Celebrating Young Environmental Heroes: The Brower Youth Awards

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Female student presenting in front of people.

Celebrating Young Environmental Heroes: The Brower Youth Awards

Every year, outstanding young environmentalists from across North America are recognized for their dedication, creativity, and passion for a better world through the Brower Youth Awards. Established in 2000 by the Earth Island Institute, these awards honor the memory of environmental visionary David Brower, who spent more than five decades advocating for the planet and its inhabitants.

This prestigious accolade celebrates the achievements of young environmental leaders between the ages of 13 and 22 who have demonstrated a remarkable commitment to conservation, environmental justice, and sustainable solutions.

Holding a tree seedling.

In this blog, we will delve into the history and impact of the Brower Youth Awards, discuss the selection criteria, and celebrate some of the most inspiring recipients in recent years.

What is the Brower Youth Awards?

What is the Brower Youth Awards? David Brower, born in 1912 in Berkeley, California, was a pioneering environmentalist whose dedication and vision laid the groundwork for the modern environmental movement. Brower, a mountaineer and passionate conservationist, understood the importance of preserving the natural world for future generations.

Throughout his life, he tirelessly campaigned for the protection of natural resources, establishing national parks, and raising awareness about the dangers of nuclear power.

Brower’s contributions to environmentalism are numerous and significant. He played a pivotal role in the creation of several national parks and wilderness areas, including Kings Canyon National Park, the North Cascades National Park, and the Redwood National and State Parks. Brower was also instrumental in stopping the construction of two major dams that would have flooded parts of the Grand Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument.

As the first Executive Director of the Sierra Club, Brower transformed the organization from a relatively small hiking and conservation group into a powerful force for environmental advocacy. Under his leadership, the Sierra Club was involved in several successful campaigns to protect the environment and oppose destructive development projects.

View of environmentalists sitting next to a banner about saving the earth.

In 1969, after a disagreement with the Sierra Club’s board over policy issues, Brower founded Friends of the Earth, an international environmental organization committed to promoting sustainable development and protecting the environment.

Friends of the Earth has since become a leading global voice for environmental and social justice, with over 75 member organizations in countries around the world.

Brower’s unwavering commitment to environmentalism led him to establish the Earth Island Institute in 1982. The organization was founded on the belief that small, dedicated groups of people could make a significant impact in addressing environmental challenges.

The Earth Island Institute has since supported hundreds of projects and initiatives, working at the forefront of environmental conservation, restoration, and education.

In recognition of David Brower’s lifelong dedication to environmentalism, the Earth Island Institute established the Brower Youth Awards in 2000. These awards, which have become a prominent platform for recognizing and nurturing young talent in the field of environmental advocacy, are a testament to Brower’s belief in the power of individuals to make a difference.

The Brower Youth Awards is an opportunity to honor the next generation of eco-activists who, like Brower, are passionate about protecting the environment and advocating for sustainable solutions.

The awards not only celebrate the accomplishments of these young environmental leaders but also provide them with financial support, resources, and mentorship to help them further their work and create lasting change.

By acknowledging and nurturing the potential of young environmentalists, the Brower Youth Awards serve as a beacon of hope for a brighter, more sustainable future. They embody the spirit of David Brower’s tireless advocacy and dedication to the environment and serve as a reminder that every individual has the power to make a positive impact on the world. As our planet’s challenges continue to grow, the Brower Youth Awards is a testament to the passion, creativity, and resilience of young people who are determined to create a better future for all.

How are the Winners Selected for the Brower Youth Awards?

How are the winners selected for the Brower Youth Awards? The Brower Youth Awards are open to young environmental leaders from North America, including the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Each year, the Earth Island Institute receives numerous applications from passionate young people who have initiated and led projects, campaigns, or organizations that positively impact the environment.

The Brower Youth Awards have acknowledged 141 exceptional budding youth leaders, showcasing achievements spanning the entire scope of the environmental movement. Annually, six young individuals residing in North America are awarded a cash prize of $3,000 each.

group of happy african american college friends

The winners’ motivational stories are shared through brief documentary videos during the awards ceremony. Furthermore, the awardees give acceptance speeches about their respective projects or campaigns, fostering environmental activism among those present.

