Action For Nature is proud to announce our 2013 International Young Eco-Hero Awards, which recognize young people 8 to 16 years old for their environmental achievements. We hope the accomplishments of these outstanding young people will inspire many others to preserve and protect the Earth upon which all life depends.
Winners are divided into two groups, age 8-12 and 13-16.
Age Group 8 - 12
Founder and Spokesperson of "Be Straw Free" and "Kids Create the Future"
Milo noticed that disposable drinking straws were automatically given out with every drink purchase. Through research, he discovered that in the USA approximately 500 million straws are used and discarded each day – enough to fill more than 127 school buses daily or nearly 46,400 every year. Milo wanted to do something about this needless plastic waste, so he founded the non-profit organization Be Straw Free (BSF) to enable youth from around the world to join him in this cause. His goal is to make it standard for straws to be offered to customers rather than served automatically with a drink, and his project has been recognized by The National Restaurant Association as a “best practice.”
The aim of his initiative, Milo explains, is not only to reduce the number of disposable plastic straws that go into landfills, but also to “encourage kids around the world to find and get involved in issues that interest them.” In line with this goal, Milo has developed another project called Kids Create the Future to highlight the environmental projects of youth from around the world. His website for Kids Create the Future, which went live in May 2013, features video submissions from youth describing their initiatives, and helps to raise awareness for their important contributions.
Milo is currently on an International speaking tour which will take him to at least 6 cities in 5 countries, speaking at schools and events held by various organizations. Milo’s speech is called, “The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Help Create It.” As an ardent environmentalist and inventor (he invented a solar-powered popcorn machine at age six, for which he won a Peabody Award), Milo serves as a prime example of his talk’s title.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Efforts to Stop Land Degradation
Kehkashan was born on June 5th which is also recognized as “World Environment Day” and she feels this was a sign that “it was preordained that I should grow up to be an eco‐warrior.” Kehkashan has pursued three areas of environmental work – tree planting, cleanup campaigns, and recycling – all of which support her ultimate goal of stopping land degradation.
When Kehkashan turned eight years old, she used her birthday money to buy and plant a tree sapling. Since then, tree planting has become an annual birthday tradition and Kehkashan has planted over 100 trees in the United Arab Emirates, India, Indonesia, Kenya and Brazil. Additionally, her project involved several beach cleanups in one of which over 25,000 cigarette butts were collected. Her essay about her work to stop land degradation and waste segregation received an award from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, and was featured on their website.
In 2012, Kehkashan initiated the United Arab Emirates’ first Climate Justice Academy for Plant-for-the-Planet, where she held a youth workshop on stopping land degradation through tree planting and addressing climate change. Kehkashan was also the youngest international participating delegate to attend the United Nation’s Rio+20 meeting, where she held an official press conference calling on youth from around the world to join the fight against land degradation.
Kehkashan is now the Global Coordinator of Children and Youth, UNEP’s Major Groups Facilitating Committee and she is the only minor to hold this position in the history of UNEP. She has also recently been elected as the Global President of the Children’s Board for Plant-for-the-Planet for the year 2013 - 2014.
To carry the Rio legacy forward and continue to spread knowledge about how to combat land degradation, Kehkashan founded her own youth organization, GreenHopeUAE, whose mission is to support environmental causes and raise awareness about sustainable development and the creation of a “green” economy. Kehkashan is committed to helping achieve land degradation neutrality, and she created an educational video to help inform others about land degradation’s causes and solutions: Kehkashan's Message on Achieving Land Degradation Neutrality. Kehkashan says that this project has given her the confidence to challenge preconceived notions and that, “the sky is really the limit if one has the passion.”
Saving Electrical Energy at Little Flower School
Rajashree took notice that her school’s fees were being increased each year to support rising electrical costs, but classroom lights and fans were left running after classes were over, the water cooler was kept running after school hours, and the school’s outside lights were not being turned off in the morning. Though she was young and unsure about what could be accomplished, Rajashree decided to take action. She formed an Eco Club, and together with 12 other students, she took the initiative to address the waste of electricity within the Little Flower School.
