As we celebrate International Women’s Day each March—which is part of National Women’s History Month in the U.S.—it’s important to recognize the amazing work that women all over the world are doing to create positive change in their communities and beyond. At Plastic Pollution Coalition, we are proud to have a team of incredible women who are dedicated to advocating for a world free of plastic pollution and protecting the planet. To honor the occasion, several of the women on our team each chose to honor a woman who has inspired them in their work. From scientists and activists to artists and educators, both past and present, the women chosen by our team have made a significant impact and contribution in their respective fields and continue to motivate us with their vision, passion, and commitment. We hope that by sharing their stories, we can amplify their voices and inspire others to follow in their footsteps. Join us in celebrating the women who have inspired us to continue paving the way for a more sustainable and equitable future.
Xiye Bastida & Sophia Kianni
Chosen by Julia Cohen, Plastic Pollution Coalition‘s Managing Director & Co-Founder
Xiye Bastida is an inspiring young climate activist who is a globally recognized youth leader working for climate justice and indigenous land rights. Her dedication to the environment and passion for making the climate movement accessible to all continues to be an inspiration to me, as well as activists around the world who are working towards a plastic-free future.
From her upbringing in San Pedro Tultepec, Mexico, where she experienced first-hand the effects of climate change on smaller communities, to her current role as a lead organizer for the Fridays For Future movement and Co-Founder of the Re-Earth Initiative, she is a tireless advocate for indigenous land rights, climate justice, and a future free of plastic pollution. Xiye’s dedication to learning about climate policy and her ability to articulate her unique perspective have made her a powerful voice in the movement for a sustainable future. Despite facing significant challenges, she remains stubbornly optimistic and believes that we can all come together to protect the Earth’s resources. Her positivity is a constant reminder to me in my own work to continue moving forward no matter what adversity we may encounter.
Sophia Kianni is another young climate activist, though her growing list of accomplishments is remarkable for anyone regardless of their age. As the founder of Climate Cardinals, she has mobilized thousands of volunteers around the world to translate critical climate information into over 100 languages. This innovative approach to tackling the issue of climate communication is an inspiring example of how we can work together to overcome global challenges.
Sophia’s work as a member of the United Nations Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change and her involvement with various boards and advisory councils demonstrate her commitment to making a real impact at the highest level of decision-making. Her passion, creativity, and leadership inspire me to continue working towards a more sustainable and equitable future for all.
Chosen by Erica Cirino, Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Communications Manager
While studying the environment in college in the early 2010s, I took a class where a professor assigned Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Though it was published in 1962, I remember how Carson’s book was (sadly) just as relevant to a person reading it 50 years later. In Silent Spring,Carson reveals the growing consequences of humanity’s use of chemicals of war and convenience, especially pesticides, and other human threats to the Earth all life needs to survive—people included. Her work as a writer, ecologist, scientist, and advocate for Earth, and this book specifically, has been credited with helping spark the Environmental Movement of the 1960s. And despite being reportedly met with personal attacks from harmful critics—including proponents of pesticide use—Carson persevered. Her poetic and simple writing in Silent Spring and other works, such as The Sea Around Us, showed me how literature can serve as a powerful force to convey important scientific and spiritual truths about the Earth, and to compel people to care about the planet we all have in common. Rachel Carson and her incredible work continue to deeply inspire me to study and write about the natural world.
Chosen by Amelia Hanson, Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Project Coordinator
Jane Fonda has a lifelong history of using her fame and privilege to fight for social and environmental justice. First arrested at the age of 30 while protesting the Vietnam war, Jane has since been arrested five more times while protesting the government’s inaction on climate change. Last year, Jane launched the Jane Fonda Climate PAC, with the goal to “make sure politicians who support oil and gas are as afraid for their jobs as we are about the impending climate disaster.” Jane takes every opportunity she can to advocate for the environment, recently using her press tour to speak to the connection between racism and the climate crisis, explaining: “Where would they put the poison and the pollution? They’re not gonna put it in Bel Air. They’ve got to find someplace where poor people or indigenous people or people of color are living. Put it there. They can’t fight back. And that’s why a big part of the climate movement now has to do with climate justice.” Jane Fonda shows us that there is so much more to star power than simply entertaining the masses, and encourages us to continue to pressure the entertainment industry to use its massive influence to Flip the Script on Plastics and join the movement for environmental justice.
Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
Chosen by Madison Dennis, Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Campaign Coordinator
Ayanna Elizabeth Johnson is a force to be reckoned with in climate advocacy and activism. Her innovative ideas and tireless efforts to bring ocean and climate solutions to the public have been truly inspiring to me as a plastic pollution activist.
As the co-creator of the How to Save the Planet podcast, Ayana has brought accessible information about environmental issues to a wider audience. Her ability to communicate complex topics in a way that is both beautiful and full of hope is truly remarkable.
Ayana’s work with Dr. Katherine Wilkinson on the ALL WE CAN SAVE book and climate initiative has also been a game-changer in my own understanding of complex environmental issues and my ability to find hope and community in the climate movement. I have such appreciation for how they have brought together 60 of the most innovative women leaders on climate and justice, providing a comprehensive roadmap for creating a more sustainable future.
