Anxiety about climate change keeps Zeb McLaurin up at night. In the last couple of years, the 24-year-old has reconfigured his life in Atlanta, Georgia, as he works to reduce his carbon footprint, both in his professional life (he works for a start-up dedicated to reducing food waste) and his personal life (his home is powered by clean energy, thanks to Arcadia Power, and he’s vegan). Climate change, after all, is one of the biggest challenges facing his generation, and he feels obligated to do his part. “We’re going to be the ones who have to fix it,” he says.
McLaurin traces his interest in the environment back to his car-obsessed teen years, when his father purchased a Tesla. He was intrigued by the concept of an electric sports car, so he started doing some research on Elon Musk (co-founder and CEO of Tesla), Solar City (a business that produces solar energy systems and was acquired by Tesla in 2016) and that led him to read about a whole array of renewable energy sources.
By the time he enrolled at Morehouse College in Atlanta and started studying finance and economics, McLaurin’s mind was on fire with ideas about changes that could be made to improve the world. He wrote a paper, for example, on how harnessing renewable energy in Africa — including wind, solar, geothermal, bio, hydro, etc. — could potentially power the entire globe. Around that time, he was also learning about the impact of food waste on the environment. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), nearly one-third of food produced globally for humans to eat is discarded. When food is wasted, so are the resources put into its production. Plus, decomposing food emits nearly eight percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions according to FAO, putting its impact on climate change on par with global road transport emissions.
Not long after he started delving into the topic, McLaurin met someone who was also drawn to the cause. Jasmine Crowe, Founder and CEO of the Atlanta-based start-up Goodr, spoke to one of his classes about how her company is helping to keep food out of landfills by redirecting unused food from large corporations, grocery stores, restaurants, hotels, airports and convention centers to organizations that distribute it to people in need. After the class, McLaurin asked Crowe if he could work with her business as an intern, and she brought him on in January of 2018. Today, he’s worked his way up at Goodr to become the director of sustainability, and every day he learns more about what he can do to help the environment at large. “When you fall into the sustainability realm, you meet a lot of other individuals within sustainability who are trying to find ways to decarbonize as much as possible,” he says.
That’s what brought him to Arcadia Power. McLaurin had been feeling stressed about his reliance on fossil fuels, and wanted to find a way to tap into clean energy for his home. He had gone so far as to research solar panels for purchase but was concerned, as a renter, what his landlord might say. Around that same time, he attended a conference, called The Climate Reality Project, which was founded by Al Gore, and a woman he met told him how Arcadia Power allows customers to access clean energy from wind and solar farms. McLaurin was intrigued. “As soon as I learned about Arcadia Power, I knew that this was going to be the easiest clean energy option for me,” he says, relieved that he wouldn’t have to buy a solar panel. First, he signed himself up for Arcadia Power, and watched as his monthly power bills actually went down. Then, he signed Goodr up. He says he feels great about being able to make an impact. “I want us to stop using any type of fossil fuels. I’m just waiting for the day that we can all pull away and decarbonize to zero or negative emissions. That’s really a huge deal for me,” he says.
McLaurin loves telling people about Arcadia Power, and how easy it is to make the switch. In fact, he relies on his Instagram page to try and influence people in a number of eco-friendly ways, like sharing information about clean energy, or educating them on food waste and food insecurity. He also encourages people to eat more plant-based products. About a year ago, for health purposes and as another way of helping the environment and reducing his carbon footprint, McLaurin decided to become vegan. He says it took some adjustment and experimentation, but now, he refers to himself as an amateur vegan chef and loves making plant-based foods, like guacamole, bowls with rice and beans or hummus, avocado toast and other items for people to try.
While McLaurin’s interests cover a lot of ground, they all intersect in a shared passion: acting as a better steward for the environment. One day, he says he hopes to run for president, where he can amplify his influence and make a bigger difference in climate change. But until then, he’ll take what steps he can in his daily life, and encourage others to do so, too. Climate change may keep him up at night, but when he is able to sleep, he can do so knowing that he’s at least doing his part.