The first actions they took were to carefully study the school’s electrical energy consumption, develop new guidelines, and spread environmental awareness to reduce the misuse of electricity by students and staff. In a school assembly, the Eco Club requested that all 2000 students follow their new guidelines, and they created a suggestion box to collect ideas from all the other students, and increase their investment in the project. Rajashree and the Eco Club began conducting energy audits on a regular basis and after formally presenting their analysis and action plan to the school’s governing body, they submitted requests to replace old, non-efficient electrical appliances. So far, Rajashree’s project has reduced Little Flower School’s electrical consumption by 7%, and following an external audit, their project was recognized as a “Best Project” in the entire state of Jharkhand, India.
Rajashree’s ultimate goal is to reduce 70% of her school’s power consumption by December 2014, and to do so, she and the Eco Club are now working on three innovative prototypes, and reaching out to businesses to financially support the installation of solar power at Little Flower School. Rajashree created an energy-saving project guide to share information and she has helped guide two other local schools to decrease their power consumption and resulting greenhouse gas generation. Rajashree also serves as a Tunza Eco Generation Ambassador (United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for her home state of Jharkhand, India, helping to spread environmental awareness through the articles she writes for their website.
Endangered Ocelot Awareness
About five years ago, Carolyn was looking through a National Geographic magazine when she saw a photo of a now-extinct bird preserved in a jar, the last of its species. She was deeply affected by the thought that no one would ever again see this type of bird, and she made a commitment to help other endangered species from meeting the same fate. For her eighth birthday, Carolyn decided to ask for monetary donations in lieu of gifts, and after hearing about the endangered Texas Blind Salamander, she donated the $600 she received to an organization working directly to protect them.
When Carolyn learned about the endangered Texas Ocelot and the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Center (CKWRC), which monitors the wellbeing of the existing ocelot population through the use of wildlife cameras, she knew where she would send next year’s birthday money.
She learned that the Texas Ocelot once roamed Texas in robust numbers but they are now extremely endangered, due mainly to poaching and loss of habitat, with a population of only 80 to 100 remaining as of the last recorded estimate. In her birthday invitations, Carolyn gave her guests important information about the ocelot, and requested donations for the CKWRC instead of gifts. Carolyn doubled her previous year’s funds, raising $1200 for the ocelot protection efforts. In September 2011, Carolyn created her own website to continue generating awareness and funds for the ocelot and the CKWRC.
Carolyn has also raised $400 in funds for the Horned Toad Conservation Society, founded a recycling club in her school, and blogs regularly for The Houston Zoo’s website. In 2012, Carolyn was invited to serve on a panel discussion for The Women's Fund Rockin’ Resiliency Luncheon in Houston, where she spoke to a crowd of 200 girls about her Ocelot Rescue project, and about finding their own passion and making a difference. Carolyn says that her goals are to “educate and inform as many people as l can about our endangered species, and to inspire others to help causes they are passionate about.”
Age Group 13 - 16
Organizing the Community to Protect Wildlife Habitat
As a Wildlife Team Leader, Malcolm led the city of Johns Creek, Georgia to become the 60th community in the USA to be certified by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) as a Community Wildlife Habitat. After receiving approval from the Mayor and forming partnerships with many local businesses and organizations, Malcolm began his three-pronged approach of “education, conservation, and continuation” to achieve the Community Wildlife Habitat Certification. Malcolm went door to door, speaking personally to residents to raise awareness of the need to plan, maintain and conserve natural habitats for wildlife throughout the community, from public spaces to private backyards. Together with his Wildlife Team, Malcolm held community workshops, promoted sustainable gardening practices, and spoke with other young people, encouraging them to get involved. Malcolm believes in youth empowerment, and serves as a role model for what young people can achieve.
Johns Creek was officially declared a Community Wildlife Habitat by the NWF and, fulfilling one of Malcolm’s personal goals, all 18 Johns Creek public schools became certified as NWF Schoolyard Habitats. John’s Creek is one the fastest growing cities in Georgia, with rapidly developing residential neighborhoods and commercial areas, and Malcolm’s initiative was a crucial step in preserving the city’s natural wildlife habitats for all its residents.