The selection committee for the Brower Youth Awards consists of seasoned environmentalists who assess applicants based on specific criteria to determine the most deserving recipients. These criteria are as follows:

Exceptional Youth Leadership:

The applicant must have demonstrated a significant leadership role in conceptualizing, organizing, and executing their project or campaign(s). The committee looks for individuals who have taken the initiative and inspired others to join their cause.

Issue Relevance & Innovative Approach:

The applicant’s project should address pressing environmental challenges while employing novel solutions and approaches. The committee seeks individuals who think outside the box and are fearless in exploring new avenues for creating a positive environmental impact.

Project Impact, Scalability, & Replicability:

The project’s impact should be substantial and meaningful, making a difference in the community or environment it targets. Additionally, the committee evaluates whether the applicant’s work can serve as a model for other communities or campuses. Scalability and replicability are essential factors, as they demonstrate the potential for broader influence and lasting change.

Charisma, Personal Commitment, & Trajectory:

The selection committee considers the applicant’s personal drive and motivation for engaging in their environmental work. They seek to understand what attracts the individual to this cause and the significance of winning a Brower Youth Award for them. The committee also evaluates the applicant’s potential for continued growth and impact in the environmental field, considering their dedication, passion, and future trajectory.

Along with the cash prize, winners shall be given a week-long trip to San Francisco for the awards ceremony, and ongoing support from the Earth Island Institute to help them grow their projects.

While in California, the awardees take part in various leadership exercises and workshops focusing on coaching, envisioning, public speaking, and building media relations. These activities lead up to the grand awards ceremony.

The Brower Youth Awards program is committed to the winners’ ongoing accomplishments by consistently offering access to resources, mentors, and opportunities that foster the development of their leadership abilities.

What is the Impact of the Brower Youth Awards?

What is the impact of the Brower Youth Awards? For over twenty years, the Brower Youth Awards have acknowledged and celebrated the achievements of more than 100 young environmental leaders.

These outstanding individuals have made significant contributions to various aspects of the environmental movement, including groundbreaking scientific research and the founding of nonprofit organizations that champion environmental justice.

The awards offer not just financial assistance, but also a platform for these young leaders to share their experiences, inspiring others to participate in the quest for a healthier planet.

Background of a woman talking to a set of students.

Just like many youth awards, the enduring impact of these exceptional young leaders is evidenced by the Brower Youth Awards alumni network. Numerous award recipients have chosen to further their commitment to the environment by pursuing careers in environmental advocacy, research, and policymaking. Others have dedicated themselves to the growth and development of their original projects and organizations, striving to create lasting change in their communities and beyond.

The Brower Youth Awards have cultivated a sense of unity and cooperation among its alumni. This network of like-minded individuals often collaborates and supports one another in their ongoing environmental endeavors. By fostering these connections, the awards help to strengthen the broader environmental movement, enabling a more unified and effective response to the challenges facing our planet.

As the environmental movement continues to evolve and adapt to new challenges, the Brower Youth Awards alumni network will undoubtedly play a crucial role in shaping its future. By recognizing and supporting these passionate and innovative young leaders, the awards contribute to the development of a more resilient and effective environmental movement.

This network of dedicated individuals, united by their shared commitment to a healthier planet, will serve as a powerful force for change, inspiring others to join them in the fight for a more sustainable and just world.

Who are Some of the Notable Award Recipients?

Who are some of the notable award recipients? Throughout the years, numerous inspiring young environmentalists have received the Brower Youth Awards for their exceptional contributions. Here, we highlight a few recent recipients who have made significant impacts on the environment and their communities:


Matt organized Iowa Students Toward Environmental Protection (IowaStep), a statewide network of college environmental groups that facilitated the coordination of actions and information sharing among students. The network led to almost twelve successful non-violent direct actions and a lobby day, during which students from five colleges engaged with over fifteen Iowa legislators and the Lieutenant Governor to discuss upcoming environmental bills.


Chloe Maxmin played a crucial role in encouraging Harvard University to join the growing movement across US campuses demanding that college and university administrations divest from fossil fuels. In September 2012, after researching her university’s previous divestment campaigns against apartheid in South Africa and Big Tobacco, Maxmin co-founded Divest Harvard. Since then, she has been dedicated to mobilizing students and the community to push for university funds to be removed from corporations profiting from climate change.

