Generation Conscious reimagines access to sustainable hygiene products on college campuses

Organizers of the Tufts Generation Conscious coalition are pictured with Generation Conscious founder and CEO Greg “GL” Genco. Courtesy Sofia Friedman
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For many students, sustainability can feel like a goal that is out of reach. It can be hard for them to find information on how to implement sustainable practices in their daily lives, and the cost of sustainable products can pose a further barrier.

Generation Conscious is a company that seeks to address environmental justice issues with an emphasis on accessibility for historically marginalized communities. The company partners with college campuses to bring affordable, sustainable hygiene products to students, especially those who don’t have money to spare on sustainable options. Several Tufts students have connected with Generation Conscious and are looking to bring some of the company’s products to campus.

Greg “GL” Genco, the CEO of Generation Conscious, founded the company after seeing the health impacts of waste transfer stations on his home community of Jamaica, Queens, N.Y. where most of the city’s toxic waste facilities were built within one mile of low-income Black and brown communities.

Genco was further inspired to start Generation Conscious after learning about the impact climate change would have on his family members in Trinidad and Tobago. 

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As I got older, I started to realize that wasn’t by mistake — that was actually by design — and we do this systemically across the country, Genco said. It really, really frustrated me that Black and brown people abroad and at home are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the climate crisis yet contribute absolutely nothing to it.

Through intergenerational conversations with friends and family, Genco learned about liquid-free and plastic-free hygiene products that were common in places like Iran and India, he said.

Generation Conscious … is committed to reimagining environmental justice inspired by indigenous principles and history, which imagine a much more circular kind of economy and relationship to the Earth where it’s more about getting resources, but then recycling them or biodegrading them in a way that doesn’t generate as much waste as our current economy does,” Sofia Friedman, a senior involved with Generation Conscious, said.

Generation Conscious is committed to combating eco-classism by giving communities that have been harmed by environmental injustice first access to the cost-effective products.

Sustainability is talked about a lot … but I do think it’s hard for people to grab on to it if you’re already in a situation where you feel like you are underprivileged and you have no control over what’s happening, Kailani Day, a first-year student involved with Generation Conscious, said.

Genco conducted surveys and interviews to understand which products people wanted. He found that people ages 16 to 24 were more likely to try a new form of hygiene product and go out of their way to eliminate waste using refill stations, which is why college campuses have been the focus of Generation Conscious’ partnerships.

Currently Generation Conscious sells laundry detergent sheets and toothpaste tablets, both of which are water- and plastic-free. Students can purchase subscription plans and get these products at refill stations on campus. The company sells 100 laundry sheets for $20, which is 20% cheaper than Tide Pods purchased on an Amazon subscription, Genco noted.

In order to address hygiene insecurity, each school with a refill station has to pay upfront, allowing around 300 to 1,000 low-income students to access the refill stations for free

As someone who was [a] first-gen [college student], who was basically on a full scholarship, I know how difficult it is to have to just deal with everyday purchases and everyday items,” Genco said.

Generation Conscious is largely a student-run company, with students operating and maintaining the refill stations, as well as developing marketing campaigns, working on product development and learning business development. It aims to provide first-generation, low-income and students with DACA status work opportunities with fair wages so they can build experience in the burgeoning circular economy, Genco said. Currently, approximately 130 students are leading Generation Conscious coalitions on over 50 campuses.

Friedman learned about Generation Conscious when she was doing research for the final project of her Earth Matters class, which focused on small steps you can take to become waste-free in your home, something Friedman herself has been working to do.

Friedman reached out to Generation Conscious with the graphics she created and was soon connected with the organization

I was so happy to have found an organization that was committed to environmentalist work but rooted in indigenous wisdom and experiences of communities of color, because as a mixed individual — my dad is white and Jewish, my mom’s Nicaraguan — I have been finding it hard to find spaces to combine my background and my passions, and I really love the way Generation Conscious isn’t just an environmentalist organization, but it is an environmentalist organization that explicitly aims to combat eco-classism,” she said.

Day and Friedman created a survey and sent it to the Tufts student body through class year Facebook pages to gauge student interest in a low carbon, waste-free refill station and products students would want to see on campus. The two have been focusing on community engagement, as well as educating students about Generation Conscious’ mission and products, Day said.

Tabling is important because not only will people that are interested get to know more about how the laundry sheets work, but also people who are a little bit skeptical … can also voice their concerns and help us be better at communicating what will actually be going on, Day said. 

According to Friedman, students have been excited to learn about the organization and products. Over 200 students have signed a one-pager in support of Generation Conscious’ values and goals, and they’re working on gaining more before pitching the project to the administration.

We’ve really mobilized, we’ve gotten a lot of people excited about the work that we’re doing and the potential to make sustainability and a sustainable life A) accessible and B) affordable,” Friedman said.The momentum has been crazy and super exciting.

Along with community engagement, Day explained that a written proposal about getting a refill station on campus is being worked on. The proposal is inspired by template proposals from other schools but will be specific to Tufts based on student responses through surveys and tabling.

“[We would] have a meeting where we pitch the hygiene refill station and explain that the organization covers a lot of the cost of installing it and maintaining it,” Friedman said.So it’s really overall a net benefit economically and socially, and environmentally to the campus.”

In addition to partnering with college campuses, Genco hopes to bring Generation Conscious’ refill stations to other communities, allowing community members to become stakeholders in this work.

I want to create an entire paradigm shift in the way that we think about, consume and dispose of everyday products. … We want to replace every liquid dispenser that’s plastic with a durable, reusable, refillable dispenser for liquidless sheet products,” Genco said. As we start to even get a bit bigger, [it’s about] really starting to think critically about how we could provide local communities with our … refill stations and the inventory for free, such that they can actually start to generate money on their own and create a localized economic engine where they live.”

Students who are excited about Generation Conscious’ mission and values can get involved with bringing a refill station to Tufts and raising further awareness about this project, Friedman said. 

This is a small but growing community, Genco said.We’re here to make sure that we’re supporting this equitable and just transition that’s going to be required to decarbonize our economy [and] provide everyone with a better chance to live a … just life of dignity.”

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