In addition to driving the Community Wildlife Habitat program, Malcolm has volunteered with the Chattahoochee Nature Center and the National Park Service, and he has developed a website and smart-phone application for identifying native plant species. Another accomplishment is his research on water quality: he found a way to utilize algae to reduce pesticide runoff, thereby improving the water quality of local fresh water lakes.
Somerset, United Kingdom (UK)
The Use of Palm Oil and Saving the Natural World
Abbie believes that it is her calling to speak out for wildlife and the environment, and taking on the palm oil industry has played a large role in her mission. She is an award-winning documentary film-maker who creates and shares videos to raise awareness about environmental issues. In her straight-to-the-point videos, uploaded monthly, Abbie addresses the complications surrounding Indonesian wildlife and palm oil production, animal abuse in circuses, overfishing, ivory and fur trade, endangered species, and plastic pollution in the oceans.
Abbie’s goal is for “palm oil to be grown sustainably and fairly, for both the natural environment and the local communities.” She has helped the organization Round Table of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) raise awareness, and her efforts have been highlighted in posters which the RSPO produced for conferences in Malaysia. Abbie’s aim is to encourage the consumption of only sustainably produced palm oil, or none at all. She says, “It’s important that we rely less on this oil, to ensure the growth and regeneration of Indonesian forests that are being destroyed.”
After one of Abbie’s films won a UK national competition organized by the Young People’s Trust for the Environment, Abbie was awarded a visit to the European Parliament in Brussels. On March 27, 2012, Abbie presented to 15 Members of the European Parliament to encourage the mandatory labeling of palm oil in both food and other products. In 2014, thanks in part to Abbie’s campaign, all foods in the UK will be required to state the type of vegetable oil they contain, enabling people to make more informed consumer choices.
Abbie also serves with Somerset Wildlife Trust by assisting their “Watch Groups” which teach youth conservationist skills, and by encouraging more people to become involved in the organization’s public service days. As a volunteer with the Ham Hill Rangers, Abbie helps to maintain the natural landscape of Ham Hill Country Park, and assists with environmental education for their volunteers.
Christina and Eric
Age 15 and 13
Radon Awareness Project (RAP)
Christina and Eric's project began when they learned about the large percentage of radon-related lung cancer deaths that occur in their home state of Colorado, where there is a high concentration of uranium in the ground, the source of radon gas. After conducting a survey and discovering that more than 90 percent of homes did not know about the dangers of radon, Christina and Eric met with the Colorado Health Department, their City Council, and the media, to begin raising awareness using a grassroots approach.
Over the past three years, Christina and Eric have collaborated with CanSAR (Cancer Survivors Against Radon) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development about radon testing for low-income housing. They have reached out to the American Lung Association (ALA) on the importance of increasing radon awareness as a cause of lung cancer, and successfully advocated for the inclusion of radon information on the ALA website. In 2012, Christina and Eric were invited to speak at the White House Summit on Environmental Education where they discussed how youth can collaborate with public health officials to make a difference in environmental health, and at the Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN).
In addition, Christina and Eric have tackled radon through legislation. A building code for radon-resistant buildings which they championed has been adopted by 20 Colorado cities. They also contributed to writing the statewide Bill HB 12-1165 which would require radon testing whenever a home is sold, and testified before a committee at the Colorado State Capitol about the dangers of radon. Although the Bill has not yet passed, Christina and Eric are pleased that their efforts have begun to increase radon awareness among state legislators and the public.
Currently, Christina is learning about epidemiology of lung cancer by studying the cancer registry in Colorado to see if the rising rates of non-smoking related lung cancers in young women is connected to radon, and Eric is serving with Veterans Green Jobs, a nonprofit organization whose work involves retrofitting low-income and senior housing. Christina and Eric are passionate about making RAP as sustainable as possible so they have connected with other youth organizations like the Girls Scouts and 4H, to get more kids involved. They say, “We want to motivate kids to pursue environmental activism and advocacy projects to inspire change. Our take home message is that the model of collaboration and team work can really spread a message effectively for environmental health.” Combining activism and advocacy, RAP serves as a role model for how youth can create positive change.
