Celebrating Women Environmental Changemakers

When it comes to environmental activism and innovation, change can feel like a daunting obstacle to overcome. Human-induced climate change is already starting to impact populations across the world in different ways, disproportionately affecting women and people of color. At RethinkWaste, we believe in the power of small, collective actions as a driving force of change. Take a moment to find inspiration in the women of this article, who’ve transformed the landscape of environmental leaders around the world and continue to inspire us as changemakers.

JoAnn Tall – For decades, the Lakota tribe in South Dakota have been resisting the exploitation of their sacred land for the purposes of uranium mining, hazardous waste dumping, nuclear weapon testing, and more. In 1989, the U.S government made plans to mine the hills near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home to JoAnn Tall. Tall, at times standing alone before tribal council, urged leadership to refuse the incentives from the government in the interest of protecting the people and the land.

Tall’s lifelong activism has prevented thousands of acres of Lakota land from becoming landfill and incinerator sites. She later co-founded the Native Resource Coalition, which worked to spread awareness to Lakota people on the interconnectivity of environmental and human health. In 1993, JoAnn was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her leadership and activism.

Photo Credit: Camacho

Rhiana Gunn-Wright – You’ve probably heard of the Green New Deal (A set of resolutions first presented in 2019 aimed at driving U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2030) – but have you heard the voices behind it? Among them is Rhiana Gunn-Wright, who worked on developing the Green New Deal as a policy director at the think tank New Consensus. According to an interview with The Root, Riana’s passion for environmental policy is linked closely to her drive to educate, mobilize, and uplift black and brown communities that are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis.

Gunn-Wright holds two bachelor’s degrees in African American studies and Women’s Gender studies from Yale. She earned a Master of Philosophy as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and continues to address the intersection of environmental and racial justice as the Director of Climate Policy at the Roosevelt Institute.

Miranda Wang – It’s no secret that plastics are a huge problem in the waste and recycling industry. At the end of the day, humans are generating way more plastic than we can responsibly recycle or dispose of. Miranda Wang, Cofounder and CEO of Novoloop, is tackling the plastics problem from a molecular angle, starting in the laboratory. Novoloop collects post-consumer Polyethylene plastics (what we often call “flimsy plastics”) and breaks them down using patented technology to be utilized in upcycled plastic production. Wang, 28, has big plans for the company’s future. Her team is actively working to scale their process up to a commercial level, diverting about 25,000 metric tons of plastic annually and bringing a plastic circular economy closer every day.

Wangari Maathai – The first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a Ph.D., Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, author, mother, and environmentalist are just a few ways to describe the extraordinary life of Wangari Maathai. In 1976, Maathai started a radical movement in Kenya that empowered women to stand up against the deforestation and environmental degradation that was affecting their communities. Known as the Green Belt Movement, the women’s work in planting and nurturing trees later grew into a globally recognized environmental advocacy organization.

The Green Belt Movement organization continues to plant millions of trees in restoration projects throughout Kenya, while working to advocate for food security, clean water, gender equality, and more across the globe. Wangari Maathai’s legacy continues to serve as inspiration for the power of grassroots organizing and female empowerment.

Research shows that educating and uplifting women is one of the most significant actions humans can take to curb the effects of climate change. While this list includes some of our favorites, there are so many more women of color making waves in the fields of sustainability, environmental justice and activism, waste, and beyond. Take a moment now to celebrate the women who inspire you, as we continue to take steps towards a greener future.