Jack Dangermond to Receive UN Top Environment Award for Geo-spatial Technology for Conservation and Development

Awards Presented by UNEP Goodwill Ambassador Gisele Bündchen

Press Conference and Ceremony at the Museum of Natural History, New York

Powerhouse Room (Entrance from Columbus Avenue and 79th Street) 

18 September, 5:00 pm

Nairobi, 18 September 2013 – An environmental scientist and entrepreneur who revolutionized the use of geo-spatial technology for conservation is to receive the 2013 Champions of the Earth Award, the UN’s highest environmental accolade. 

Jack Dangermond – who founded the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) with his wife Laura in 1969 – pioneered the use of Geographic Information System (GIS), which enables people to collect, visualize, model and manage geographic data in a way that is quickly understood and easily shared – thus enhancing conservation efforts and natural resources management.

For the last three decades, ESRI has provided scientists and environmental managers with tools to study and model how the environment is responding to natural and man-made factors. 

Since its inception, ESRI has donated hundreds of millions of dollars in technology and expertise to over 5000 institutions worldwide.

Today, the company commands over 30 per cent of the global GIS software market share and boasts more than one million users across 350,000 organizations worldwide.

Jack Dangermond said, “We have been privileged to work for nearly 30 years supporting various UN initiatives from environment, conservation and agriculture to humanitarian and statistical missions. In all of this, the use of GIS has changed how people understand our world and create practical solutions. We are very appreciative of this acknowledgement. It illustrates the increasing recognition of the role geoscience is playing in our global evolution.”

UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, said, “Leadership and vision will be the hallmarks of a transition to an inclusive Green Economy in developed and developing countries alike. That transition is underway and has been given fresh impetus by the outcomes of last year’s Rio+20 Summit.”

“This year’s Champions of the Earth are among those who are putting in place the actions, policies and pathways to scale-up and accelerate such transformations. As such, they are lightning rods towards a sustainable 21st Century,” he added.

Protecting Snow Leopards in High Mountain Areas

ESRI’s GIS software creates visual depictions of wildlife habitats and range, giving the user the ability to monitor change and discover important relationships.

In 2007, ESRI partnered with the Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC) to advance community-based stewardship of snow leopards, whose numbers may be as low as 3,500 — though they are found in a dozen countries in South and Central Asia, from Nepal to Russia — an area of more than half a million square miles.

Snow leopards inhabit some of the highest, most rugged, snow-swept, least productive territories on earth.

The introduction of remotely triggered cameras and sophisticated tools for extracting genetic material from scats revolutionized SLC’s ability to learn about snow leopards and map their habitat.

Other wildlife species monitored around the world using GIS software include, the Ethiopian wolves, Philippine tarsiers, gorillas, Asian Elephants and bats.

Protecting the Marine Environment

GIS is used around the world to acquire and manage oceanic data as well as analyze and map marine habitats, water quality, species distribution and population, species behavior, pollution, fishing grounds, and other factors that impact marine life.

Esri’s ArcGIS software suite is a tool that helps visualize and understand areas in danger of biodiversity loss, habitat degradation, and resource depletion.

It also aids in monitoring and examining the effectiveness of conservation practices and protected areas to ensure the preservation of the earth’s oceans.

GIS has helped map and survey the habitats of nurse sharks along the east coast of Australia and gray whales along the rocky coast of British Columbia, Canada.

Geo-design of Wildlife Corridors in North America

GIS tools can aid the development and design of functional wildlife corridors and contribute to their effectiveness as an increasingly viable conservations planning strategy.

ESRI used GIS to develop a new tool for wildlife corridor design within the Sonoran Desert, a biologically diverse region that spans southern Arizona and California in the United States and Baja California and Sonora in Mexico.

The Automated Design Module populates modeled corridors with optimal vegetation types and patterns to increase wildlife movement.

Wildlife in this area includes the mountain lion, bobcat, bighorn sheep, mule deer, desert tortoise and the red-tailed hawk, among others.