Bangka Island, Indonesia
From Tin Mining to Honey Farming
Kila has witnessed how decades of aggressive tin mining have turned parts of her homeland of Bangka Island, Indonesia, into a desolate and damaged landscape. Tin mining is a lucrative but destructive trade that has scarred the island's ecosystems, bulldozed farms and forests, killed off fish stocks and coral reefs, and maimed and killed many of the young men who work in hazardous and unregulated conditions while mining for tin.
Tin-mining is rapidly becoming obsolete as reserves dwindle, and Kila has developed a “sweet” idea for an economically-viable and eco-friendly alternative business opportunity in her community. Kila comes from a family of bee observers, and she began conducting research into the ideal construction and architecture of “sunggau,” the human-made bee nests beekeepers use to cultivate honey. She has now visited nearly 150 sunggau to document their measurements, interview beekeepers, observe the habitat and the honey bee workers, identify surrounding trees and vegetation, and take honey samples which she later analyzes in a research center. Kila initiated this project to allow people easy entry into beekeeping and honey culturing, which will provide much-needed income for the community, as well as an incentive to protect the local forest reserves and conserve the environment.
In 2012, Kila presented her sunggau research at both The XXIV International Congress of Entomology in South Korea, and at the 11th Asian Apicultural Association Conference in Malaysia. Kila also works with her village’s Community Forest Program to encourage the planting of bee-friendly plants and she says that one of her goals is to, “work with local groups, beekeepers and government agencies for revegetation in the degraded tin mining area.”
With her extensive data and the assistance of local beekeepers, Kila is currently developing a project for 10-15 sunggau, which she hopes to pilot by January 2014. Kila’s efforts to champion beekeeping and reforestation as alternative economic opportunities represent hope for a sustainable future and thriving post tin-mining community on Bangka Island.
Saving the Chesapeake Bay through Oyster Gardening
David always loved the natural world, and when he heard about the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Oyster Restoration (CBFOR) project as a 7th grader, he knew he wanted to get involved. David learned that the Chesapeake Bay Eastern oyster population had decreased to 2% of historic levels. In fact, there are so few oysters that it now takes them nearly a year to filter the Bay’s waters, instead of the few days it took in the 1800’s. David became the youngest volunteer on the CBFOR farm, sifting through thousands of oysters, helping move over 1400 lbs. of them into buckets, loading them into trucks and then boats, and finally dumping them onto oyster reefs in the Piankatank River.
David delved into oyster research and learned how important oysters are to our waterways as they help to filter out plankton, sediments, nutrients, algae, and chemical contaminants. One adult oyster can filter approximately 50 gallons of water a day, and this cleaner water helps to support many other marine animals and plants. Oysters and oyster larvae are also a valuable food source for marine life, and oyster habitats provide homes for creatures like sea anemones, polychaete worms and blue crabs. In 2009, David decided to sign up to be an oyster gardener. He learned how to build an oyster float at an organization called Lynnhaven Now, conducted water salinity tests, and filled out the necessary county and state paperwork to raise the oysters in his backyard creek, a tributary of the Poquoson River which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay.
David has now been oyster gardening for over four years, and has grown approximately 4,000 oysters which are contributing to the improvement of the Chesapeake Bay waterway. He has helped bring attention to the importance of oysters by attending science fairs, informing his friends and fellow Boy Scouts about his efforts, and encouraging them to also get involved. Through his comprehensive research, David has learned about the best conditions for oysters to filter at their optimum rates, and his discoveries helped him to secure a mentorship at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, an honor typically only awarded to college graduates. David says that through his ongoing efforts he has, “learned a lot about our waterways, oysters, marine life, and the impact all of it has on our world, and that even one person can make a difference in the world.”
