18 Oct 2019 Story Cities and lifestyles

Celebrating Kenya’s young environmental heroes

Photo of Elizabeth Wathuti

On 20 October, Kenya celebrates Mashujaa Day. Set aside to celebrate heroes who fought for the country’s independence, today we also recognize the actions of bold individuals who continue to fight for the environment and its protection.

Globally, each year approximately 12 million hectares of forest are destroyed. This deforestation, together with agriculture and other land use changes, is responsible for roughly 25 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Deforestation and land degradation also undermine efforts to build resilience to climate impacts and threaten forest dwelling communities. The UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Global Resources Outlook notes that our use of natural resources has increased across the board. The report indicates that there has been a 2.7 per cent per year growth in the use of metal ores since 1970, reflecting the importance of metals in construction, infrastructure, manufacturing and consumer goods.

Here are three young Kenyan entrepreneurs who are reversing trends in environmental degradation, protecting trees and reducing the need for resource extraction.

“Why the focus on youth? In essence, because youth are setting today’s (consumption) trends and will be tomorrow’s decision makers. There are 2-3 billion new consumers—most of them young—expected to come on line in urban settings around the world. in essence, youth are setting today’s (consumption) trends and will be tomorrow’s decision makers. So it is critical to work with youth to make more sustainable living and lifestyles ‘the new normal’,” said Garrette Clark, Sustainable Lifestyles Programme Officer at UNEP.

Do you have a great idea to protect the environment? The Young Champions of the Earth prize opens in January! Stay tuned to the website to apply.

  1. George Onyango

George is a 23-year-old entrepreneur with a vision to upcycle metallic oil drums into eco-friendly furniture. With an appreciation and love for the environment, Onyango does not like seeing people cut down trees, which made him think about alternative sources for his products. His love for art and innovation prompted him to transform metallic oil drums into something productive. He started his own company called Jus Drum Furnitures in 2018.


He sources the eco-friendly furniture from Gikomba, a local market based in Nairobi. Onyango chose to use oil drums because they have a unique look while also cutting down on wood used in furniture production. His furniture includes seats, tables and shelves, and are made to order.

Onyango’s venture into entrepreneurship has reaped many benefits. Among them are employment creation, broadening his mind and spurring creativity. His long-term plan is to expand his brand in Kenya and to other counties for an international market. He plans to use his creativity to create more employment for young people everywhere.

  1. Elizabeth Wathuti

Elizabeth is a 23-year-old Kenyan woman and one of the African regional finalists in this year’s Young Champions of the Earth competition. She is the founder of the Green Generation Initiative which addresses challenges such as deforestation, climate change and environmental injustices, by nurturing young environmental enthusiasts to take action on climate action, zero hunger, quality education and life on land.

She has been able to achieve all this through greening schools, environmental education, planting fruit trees for food security, and inculcating a tree growing culture among people for forest cover increment through an “adopt a tree” campaign, and through working on food forest establishments in schools.

Elizabeth’s outstanding passion and personal commitment to environmental conservation led to her receiving the Wangari Maathai Scholarship Award.

  1. Chebet Lesan

Twenty-nine-year-old Chebet is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Bright Green Renewable Energy—a social enterprise that makes eco-friendly charcoal, made from recycled waste.

Charcoal production contributes to deforestation, which enhances environmental destruction. Furthermore, the cost of charcoal is very high in Kenya. Chebet identified these challenges and started a social enterprise that would provide Kenyans with an alternative to charcoal.


Bright Green produces 1.5–2 tonnes of eco-friendly briquettes a day, translating to production of 10 tonnes in a week. The briquettes are advantageous as they are smokeless, burn for three hours and are sold at 50 Kenyan shillings (US$0.50) per kilo, compared to charcoal which burns for an hour and costs more than double.

Chebet’s contribution towards conserving the environment by producing eco-friendly charcoal has not gone unnoticed. In 2017, she was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II and conferred the Queen’s Young Leaders Award for transforming lives in communities.