On the first night of the 2017 Environment and Emergencies Forum, the Green Star Award (GSA) winners were announced. Now in its fifth edition, the GSA Ceremony is a biennial event which aims to raise awareness about environmental emergencies and to recognize the leadership of those who inspire action in their work.

The Awards, a collaborative initiative of Green Cross International, UN Environment and OCHA, recognize outstanding individuals/organizations for their commitment to preventing, preparing for and responding to environmental emergencies, as well as their efforts to integrate environment in humanitarian action.

Selected from over 50 nominees, this year’s Green Star Award winners are Maestros Leadership Team from Malawi, PAX from the Netherlands and Cooperación Comunitaria A.C., from Mexico.

Read below for interviews with each of the winners:

  • PREVENTION AND PREPAREDNESS CATEGORY: Maestros Leadership Co. (Malawi) 

Interview with Charles Lipenga, CEO of Maestros Leadership Co. 

“Together, we use the guidance of the Sustainable Development Goals in solving persistent global challenges that limit communities’ ability to survive and thrive. We can be the first generation to end extreme poverty, the most determined generation to end injustice and inequality, and the last generation to be threatened by climate change.”

How do you believe winning a Green Star Award will impact upon the work of your organization?

Effective leaders are in short supply; empowering the youth today is the surest way to increase it for an inevitable future transformation. Our programs are designed to inspire young people as well as adults to become engaged members of their communities/countries who work to solve problems and help others through service.

Receiving this award will also incite our government and development partners in Malawi, to provide young people with more platforms and infrastructures to turn the energy and creativity of the youth into a resource. We are pledging to continue working towards achieving the Global Goals by leveraging our global network of leaders known as Maestros, to develop and deploy community engaging, high-thinking solutions.

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How does your initiative contribute to bringing environmental actors and disaster responders/ peacebuilding actors closer together?

Our activities are mainly focused on engaging the youth to lead in advocating Climate action programs, pioneering in resilience strengthening and climate adaptation activities, facilitating harvestable forests and tree planting activities in 23 countries. We also fund and promote innovative clean and renewable energy enterprises. We work with local authorities and governments through ministries of environmental affairs or similar, to promote project ownership, and train farmers in environmentally friendly agricultural practices.

What sorts of connections did the 2017 EEF enable you to make? How do you plan to follow up on these?  

After the event, not only do we now have the opportunity to learn from the online platforms of UN Environment, OCHA and Green Cross International, but we are also directly engaging with officials from these organizations.

Secondly, I would say the other Green Star Awardees, thus PAX from The Netherlands and Cooperacion Comunitaria A.C. from Mexico. These two have great models in both response and humanitarian action in environmental emergencies. I have spread the idea of the mapping system by PAX and, personally being an architect, I am challenged to develop a similar concept as Cooperacion Comunitaria to focus on designing resilient homes especially in flood prone areas of Malawi.

I was also privileged to have networked with quite a number of international organizations that already focus on possible collaborations in youth activities from our global network of young leaders.

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What message would you like to share with others striving to do the same in their organizations?

Environmental awareness can be split into procedural knowledge and informational interventions. The very knowledge about mitigation, adaptation, recycling materials, methods of recycling and disposal processes have been shown to influence employee behaviour. I believe that employees who are aware of their organization’s waste management practices are more likely to act sustainably. It all begins with us – regardless of the setting of our organizations, implementing climate action policies must start with each individual respectively.

Remember the 3 pillars to any sustainable development system: economic, social and environmental. If one of these falls, the system fails. Just like a great number of organizations are now including Humanitarian action in their CSR work, we must understand that environmental interventions are no longer to be left for organizations focused on the environment. We are all part of this global community, and global change is not a challenge for a select few. I appeal to organizations to move from helping their communities through a one-off CSR project, to instead aiming to continuously building more resilient communities against climate change.

  • RESPONSE CATEGORY: PAX (The Netherlands) 

Interview with Wim Zwijnenburg, Project Leader at PAX 

“We started our Conflict & Environment work in 2014, with a focus on Iraq only, and later extended to Syria, the Ukraine and some small projects on South Sudan and Libya, hence we’re fairly new to this. During the last Green Star Awards Ceremony in Oslo, 2015, it was great to see so many practitioners coming together, but we never hoped to win this award so we do feel really honored.”

How do you believe winning a Green Star Award will impact upon the work of your organization?

The Green Star Award is a major recognition for the work we do on addressing concerns over the environmental impacts of conflict and how civilian protection should be improved. It will help make the promotion of the conflict – environment nexus easier, both among our partners and funders, as well as the wider audience, in order to ensure more resources and policy development is dedicated to improve humanitarian response to conflict pollution. Having organizations such as UN Environment and OCHA acknowledge that collecting and analyzing data, as well as responding to conflict pollution is critical, will hopefully resonate with relevant other international organizations and Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Environment. We hope this will open more doors and support engaging with policy makers to improve the international response to the threats posed by the toxic remnants of war.