Ayana, to me, serves as a beacon of hope for all of us who are advocating for a world free of plastic pollution and climate change, and her dedication and passion for creating a better future for our planet is truly awe-inspiring.
Chosen by Jen Fela, Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Vice President, Programs & Communications
Wangari Maathai is founder of The Greenbelt Movement—an environmental organization that focuses on empowering women to restore nature while improving their own livelihoods—and the first environmentalist and African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She passed away in 2011 but continues to inspire many around the world.
I read Wangari Maathai’s powerful book Unbowed in 2008 and was excited to know she was still living and working in Nairobi where I was living for a few months too. Her story is amazing—she earned her PhD in the United States, returned home to Kenya and began working to empower rural women to restore their livelihoods and their environment through the simple act of planting trees. For this, she faced intense political opposition and violence and was imprisoned multiple times.
Her spirit was unbreakable and she remains a model of courage, perseverance, and strength. I often share the clip of her from “Dirt! The Movie” (above), which is comforting during times of overwhelm—reminding us to always do the best we can.
Chosen by Jackie Nuñez, Founder of The Last Plastic Straw and Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Advocacy & Engagement Manager
Sherri Mitchell (Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset) is an Indigenous rights activist, spiritual teacher, American lawyer, and transformational changemaker. I was first introduced to Sherri when she appeared on the How to Save the Planet podcast episode No Place Like Home. As I walked along the beach, listening to her words, I was blown away by her indigenous knowledge, prophecy, and connection to Mother Earth. I strive to integrate her nuggets of wisdom and insight into my own work.
Sherri’s insights on conquest activism and the 80:10:10 rule have challenged me and expanded the work I do. The 80:10:10 rule says we should use 10% of our energy educating ourselves and learning about what the problems are and where the harm is coming from, and 10% of our energy in stopping the flow of harm coming towards us. A full 80% of our energy should be spent visioning and creating a world in which we wish to inhabit. Sherri says “One of the things that are critically important to realize is this growing tension we all are feeling is not that something is wrong, but that something is being righted within us.” This message is particularly relevant to my own advocacy work for a world free of plastic pollution, where we must let go of harmful practices and policies and embrace new solutions that prioritize the health of our planet and communities.
Her book Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change, and her contributions to ALL WE CAN SAVE Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, inspire me to continue working towards a world free from plastic pollution and committed to regenerative, just, and equitable solutions.
Chosen by Roshani Kothari, Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Technology & Digital Operations Director
Amna Nawaz is an American broadcast journalist and a co-anchor of PBS NewsHour & Host of The Plastic Problem.
I am inspired by Amna Nawaz’s excellent investigative journalism as the host of The Plastic Problem, which follows the 2018 Peabody Award-winning five-part NewsHour series that explored the environmental threat from plastic pollution and potential alternatives. Through her reporting, she asked tough questions that helped to expose how the plastics industry created a recycling campaign to put the responsibility for their single-use plastic waste on consumers. Amna Nawaz was not afraid to challenge the plastic industry, and has helped to open the eyes of people worldwide on the massive scope of the plastic pollution challenge and people who are working to turn the tide and turn off the single-use plastic tap.
Chosen by Erica Heisdorf Bisquerra, Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Marketing & Social Media Manager
I am moved by Milwaukee civil rights leaders that persist against racial discrimination to create systemic change—notably Vel Phillips, who was a Milwaukee alderwoman, lawyer, and Wisconsin’s first African American Judge. Vel was at the forefront of the fair housing rights movement in the 1960s, where people of color were systematically denied fair housing access by redlining. For several years, Vel proposed fair housing ordinances to the Milwaukee Common Council and was denied. She persisted. Vel brought national attention to housing discrimination by rallying with the Milwaukee NAACP Youth Council and community leaders like Father Groppi through the historic 200-day Milwaukee Fair Housing Marches, which led, in part, to the passing of a comprehensive open housing ordinance. I’m inspired by the way Vel Phillips prevailed in the face of adversity and united Milwaukeeans to achieve change, which has paved the way for future civic leaders to continue her legacy and dismantle systemic racism.
Chosen by Dianna Cohen, Plastic Pollution Coalition’s CEO & Co-Founder
Pandora Thomas and her work and vision as founder of EARTHSeed Farms deeply inspires me through her dedication to regenerative practices and ecological principles in social design, which is a testament to her commitment to building a sustainable future.
At EARTHseed Farms, Pandora, the team, and her community prioritize sustainable farming practices while integrating community building and environmental education. By centering AfroIndigenous permaculture principles, they uplift and honor the earth wisdom traditions of people of African descent while creating a space for others to learn and engage with regenerative practices. Pandora is building a thriving community while prioritizing the health of the environment. Pandora’s multidisciplinary approach to her work as a caregiver, teacher, writer, designer, and speaker exemplifies how we may apply ecological principles to all aspects of our lives. Her work reaffirms that sustainability is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and it requires creativity and innovation to create change and make a difference. Pandora Thomas’s commitment to regenerative practices and building a sustainable future through community engagement and environmental education inspires, challenges, and motivates me!
On this International Women’s Day and every day, we celebrate and honor the women who have paved the way for us to advocate for a better future. Let us continue to be inspired by their dedication, persistence, and commitment to creating a world free from plastic pollution, social injustice, and climate change.