"I want to help my peers who grew up in these same neighborhoods. I want them to understand that you're the light, you're the future," says award winner De'Anthony Jones. "I think we can't just approach a youth of color and say this is about polar bears and melted ice caps. We have to go a little deeper, like the situation in the Bay View-Hunters Point."
Jones, 18, from San Francisco, takes his environmental justice message to underserved communities and to anyone at Mission High who wants to listen. His leadership has inspired other students of color.
"To see Obama get into office, it makes them think, 'Oh, I can do it too.' You know, I want to be that kind of role model," says Jones.
For his work, Earth Island Institute awarded Jones the prestigious Brower Youth Award, named after Bay Area environmentalist David Brower. Thousands applied, only six won.
For example, Varsha Vijay helps indigenous people in Ecuador create conservation practices in their homeland.
Ana Elisa Perez is 20 and she promotes environmental education in Puerto Rico. Her group now has a network of 11,000 volunteers on that island. She started when she was 13 as a promise to her dad who died that year.
"He really showed me that if we don't have healthy eco-systems, we really won't have healthy people," says Perez.
Freya Chay, 15, convinced the Legislature in Alaska to allow homeowners to reduce their property taxes if they installed alternative energy systems.
When a park opened near a South Bronx neighborhood, 18-year-old Misra Walker lobbied to help establish a bus route for people to get there. This allowed 4,000 people to enjoy the green space.
Marcus Grignon of Wisconsin teaches young and older kids about sustainability on his reservation.
"If we are educating our young to learn about caring for Grandmother Earth and learn about the green economy, they will figure it out and become catalysts," says Grignon.
Each winner receives a $3,000 cash prize, but it doesn't end there. The award is the vehicle they need to further develop their projects.
For example, one morning Darian Rodriguez -- founder of the Craigslist Foundation -- gave them advice on networking as non-profits. This gives them the chance to continue their role as environmental leaders.