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How does your initiative contribute to bringing environmental actors and disaster responders/peacebuilding actors closer together?

Our aim has been to demonstrate that environmental damage caused by conflict can have acute and chronic health risks for affected communities. By providing input and demonstrating what these impacts are, we aim to set in motion a faster and more efficient response to conflict pollution. Failing to address these responses, or having warring parties not upholding their responsibilities to clean up the toxic remnants of war, can lead to grievances of local communities against local or national authorities, or exploitation by political groups for their own purposes. Hence, we believe that addressing these concerns can also support peacebuilding.  Furthermore, we aim to demonstrate that data collection and limited analysis can already be undertaken during a conflict, even if you don’t have access to the area for security reasons. New tools and emerging technologies such as open-source data collection can already provide a useful entry point for identifying and monitoring potential sources of conflict pollution. This can then feed into post-conflict environmental assessments or more efficient reconstruction planning, which would take into account the environmental damage and related health hazards for local communities.

Given your professional experience and the work of your organization in the field of environment and emergencies, please share with us 2 of the most important lessons you took away from Nairobi. How do you plan to implement these in your work?

  1. Listen to younger generations. Those working in the humanitarian sector often have a long track record and have their own way of doing what they do best. However, younger generations can bring in new innovative ideas and use of technology that challenge existing ways of thinking and working. They can bring change that could make work easier, faster, more efficient and cost-effective.
  2. Be critical of your own work, and double check everything. In our work, it was often a process of stumbling and getting up again while learning. We made mistakes, we learned from it and moved on. Ensure that you always consult a broad set of people. During our breakout sessions, we received very useful input on our ways of work from experienced field workers that helped shape our thinking. In our enthusiasm we might forget to slow down once in a while to re-evaluate what it actually is that we want to achieve and how we want to get there.

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ENVIRONMENT AND HUMANITARIAN ACTION CATEGORY: Cooperación Comunitaria (Mexico)

Interview with Isadora Hastings, Director of Cooperación Comunitaria A.C. 

“We never thought that our contribution to the rural communities that we have always seen as a local solution at a very small scale, could achieve international recognition. It has been great motivation for the team.”

How does your initiative contribute to bringing environmental actors and disaster responders/ peacebuilding actors closer together?

In an effort to strengthen advocacy, we bring the situation and key problems in rural, marginalised areas, to the attention of public policy offices. We connect civil society actors from the field to those in the city, and bring professionals, academics, government actors as well as local UN offices closer to local communities.

Due to our comprehensive reconstruction program, which entails working with an interdisciplinary team, we are connected to diverse fora. We ensure that indigenous knowledge and the ways in which indigenous communities respond to environmental disasters, are integrated into our reconstruction efforts, thereby ensuring true intercultural dialogue.

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Given your professional experience and the work of your organization in the field of environment and emergencies, please share with us 2 of the most important lessons you took away from Nairobi.

Learning about temporary housing is a concern for every country in every disaster recovery situation. In Guerrero where we work, we have seen some temporary housing reconstruction programs that have failed, although our reconstruction programs aim to develop permanent and progressive solutions. It has been a lesson for us to see how temporary housing programs in other communities are responding. During the presentations and talks I attended, I realized that this is a global problem that has not yet been solved. In Mexico following the recent earthquakes, we are trying to raise awareness to prevent certain actors from building temporary houses, and recommending permanent but progressive housing solutions instead.

The work of your organization exemplifies moving from crisis to opportunity in the face of humanitarian/environmental emergencies. What do you believe is the key factor driving this in your organization?

To merge traitional knowledge with technical and cultural contextual adapted knowledge, because the mix allows us to enhance the environmental, productive and constructive processes, thereby increasing quality of life and the resilience of the population.

Involving the population along the recovery and reconstruction process from the analysis of territory, disaster risk, and its causes, up until the reconstruction of productive and constructive processes, enables the population to be involved in the learning process and increases their resilience. A disaster is an opportunity for an affected community to recover while learning from its mistakes, to begin a reflective process, to learn from the environment, to organize, to make decisions, to build and produce better, to reduce and prevent risks, and thereby strengthen resilience.

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What message would you like to share with others striving to do the same in their organizations?

Reconstruction processes are not just about rebuilding the infrastructure but also the relations and social structures. When a disaster occurs, we must first try to learn from the context, the environment, the culture; we must listen before starting to help and reconstruct.

A combination of traditional knowledge and academic and technical expertise is needed in order to optimize human possibilities. This will in turn achieve better results and foster a harmonic relationship between humans and nature. The participation of communities reduces the costs of reconstruction. Therefore, recovery and reconstruction programs must include planning on civil society participation.