influencers might make us feel by reminding us of the work we have ahead if we want to save the planet — @zerowastecutie makes us feel guided and supported in a fight against the multinationals behind our environmental crisis.

One of her posts reminds us that climate change isn’t solely our fault. “Where does our guilt for the environment come from? Turns out, multi-billion dollar corporations have been funding campaigns to turn the blame on consumers, from waste to climate change and even ethics. Let’s turn this GUILT into ANGER against the companies that started these problems in the first place. Pressure them to fix the very issue that they have caused!”

“Well, there goes the compassion,” you might’ve thought to yourself after reading Elizabeth’s quote from the previous paragraph. But don’t get us wrong — we never said she was soft-spoken. Behind her friendly eyes and candid smile is a ruthless climate fighter who will raise her voice when needed, unafraid to point fingers towards the corporate carbon culprits.

“Every day is a new chance to take action,” Elizabeth urges. “The first step to real change is creating awareness. Our actions influence those around us, so speak up and take action!”

Besides following her recommendations on Instagram, what else can we do to amplify her call? “Contact your local representative,” she said in closing. “Make it clear that climate action is a priority. Our voice matters.”

Eco-Warriors Around the World