Green Lifesaver Recycling Foundation
When Brianna began noticing how environmental issues were affecting her community, she wanted to be a part of the solution so she founded the Green Lifesavers Recycling Foundation. Through this community outreach program, Brianna created and circulated newsletters, short stories and pamphlets to explain the importance of recycling and of disposing cigarette butts in proper receptacles. She took action with her own hands, and began weekly visits to the riverbanks in Detroit to clean up the plastic bottles, cigarette butts and other litter that posed a threat to local water quality and endangered wildlife. Brianna also placed trash and recycling receptacles at the riverbank with educational signs explaining the harm caused by plastic waste, and she returns weekly to transport the collected plastic to the recycling center. She sends the cigarette litter to an organization called Terracycle which upcycles the cigarette filters into industrial products like plastic pallets, and re-works any remaining tobacco into tobacco composting. All told, Brianna has successfully collected over 10,000 plastic bottles for recycling and stopped over 4,500 cigarette butts from ending up in Detroit’s waterways.
Brianna is a passionate teen advocate who encourages others to become active participants in environmental and community initiatives. She has inspired over 200 people to trade their plastic drinking bottles for reusable BPA-free metal ones, and she recently began collecting pop tabs from cans to benefit the Ronald McDonald House. Brianna began the Green Lifesavers Recycling Foundation because she wanted to educate and engage her community, and she says that, “creating these programs makes me feel honored to be doing something to assure that the future of the riverbanks and the environment is protected.”
Commander Ben - The Invasive Hunter
Ben was disturbed to learn that invasive species were disrupting the native ecosystems of central Texas where he lives, so he developed a blog called Commander Ben - The Invasive Hunter to use as a platform for educating others about the threats that invasive species pose to native ecosystems. Invasive species are different from non-native species in that they grow or reproduce and spread rapidly, establish over large areas, and decrease biodiversity by threatening the survival of native plants and animals. Invasive species are a significant threat to almost half of the native U.S. species currently listed as federally endangered. The goal of Ben’s project is to inform people about invasive species through the use of humor, and he does this by creating and posting comical and theatric videos that especially appeal to youth. In the videos, which Ben independently writes, acts in, directs and edits, his alter ego – Commander Ben – often appears in a white taekwondo uniform while battling invasive species.
Ben has reached thousands of people through social networking, and he has traveled to Washington DC and around the state of Texas giving presentations and leading workshops at places like the Lady Bird Johnson Wildﬂower Center in Austin, Texas. Commander Ben’s YouTube channel has over 70 videos and counting, and his public service announcement, “Native Plant Avengers”, was selected as one of only 25 videos from around the world to be screened at the 2012 "Lights. Camera. Help." Focus on Good Film Festival, which hundreds of people attended. The National Invasive Species Council (NISC) also awarded Ben the 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer Award for educating kids of all ages about invasive species.
Another significant accomplishment is Ben’s creation of the Invasive Hunter Academy, which has been featured at major science events attended by hundreds of people. It is a multi-sensory program that accommodates diverse learning styles, to encourage all kids to join in the battle against invasive species. Ben says he has “learned that in order to really educate people about a particular topic -- especially a scientiﬁc topic -- you have to provide entertaining content that can speak to the average person regardless of their science background. When a science topic is presented in a fun and engaging way, both children and adults get excited about it and want to participate.” Moving forward, he hopes that people “will practice new behavior, such as being mindful not to introduce an invasive species into their native ecosystem.”
Peace Welcome Club
Harnoor serves as a youth leader for Willow Park Ecology Center (WPEC) and Protect Our Water and Environmental Resources (POWER), and participates in environmental projects like tree planting, sustainable gardening, and fundraising. Harnoor shares his experiences and enthusiasm with others by writing articles which are featured in local, national and international publications. Through his writing, Harnoor promotes the principles of Zero Waste and advocates for sustainable environmental actions that anyone can take. Harnoor says he is on a mission to inspire confidence in others and motivate community members to lend a hand for the environment. Harnoor demonstrates a passion for community service, and shows that age is no barrier to volunteering.
Harnoor moved to Canada from Hong Kong in 2002, and like many newcomers, he initially found it difficult to befriend kids in his school. As a way to meet new people and connect with his community, Harnoor became an active volunteer. He started a Green Team in his school, and has been involved in a host of environmental causes with over 20 different organizations including WPEC, POWER, a Youth Caucus, Town of Halton Hills Sustainability Steering Committee, Mayor’s Youth Action Committee, Halton Peel Biodiversity Network, Halton Environmental Network, Credit Valley Conservation, and Volunteer Halton’s Change The World campaign.
