The power of one

The environmental projects led by trailblazing student Sagarika Sriram are nothing short of inspiring – and they are making a real difference

Who or what inspired you to take environmental action?
When I was 10 years old, I read a story in the newspaper about an oil spill and whales being washed up on the shore and turtles found dead with plastic in their bellies. I was horrified as I love animals. I couldn’t understand how our actions as humans were causing so much harm to our environment. I felt I had to spread awareness about the harmful effects of plastic pollution, the need for effective waste management and, most of all, the importance of getting young people like me to care about the environment so we can work to protect it. I wanted to get children my age, who were passionate about the environment, to join me in doing our part to make a difference.

Since I had just finished a distance learning course on coding with the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, I themed the website I’d created around the environment, calling it K4B World – Kids for a Better World. I designed the website to give children an opportunity to help the planet and get rewarded with eco-friendly prizes. My parents supported me by making me a member of the Emirates Environment Group (EEG) in Dubai and I took part in one of their recycling projects.

Sagarika Sriram’s website K4B World has had 40,000 visitors to date. It is also part of the Jane Goodall Roots and Shoots UAE programme

I then began to conduct my own campaigns, collecting paper waste from households in my community and taking it for recycling. I had a very good response and in four weeks I collected over 1,040kg of newspapers, magazines and other waste. I knocked on the doors of over 50 homes in our neighbourhood, explaining to people what happens to household waste and why it is so important to save trees from being cut down only to create bigger landfills. I also explained the need for recycling to save our environment.

When I saw that most people knew nothing about why it was so important to effectively manage waste, recycle, conserve water and energy, and reduce their carbon footprint, it gave me greater impetus to promote my website It was a huge success. Very soon I had many children and their parents reach out to me to be part of my recycling drives and eco workshops.

Sagarika Sriram received an award for her waste collection campaign, which was part of Dubai Chamber of Commerce’s ‘World Without Waste’

Tell us about your initiatives and the response you’ve received so far?
I have participated in several desert and beach clean-up drives both individually and with organisations like the EEG, WWF Nature Connect and Azraq, an NGO for marine conservation. I am also an active member of my school’s Eco Committee and have collaborated with Day for Dubai, an organisation that belongs to His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai. I regularly conduct recycling drives for household paper waste and aluminium cans in my neighbourhood. I am also an ambassador against single-use plastic, working with Drop it Youth, a campaign started by GoumBook. My organisation K4B World is also part of the Jane Goodall Roots and Shoots UAE programme.

The simple idea behind my website K4B World (Kids for a Better World) is to demonstrate the power of one and how each one of us can, and should, make a difference by preserving our environment

Sagarika Sriram

Over the summer holidays, I created a programme called Sustainable Summer to get school children who were not away on holiday to join me to better understand what climate change and global warming is all about. Together, we brainstormed solutions to help our environment and also took individual pledges to drive our actions over the next few months.

I believe these simple eco-workshops help children appreciate why it is so important for them to take action today to save our planet. My most recent campaign was part of Dubai Chamber of Commerce’s ‘week without waste’, where I received an award for the collection of household paper waste from my community in partnership with DULSCO.

I am also an advocate for Sustainability with Unilever Gulf for their campaign to reduce plastic pollution and keep plastic within a circular economy. In addition to my website, I created an initiative called the Happiness Project, which makes organic, natural beauty products such as lip scrubs and natural exfoliators. I regularly blog and share information on our activities on my website and social media channels. It’s a great way for me to ensure we all stay connected with each other and our work for the environment. Also, the United Nations Environment Programme recently carried my story on their website, which was huge for K4B World and has brought many new visitors eager to find out about our work.

What role has your school played in helping you to take action and achieve results?
I have been at Jumeirah College (JC) since Year 7 and was at Jumeirah Primary School prior to that. My tutors at JC were happy to encourage my environmental work. They made me a part of the school’s Eco Committee and I was so happy to receive a Head of Year Award in Year 7 and 9. My school also supported my application for a COBIS Student Award last year, which I went on to win. When I recently gave a speech at the Unilever Future for Good seminar, I was so happy to see my principal, Simon O’Connor, there in the audience to support me.

What do you hope to achieve and are you optimistic?
The simple idea behind K4B World is to demonstrate the power of one and how each one of us can, and should, make a difference by preserving our environment. K4B World has had 40,000 visitors to date, and I hope to involve more young people in our projects and activities to help our planet. I am very optimistic about the future when I see that many adults and kids are responding and want to lead more sustainable lives. This is a fantastic start and I feel hopeful that this will leave a lasting impact for us and future generations.

What one message would you want to share with others?
You may only be one person and you may not be able to do everything, but you can still do something. The time to act is now and we all need to do our bit towards helping the environment and leading more sustainable lives.