16 Sep 2019 Press release Technology

Top young environmental prize winner hones big data for digital restoration among the world’s largest land owners

  • Thirty-year-old American Molly Burhans wins the prestigious Young Champions of the Earth Prize for North America to pioneer big data and digital restoration among the world’s biggest land owners — starting with the Catholic church. 
  • Seven young entrepreneurs under the age of 30 with big ideas for environmental change have been recognized from across the globe.
  • Young Champions each region receive seed funding, mentoring and communications support to amplify their efforts. 

16 September 2019 – Molly Burhans, Founder of GoodLands, has won the Young Champions of the Earth Prize for pioneering digital mapping and bringing big data for restoration to the world’s largest land owners.

As world leaders gather at the UN Headquarters in New York for the Climate Action Summit and General Assembly in the coming days, climate and the environment will be at the forefront of discussions. Youth around the world are already taking action, because there is no time to lose.

As chief cartographer of the first data-based global maps of the Catholic Church, Burhans discovered that large tracts of their land remains digitally unmapped. Yet, globally, faith-based organizations own 8 per cent of habitable land on earth’s surface and 5 per cent of all commercial forest. There are 37 million churches and 3.6 million mosques around the world.

Since the church already has the world’s largest non-governmental global healthcare network, Burhans decided to leverage its land asset data to create the world’s largest network for environmental protection.

She led a mapping team to make the first digital maps illuminating the Catholic Church’s global infrastructure. Now she plans to help other major land owners leverage restoration potential through asset management. 

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, a map is worth a million,” said Burhans. “Our vision is to create the largest network for restoration in the world. We are digitally mapping the world’s biggest land owners, encouraging environmental stewardship.”

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “We cannot solve the environmental challenges of our time without truly understanding them. Initiatives such as these go a long way in helping us build a strong knowledge base to take forward the critical task of restoring our degraded landscapes and tackling climate change.” 

Markus Steilemann, Chief Executive Officer of Covestro, said: “The business world needs fresh thinking and much more of a start-up culture to tackle global environmental challenges, while ensuring our long-term growth. The Young Champions of the Earth can help achieve this and everyone at Covestro is proud to support them. We want to help make the world a brighter place.”

A global jury, made up of Covestro Chief Executive Officer Markus Steilemann, UN Environment Programme’s Deputy Executive Director Joyce Msuya, VICE News Tonight’s science and climate change correspondent Arielle Duhaime-Ross, UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake and Kathy Calvin, President and Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations Foundation, selected the winners among 35 regional finalists from over 1,000 applicants.

Over the next year, the creative, innovative and impactful initiatives of the winners will be documented on social media, through regular news updates and video blogs. Sign up and follow their journey here

The prestigious Young Champions of the Earth prize, powered by Covestro, is awarded every year by UN Environment Programme to young environmentalists between the ages of 18 and 30, for their outstanding ideas to protect the environment. 

Molly is one of seven winners from North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, Africa, Europe and West Asia. The winners will receive their award during the Champions of the Earth Ceremony in New York City on 26 September, coinciding with the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting and the Climate Action Summit.



About the Young Champions of the Earth

The Young Champions of the Earth Prize was first started in 2017, offering the prestigious and highly successful Champions of the Earth platform – with laureates including heads of state, inspiring scientists, and environmental visionaries – to brilliant young environmentalists with a vision.

About UN Environment

UN Environment Programme is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

About Covestro

With 2018 sales of EUR 14.6 billion, Covestro is among the world’s largest polymer companies. Business activities are focused on the manufacture of high-tech polymer materials and the development of innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life.

For more information contact:

UN Environment Programme, Head of News and Media, Keishamaza Rukikaire, rukikaire@un.org