Volunteering connected Harnoor with his community and enabled him to meet a network of like-minded friends, inspiring him to found the Peace Welcome Club (PWC) in 2012. PWC engages youth in volunteering and advocates for youth who are new to Canada by providing peer-support and opportunities to get involved in their community. Among their many projects, the PWC has organized the donation of over 10,000 books to help enhance literacy among First Nation (Native American) children in Northern Ontario and in India, and a Jean Green Drive which provided almost 2000 pairs of jeans to underprivileged international youth. PWC also volunteered for the Great Canadian Shoreline Clean-up, gathering thirty large bags of trash.
Water for All
Miruthula Jegadesan was inspired to start her Water For All project, when on a family trip to India, she witnessed firsthand the lack of access to safe, clean water resources in rural villages. When she returned to the US, Miruthula began researching different organizations that address water disparity, and after connecting with Living Water International (LWI), she founded a Water For All club in her school. Miruthula and her club began organizing fundraising events like walkathons, a 5k run, and hosting booths at cultural events, through which they raised about 700 USD. The funds were donated to LWI, and used to build a well for an underserved community in India.
Miruthula is an active volunteer for multiple organizations, providing tutoring for Bhutanese refugees, conducting hospital surveys to improve services with the Arizona Department of Health, and serving on the Mayor’s Youth Commission in Chandler, AZ. Miruthula is passionate about making her school environment more sustainable, and by helping to conduct energy audits, initiating a composting and recycling system, and starting a school garden, Miruthula is making this goal a reality.
Miruthula and the Water For All club are currently raising funds to build a well in South Africa, and after that project is complete, they will identify another community in need of a clean and reliable water source. Miruthula is networking with friends she knows in other states, and hopes to establish new chapters of the Water For All club in their schools. She has also created a website, written several newspaper articles, and held presentations to publicize the goals of Water For All, and ways for everyone to become involved. Miruthula says that the biggest reward was “when I got the letter from LWI with the results after the well was built. Seeing the responses of the people, the smiles on their faces, and how happy the community was really touched me.”
Andhra Pradesh, India
Turning My School into a Cool Eco-School and My City Hyderabad into Biodiverabad
Salil Tripathy had a goal to transform his school into an environmental paradise, and formed his project around an awareness-raising program, recycling initiatives, water conservation, and by motivating students to plant saplings and increase the biodiversity of the school’s pond. Initially, Salil began delivering speeches at school assemblies to foster a sense of environmental responsibility among students and staff. He also presented a visual depiction of his action plan, and a comparison between the status quo and the future results of his project.
Through the efforts of Salil and his friends, 3,000 student textbooks and notebooks weighing over eight tons were collected for recycling or reuse, and 300 saplings were planted on the school grounds. Salil revived a tradition of donating saplings on student birthdays by celebrating each birthday as an “Environment Day.” The students not only donate saplings, but they also plant and care for them regularly during a class period called “Fun with the Environment (Gardening).” Because Salil’s school is situated adjacent to a busy road, the environmental benefit from the planted saplings extends far beyond the school grounds.
The impact of Salil’s project is evident in the school’s water and electricity bills, which have declined enormously since he initiated school-wide changes. Furthermore, Salil has successfully advocated for less plastic waste, and he leads other students in creatively repurposing non-recyclables like Tetra Paks into school art installations, which also helps raise awareness about environmental issues. Students have also introduced different types of fish and amphibians into the school pond to increase biodiversity, and create sustainable habitats for birds, small insects, and beneficial micro-organisms.
Salil was honored with the Young Leader for Change Award for his project at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in 2012, where he also served as a youth delegate. In the future, Salil hopes to expand his efforts to turn his city of Hyderabad into “Biodiverabad,” and he aspires "to encourage each and every child of Mother Earth to unitedly work for its well-being." He has learned that when it comes to conserving the environment, “action speaks louder than words.”