5 Notable Women Environmentalists and How They Made a Difference


Photo credits:
Top left: Isatou Ceesay, One Plastic Bag
Top right: Winona LaDuke
Bottom left: Pandora Thomas, Pandora Thomas
Bottom middle: Wangari Maathai
Bottom right: Khanh Nguy Thi

Caring for the environment is central to everything we do here at Repowered. Our mission is to curb global e-waste through electronics recycling and refurbishing, as well as through educating our community about what they can do to make the planet a better place to live.

March is Women’s History Month, and to celebrate, we’d like to introduce you to a few women environmentalists from around the world who inspire us with their action and their love for the planet.

Here are five notable women environmentalists, along with their accomplishments and the impact their work has had on the world. Plus, we’ve included a short list of easy things you can start doing today to take better care of the environment.

Khanh Nguy Thi 

Khanh Nguy Thi is the founder of two organizations that work to reduce dependency on fossil fuels and coal power while promoting sustainable energy development in Vietnam: the Green Innovation and Development Centre (GreenID) and the Vietnam Sustainable Energy Alliance.

Growing up near a coal plant, Khanh had firsthand experience with the pollution and dust from coal-fueled power, and saw many people in her community develop cancer. This, along with her passion for the environment, led her to join a small Vietnamese nonprofit after college, where she worked on water conservation and community development initiatives.

Then in 2011, she founded GreenID and the Vietnam Sustainable Energy Alliance—a network of 11 Vietnamese and international environmental and social organizations.

Vietnam’s energy needs have increased exponentially in recent years along with strong growth in their economy. In response to the government’s Power Development Plan for 2011-2020, which called for an increase of coal-fueled electricity, Khanh collaborated with energy experts on a study detailing the dangers of coal and laying out sustainable alternatives. Through GreenID, she also raised public awareness through energy-saving programs, neighborhood cleanups, and media coverage. 

And her work paid off. In 2016, the Vietnamese government released an updated Power Development Plan that called for a reduction in coal plants, as well as increasing renewable energy efforts to 21% by 2030.

In 2018, Khanh received the first Goldman Environmental Prize for Vietnam.

Wangari Maathai

In 1977, while serving as a member of the National Council of Women of Kenya, Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement (GBM). 

This organization teaches local women to plant trees, which help prevent erosion and desertification while also creating a nearby source of firewood. GBM has since planted more than 51 million trees throughout Kenya. Maathai also fought against the agriculture industry, which had a practice of seizing land and forests from local people for its own use.

Maathai’s life was full of firsts: she was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a PhD, the first female chair of a department at the University of Nairobi, and the first African woman and first environmentalist to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. 

She was also voted into Kenyan parliament in 2002, and was appointed Assistant Minister in the Ministry for Environment and Natural Resources. 

This inspiring environmental activist was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her approach to sustainable development, democracy, and peace. She saw conflict, disempowerment, environmental degradation, food insecurity, and poverty as inextricably linked. She is quoted as saying, “The more you degrade the environment, the more you dig deeper into poverty.”

Winona LaDuke

Winona LaDuke is an activist, economist, and author who advocates for sustainability in Indigenous communities. She is an Anishinaabekwe (or Ojibwe) enrolled member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg and lives on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota.

In the 1980s, LaDuke worked on a lawsuit to reclaim land that was promised to the Anishinaabeg people but was taken over by lumber companies and non-Native people. While the lawsuit was ultimately dismissed, LaDuke continued to work toward reclaiming Native land by founding the White Earth Land Recovery Project (WELRP). 

The WELRP is one of the country’s largest nonprofits that works to buy back reservation land that has been purchased by non-Native people. This work fosters sustainable development and creates economic opportunities for Native communities. 

The WELRP also works on renewable energy efforts, Indigenous farming initiatives, and sustainable local food systems. In 2021, LaDuke was named to Forbes’ “50 over 50—Women of Impact” list for her work with the WELRP.

LaDuke is also the executive director and co-founder of Honor the Earth, an Indigenous environmental advocacy organization that played a notable role in the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline protests. 

Pandora Thomas

Pandora Thomas learned about the concept of permaculture when she was in graduate school for urban planning. Permaculture is a system of ecological design principles for sustainable agriculture, including technologies like solar power and rainwater catchment. In her work today, Thomas focuses on these as well as sustainable social systems and Indigenous techniques, such as reviving traditional crops that are soil-building and drought-resistant.

Her goal is, in her words, “to support diverse communities—specifically Black communities—to reclaim our earth connection and design our communities and future based off of that.”

As a partner at the Urban Permaculture Institute in Marin City, CA, she worked to train community members in permaculture principles, so they can design resilient landscapes themselves.

Her current project is Earthseed Permaculture Center and Farm (named after a series of books by ​​eco-visionary novelist Octavia Butler). Earthseed is the first Afro-Indigenous and all Black owned retreat center and permaculture farm in Sonoma County. 

With more than a dozen acres of orchards, berry bushes, herbs, and “you-pick” crops, Earthseed serves as both a working farm and as a retreat and educational center for the Black community, with the goal of reconnecting communities to Afro-Indigenous principles and practices.

Isatou Ceesay

Known as the “Queen of Plastic Recycling” in Gambia, Isatou Ceesay started a movement to recycle the plastic and other waste that was filling the streets of her village of N’jau. She noticed how this waste was harming animals and crops, creating air pollution, and even contributing to malaria outbreaks, and wanted to do something about it.

So she, along with a group of women, started weaving purses out of plastic waste they salvaged and selling them at the local markets. Soon more women joined them, and their project grew until Ceesay founded the N’jau Recycling and Income Generation Group, now known as Women’s Initiative Gambia (WIG). This project not only helps recycle plastic waste, but also generates income for the women through the sale of their bags.

WIG has since grown to include other forms of recycling, along with teaching entrepreneurial skills to women, youth, and disabled groups.

How You Can Help Care for the Environment 

One of the most inspiring things about these women’s stories is that each of them started where they were, harnessing their passions and using the resources they had at their disposal. And that’s something every one of us can do.

We can all do our part to reduce our environmental impact. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few simple habits to consider taking up this year:

  • Recycling properly. Learn the recycling rules in your area and follow them closely.
  • Conserving electricity by using a programmable thermostat, opting for energy-efficient appliances, unplugging electronics when they’re not in use, and maintaining your HVAC system.
  • Skipping single-use plastic items and choosing reusable alternatives, such as reusable coffee mugs, water bottles, grocery bags, and straws. 
  • Shopping local and secondhand. Buying produce at the local Farmer’s Market reduces packaging and fuel used for transport. Opting for secondhand clothing and household items keeps those items out of the landfill and reduces resources used to manufacture new products.
  • Buying refurbished electronics. Need to replace your computer or other technology? Consider buying refurbished from Repowered.
  • Recycling your old electronics with Repowered. Electronics recycling helps keep electronics—and the toxic chemicals and precious metals they contain—out of landfills. Check out our list of items we recycle here. 

Learn more about Repowered’s mission to give new life to people, the planet, and technology, and when you have electronics that need recycling, come visit us at one of our drop-off locations.

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