Authored by Chloe Zimmerman
As environmental justice and sustainability continue to gain awareness worldwide, it is essential to amplify the voices of communities that have endured climate injustice and create an inclusive experience for anyone trying to be part of the environmental space. In honor of recognizing Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month and their immense contributions to society, here are the stories of five incredible Asian American Pacific Islander environmental leaders and how their activism is paving the way for a brighter future in the environmental justice movement.
Aditi Mayer is a sustainable fashion blogger, photojournalist, labor rights activist, and frequent social and environmental justice speaker. Through intersectionality and decolonization, Aditi looks at fashion and culture, seeking to understand the historical and sociopolitical foundations that lead to the exploitation and extraction of labor and the natural environment in the fashion industry. Starting with educating individuals on the importance of diverse perspectives in Downtown Los Angeles’ garment district, she now serves on the council of Intersectional Environmentalist and State of Fashion.
As a South Asian woman, Aditi utilizes design to communicate her identity, fusing Eastern and Western ideas in her style. Sustainable and ethical fashion struck her interest after the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse, which cost over 1,000 lives in the name of speedy production and output of clothing. Since then, she has continued to show her passion for environmental justice and conscious consumption.
Fenton Lutunatabua is a writer, photographer, media relations expert, digital strategist, and climate change activist based in his native islands of Fiji. He is the founder of a storytelling project called Beyond the Narrative, which aims to give voice to the stories and complex narratives of Pacific Islanders. Fenton is also the Head of Regions at 350.org, an organization working toward building 100% renewable energy to combat climate change.
Fenton grew up in Lali, Qamea, where he often fished with his grandfather, who relayed to him his family’s legacy as skilled fishermen and boat builders, and how the ocean would always provide for them. However, Fenton grew up to realize that climate change threatens his family’s story. This shaped his dedication to the climate change movement, making space to share stories of how climate change has created injustices for many Pacific Islanders.
Andrea Chu is a Taiwanese American who commits to organizing Asian-American coalitions for climate and racial justice. She serves as the Midwest organizing Manager at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Chicago, a progressive group working to build leadership and bring a voice to Asian Americans in the social justice movement. Andrea focuses on the harm these communities face due to segregation and pollution and continues to work toward providing a fair and equitable society for all people. She is also the editor-in-chief of Chrysanthemum: Voices of the Taiwanese Diaspora, a collection of stories, essays, poetry, and art from creators of Taiwanese heritage.
Andrea was born and raised in Ohio, focusing her work on Asian American communities in the Midwest. Her earlier work includes founding the only Midwest Asian American organization focused on climate and environmental issues, Chicago Asian Americans for Environmental Justice. Her previous experience includes fighting for clean air and water on local, state, and federal levels.
Sophia Li is a Chinese-American multimedia journalist, film director, and environmental advocate on a mission to make news about the climate crisis and social justice more accessible, digestible, and inclusive. Sophia is co-founder and co-host of All of the Above, a video series that aims to answer questions about climate change and social justice, using humor to appeal to a broader audience. She also co-hosts a podcast called Climate Talks, in which she discusses sustainability topics from multiple perspectives to create comprehensive steps toward a more sustainable future.
Sophia’s accomplishments proceed her as she is a sustainability advisor to skincare brand Cocokind, an official United Nations Human Rights Champion, Refinery29’s Sustainable Innovator Award winner, and named one of the top climate communicators of 2022 by Harvard University. Her journalistic reporting has appeared on CNN, Earthshot Prize, Vogue, New York Magazine, Washington Post, and Atmos.
Charles Lee has a long and dedicated career in the environmental justice space. He is currently the Senior Policy Advisor for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Justice. Previously, he was the principal author of Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States (1987), released by the United Church of Christ, of which Charles was the Director of Environmental Justice for 15 years. This was the first national report to address the intersections of race, class, and the environment, and concluded that there was a significant statistical relationship between the racial composition of a community and the location of a hazardous waste site.
Before taking on his current role, Charles held several leadership roles at the EPA, including Director of the Office of Environmental Justice. He also organized the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit and spearheaded the emergence of federal environmental justice policy. In 2017, Charles was recognized by the House of Representatives in South Carolina for his work. He was invited to give the keynote address at the University of South Carolina School of Public Health and Department of Environmental Health Services Seminar.
The Asian American Pacific Islander community contributes significantly to various societal facets—including environmentalism. It’s critical to recognize the AAPI community’s work and celebrate the strides they’re making every day for the environment.