Maxmin began her journey as an environmental activist at the age of 12 when she openly opposed a proposed development in Maine’s North Woods. In 2007, she established the online youth network “First Here, Then Everywhere,” aimed at connecting youth activists worldwide.

Maxmin’s ongoing campaign at Harvard leveraged a campus-wide referendum in which 72 percent of voting undergraduates backed fossil fuel divestment. The referendum, coupled with outreach efforts to alumni, faculty, and various student groups, enabled Divest Harvard to secure meetings with trustees and initiate a new dialogue about fossil fuels at the nation’s oldest university.


Tammy “Ale” Ramos, a 17-year-old from Los Angeles, California, is a youth organizer with Communities for a Better Environment’s youth group “Youth for Environmental Justice.” This group filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles for approving oil drilling operations that violated state law.

Tammy lives in Wilmington, a harbor city in Los Angeles that houses the 3rd largest oil field in the U.S. She joined Communities for a Better Environment to tackle the high volume of drilling and refinery operations, threats to her community, and impacts on the local environment. In 2015, she and other youth organizers sued the city of Los Angeles for violating state law regulating oil drilling applications. The city had approved drilling operations without proper environmental review.

During the settlement, the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA) intervened, suing the original youth plaintiffs from Communities for a Better Environment, including Tammy. An appellate court deemed CIPA’s claims baseless, and the case was dismissed. CIPA later appealed to the Supreme Court of California, but the court denied the request for review and sided with the youth, effectively ending the case.

Following the lawsuits, the city of Los Angeles began implementing more robust environmental reviews for drilling projects. Tammy and her fellow youth organizers have continued to work with Communities for a Better Environment to raise awareness in their Wilmington community. They have developed pins, workshops, and door-to-door campaigns to inform residents about the issues. The youth also collaborated with the organization’s lawyers, who shared the same values and worked tirelessly to challenge and protest against big oil.

Tammy hopes this case inspires other young leaders across the country to create change in their communities. She remains committed to fighting for a just world, using her voice as an organizer to combat environmental racism.


Since becoming a volunteer with the American Red Cross during high school, 17-year-old Hamid Torabzadeh has been dedicated to increasing the involvement of youth and young adults in addressing and alleviating human suffering in the face of growing climate and public health crises.

Hamid currently heads the American Red Cross Los Angeles READYteens Program, offering engaging programs to high school students in Los Angeles County and across the American Red Cross national networks. The program educates youth about disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.

READYteens trains participants in CPR/First Aid, triage, emergency communications, and more, primarily focusing on “vulnerable communities” identified by the Red Cross. These communities have a higher likelihood of experiencing climate-related emergencies due to historical discrimination, geographic location, and socioeconomic factors.

So far, Hamid has helped the program engage over 10,000 youth volunteers nationwide, train around 350 high school students in Los Angeles, and educate more than 1,000 households in Los Angeles County about fire and earthquake safety.

The Future of the Brower Youth Awards

As the urgency of the global climate crisis grows, the need for innovative, passionate, and dedicated environmental leaders becomes increasingly important. The Brower Youth Awards remain committed to identifying, supporting, and amplifying the voices of young change-makers who are at the forefront of environmental advocacy.

A student holding a model of the earth

By nurturing the next generation of environmental leaders, the Brower Youth Awards continue to honor the legacy of David Brower and inspire countless others to join the movement for a more sustainable and just world. As the awards approach their third decade, they will undoubtedly continue to shine a light on the incredible work being done by young environmentalists across North America.


The Brower Youth Awards have played a vital role in supporting and celebrating the accomplishments of young environmental leaders for more than two decades. By honoring the legacy of David Brower and providing a platform for these exceptional individuals, the awards have fostered a sense of community, collaboration, and inspiration among the next generation of eco-activists.

As we face the immense challenges of the global climate crisis, the passion, dedication, and ingenuity of these young leaders give us hope for a brighter, more sustainable future. The Brower Youth Awards remind us that positive change is not only possible but that it often starts with the vision and determination of young people who refuse to accept the status quo.

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