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The furture of Environmental leadership, with the winners of the Brower Youth Awards 2020

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Today is a very special episode because it will be the first panel discussion that I’ve hosted with three inspiring guests. It’s also the first time that I’m speaking with leaders and change makers who are a little over half my age. 

It’s incredibly humbling to see the progress, tenacity and perseverance that these young activists exemplify, and I know you’ll find inspiration in their journeys and work too. 

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But first, to give a little backstory

The Brower Youth Awards is an annual contest from The New Leaders Initiative which provides programs that honor, support, and sustain young environmental leaders. The contest has recognized outstanding youth leaders in the environmental movement for more than 20 years and each year, six young people based in North America are awarded the prize. The winners for 2020 will join a growing movement of young awardees recognized for their sustainability projects, innovative ideas, and excellent leadership.

For this episode I was grateful to be able to speak to 3 of the 6 winners Dannielle Boyer, Alexandra Collins, and Diego Arreola Fernadez, to explore, not only the work and success that they’ve found, but also to try and understand the obstacles they’ve overcome and the support they’ve had along the way. The idea was to get a sense of what all of us can do to foster and assist the young leaders of tomorrow on their path towards a brighter future. 

All three of them have incredible backstories and long lists of accomplishments which we touch on briefly in their introductions, but I’d highly recommend that you read in full in the longer bios that I’ve posted in the show notes for this episode. There you’ll also find links to their websites and ways that you can support them directly and learn more about the Brower Youth Awards as well. I’ve also posted bios of the other three winners who weren’t able to join us on the call but are just as deserving of their titles as activists and leaders. 

Be sure to stay tuned until the end where the panelists give their advice to other young people who may be doubting their ability to make change or have an impact. This may be something you want to pass on to your children, nieces and nephews, or young community members who you see potential in and could benefit from hearing these inspiring messages from people their own age. 


Bios of the guests:

Danielle Boyer

After teaching her first kindergarten science class at age 10 in Troy, Michigan, Ojibwe youth Danielle Boyer became acutely aware of how disparate access to quality STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) education among low-income students disadvantages them and impacts the future of our Earth. She’s been working to increase STEAM education accessibility and affordability ever since through innovative programs that promote technical competency and develop a tangible love for our Earth. In January 2019, Danielle founded her own educational organization, The STEAM Connection, to further this cause.

The STEAM Connection prioritizes work with communities of color, particularly Indigenous communities, providing free classes and events on recycling, innovation, and sustainable design. By making engineering and environmental education more widely available, Danielle is helping children realize their true potential as environmental innovators and simultaneously garner interest in STEAM careers. From her robotics kits made of recycled and biodegradable materials to the 35 youth robotics teams that she mentors, Danielle has reached tens of thousands of students around the world. Danielle was recently named one of PEOPLE’s Girls Changing the World by PEOPLE Magazine, a L’Oreal Paris Woman of Worth, and was in an NBC special on November 25th that can be found on their Peacock streaming platform.

Alexandra Collins

In 2018, Alexandra Collins, 16, discovered that for 30 years industrial sterilization company Sterigenics had been emitting high levels of ethylene oxide (EtO) — a colorless gas that is a known carcinogen — near homes and schools in her neighborhood in Hinsdale, Illinois. Alexandra’s community suffers from a cancer rate nearly nine times the national average. After learning that many students and teachers were unaware of the danger EtO posed, Alexandra and her sister cofounded Students Against Ethylene Oxide (SAEtO), which harnesses the energy of young people to fight for a ban of ethylene oxide emissions, particularly near schools and residential areas. 

Through SAEtO, Alexandra educates students and others about the cancer risks associated with EtO and about safer sterilization methods for both medical and commercial products. She also organizes letter-writing campaigns and protests, engages in judicial and legislative hearings, and lobbies government officials. In the fall of 2019, SAEtO and allied community groups persuaded the Sterigenics facility near Alexandra’s home to close.

Recently, Alexandra also helped launched SAEtO’s first specialized project, EtO-Free. The project’s all-girl team coded and designed a website that reviews EtO-free beauty products and aims to empower girls and women to push for transparency in product manufacturing and labeling.

Diego Arreola Fernández

Diego Arreola Fernández, 18, is a human Rights and Environmental Justice Advocate, Educator, Speaker, and the Founder of Green Speaking who created Green Speaking after learning about the devastating consequences of plastic pollution and excessive consumerism while at the 2019 Ocean Heroes Bootcamp in Vancouver, Canada. His campaign uses in-school engagement, social media, and motivational videos to encourage children, schools, and businesses in Mexico to fight plastic pollution by modifying their habits, policies, and strategies. He also gives talks to everyone from five-year-old children to business leaders to help people figure out their own unique role in the fight against plastic pollution. Diego organized a 2020 conference to build on this effort but has postponed it to 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In a country contending with serious gang-related violence, deep poverty, and pervasive social inequality, raising awareness about the environment is no small task. But the need for it is urgent. Diego’s next goal is to turn his campaign into an environmental organization with the mission of cultivating more environmental leaders prepared to raise their voices for the planet and inspire people towards a truly sustainable future.

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