“I wrote the phrase, ‘12 years to a climate catastrophe,’ on my whiteboard in my office. I got it from the 2018 UN climate report. It motivates me.
Growing up, I played elite football in Plano, Texas, and again in college. I got the chance to challenge myself against the very best. Football was all about solving puzzles for me, and facing opposition is a mental game—I feel that way about climate change, too.
So, I started this project called Zero Waste to help people sort their waste better. On my first day at Microsoft, I was intimidated at all the trash bin options. Back home in Texas, we had nothing like it. If I felt this way, maybe others did, too. I thought up a way for a camera to teach us, by giving us positive or negative feedback about which bin to put our forks and cups in. It’s kind of like a coach.”—Phillip Hale, from Plano, Texas
"Maybe true empathy will motivate us out of this mess."
“I remember wading through tidepools as a kid in Los Angeles. I was obsessed. I kept bugging my parents with questions they eventually couldn’t answer, so they enrolled me in an oceanography class at the local college when I was in seventh grade.
After college, I did field research in Myanmar, where my grandmother grew up. I saw kids playing in the ocean surrounded by plastic debris, and it hit me, how differently climate change affects people around the world. I got an idea for a children’s book to show kids what it’s like living where climate change is a daily reality.
The book, The Adventures of Tuya and Noyon, lets kids choose their own adventures to learn what it’s like to live in someone else’s shoes. Maybe true empathy will motivate us to get out of this mess.”—Bonnie Lei, from Walnut, California
"Clothes are the skin you choose for yourself."
“I always loved fashion. Clothes are the skin you choose for yourself, how you silently convey to people what you are about.
I was surprised to find out that some of my clothes were made through practices associated with greenhouse gases, the overuse of water, and human rights violations. I didn’t know that I was contributing to something that could be detrimental to the environment.
So, I started getting interested in sustainable clothes, women’s empowerment, fair labor, and conservation. Now, I volunteer for Fashion for Conservation. We organize galas and runway shows to spread the vision of conservation, and we work with artisans in Peru to train them on sustainable practices for making and selling jewelry and accessories to create their own business.”—Sandhya Shahdeo, originally from Ranchi, Jharkhand, India
"Snowboarding has taught me that we won’t get anywhere if we don’t do it together."
“I love snowboarding, but being a darker-skinned Latino, I didn’t feel like I had a community out there on the mountain. It’s not only an expensive hobby—the board, boots, gloves, waterproof clothes, helmet, googles, lift ticket, and transportation—but you also need close friends or family to introduce you to the sport.
That’s why I volunteer at The Service Board, an organization that focuses on mentoring and social justice through snowboarding. We take teens who might not even think to try it, give them all the gear they’ll need, and start building a community to keep them going.
Snowboarding teaches you about your own strength, and everyone deserves a chance to try it. How to struggle and how to ask for help, especially when there are obstacles that you just don’t know how to overcome.
I’ve seen beauty on mountains since I was a kid. Unfortunately, the seasons are becoming more erratic with less snowfall. This change is destroying nature, affecting animals, and altering the planet. There’s a lot we need to do, and snowboarding has taught me that we won’t get anywhere if we don’t do it together.”—Sebastian Apud, born in Argentina, raised in Washington, DC
"I realized food wasn’t something to fear; it could be art."
“I used to have a restrictive eating disorder where I’d limit how much I ate or deem entire food groups as good or bad. My relationship with food and my body was stunningly disempowering for me. It bled into my social life and relationships with people. I used my eating habits as a coping mechanism.
A couple of years ago, I sought professional help. To hold myself accountable for eating well, I created an Instagram page called @kalemyvibe, where I began documenting my recovery. I realized that food wasn’t something to fear; it could be art. I realized when I stopped obsessing over what I ate, I felt more empowered and present in the moment.
Now that I’m on the journey of healing, I’m focusing on intuitive eating and creating a more sustainable relationship with food. Wellness doesn’t have to look like expensive superfoods; wellness can look like you.”—Unnati Shukla, from Houston, Texas
“I was born in Senegal but moved to Harlem when I was 6 years old. One of the ways I stay connected to Senegal is carrying on the tradition of making my own shea butter to use on my skin and hair. Ever since I can remember, the women in my family used to slather it all over their babies and themselves.
I recently went back to Senegal for the first time since I was a kid. In my family’s village, several miles inland, I saw how they make almost everything they consume: eating from their own gardens, raising their own livestock, and using natural beauty products like shea butter for a lot of different things.
They were living a sustainable life before calling it sustainable. With sustainability, maybe the way forward is to look backward.” —Awa Diaw, from Harlem, New York City
"We don’t give up easily. ‘No’ doesn’t intimidate us."
“Coming to Microsoft from the nonprofit sector, I immediately saw that we could be doing way more around environmental sustainability. I saw employees talking about it but not a lot of solutions.
That’s when my coworker Holly and I started a group for employees who are interested in Earth, too. In under a year, we’ve had 1,000 people from all over the world join. Our motto is to be action-focused and urgent. We’ve done lots of different projects, from piloting a zero-waste café for employees to working with a nonprofit that cleans up the ocean by using data recognition.
‘No’ doesn’t intimidate us. Our love for protecting Earth’s resources started as a love for the outdoors. We find ultimate peace outside; it’s something that we love. And you protect what you love.” —Drew Wilkinson, from Phoenix, Arizona, speaking about his work with Holly Beale, from Seattle, Washington
“Climate change worries the hell out of me.”
“For me, climate change is personal. I grew up in Kunming, China, nicknamed “Spring City” for its Mediterranean-like, mild weather. Kunming Lake sits right next to the city; it’s a beautiful lake that’s had poems written about it. But when China was industrializing, developers and farmers filled it with dirt and debris and crops, gravely reducing the mass and volume of the lake. Now, the climate of the area is more extreme with each winter and summer.
Climate change worries the hell out of me.
Today, I work on a team that looks at how artificial intelligence could address some of Earth’s most challenging problems. Everything we do in the name of sustainability should solve problems, not just make us feel good about ourselves.” —Siyu Yang, originally from Kunming, China
“Being outside makes me feel at home, where I feel like I’m part of something that’s so much bigger than me.
When I was a kid, I started digging holes in the backyard of our house. It turned out I was a really good archeologist, because I found a lot of fossils. It later dawned on me that I wasn’t a budding, famous archeologist. My parents had been burying chicken bones in the backyard for me to find—to keep me busy. And I was digging them up.
Now I see how important parents can be in allowing you to follow your passion when you’re a little kid, how they can put you on a path to something that can become a lifelong pursuit.” —Lucas Joppa, raised in Phillips, Wisconsin