GIS also evaluated the landscape’s capability to support various species of native vegetation species, including the saguaro cactus, palo verde, cholla, cottonwood and pricklypear.

The full list of the 2013 Champions of the Earth winners is as follows:


Ms. Izabella Teixeira, Minister of Environment, Brazil is recognized for her key role in reversing deforestation in the Amazon and her role on high-level UN panels on sustainable development. According to government figures, Brazil has cut deforestation by 84 per cent over eight years, from an annual loss of over 27,000 sq km in 2004 to around 4,500 sq km in 2012. Apart from the prevention and control of deforestation, the land use planning policies implemented by Ms. Teixeira resulted in 250,000 sq km of forest conservation areas—the equivalent of 75 per cent of global forest protected areas.

Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment is recognized for his work advocating a shift from the current global model of intensive resource consumption, including setting 2020 targets for the European Union to halve food waste and practically eliminate landfill. His role in tackling resource inefficiencies across the food chain has contributed substantially to the ongoing UN campaign on food waste, Think.Eat.Save: Reduce Your Foodprint.


Google Earth is recognized for providing a powerful tool to monitor the state of the environment, allowing researchers to detect deforestation, classify land cover and estimate forest biomass and carbon and thus demonstrate the scale of problems and illustrate solutions. Google Earth, for example, was used to help rescue workers save more than 4,000 people after Hurricane Katrina and, in Australia, a scientist used the tool to discover a previously unknown coral reef in a region that had been identified for oil and gas development.

Jack Dangermond, Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI)
is recognized for his commitment to ensuring that international, research, education, and nonprofit organizations working in the fields of conservation and development have access to the best ge
ospatial analytical and visualization technology. In 1989, the ESRI Conservation Program was started to change the way non-profit organizations carry out conservation missions. This program provides GIS software, data, and training, and helps to coordinate multi-organizational efforts


Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD was recognized for his pioneering work on black carbon, which included leading a team that first discovered widespread Atmospheric Brown Clouds (ABCs) and research into how cutting black carbon can significantly mitigate climate change. Dr. Ramanathan showed that ABCs led to large-scale dimming, decreased monsoon rainfall and rice harvest in India and played a dominant role in the melting of the Himalayan glaciers. A member of the Science Advisory Panel on the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, he is now running Project Surya, which aims at reducing soot emissions from bio-fuel cooking in rural India.


Carlo Petrini, Founder of the Slow Food movement is recognized for his visionary work to improve the efficiency and sustainability of the world’s agriculture and food supply “one bite at a time”. Slow Food has over 100,00 members and supporters in over 150 countries, defending local food traditions, protecting local biodiversity and promoting small-scale quality products. Petrini is also coordinator of National and International level research projects in the bioethical field. In 2012, Petrini was invited to speak at the Sustainable Development Dialogue on Food and Nutrition Security at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo, Director of Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda is recognized for her work in the Sierra Gorda region of Central Mexico, which demonstrates how a broad range of advocacy, public education and income-generation approaches, can support healthy ecosystems and alleviate poverty. She was responsible for achieving Biosphere Reserve status for Sierra Gorda under an innovative public-private system. Through her work and advocacy, 33 per cent of the State of Querétaro is now protected as a Biosphere Reserve. Hundreds of families in Sierra Gorda now receive a total of over US$2 million from the sale of carbon credits.

The Champions of the Earth Award was received by Google Earth Vice President for geo-products, Brian McClendon – a co-founder of geospatial data visualization company, Keyhole Inc., which was purchased by Google in 2004 to produce Google Earth.  Mr. McClendon’s childhood home in Lawrence, Kansas is the default center point of Google Earth.

About Champions of the Earth
Champions of the Earth, which was launched in 2005, is the UN’s flagship environmental award. To date, it has recognized 59 individuals and organizations for their leadership, vision, inspiration and action on the environment. The list of previous laureates include Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Chinese actress and environmental advocate Zhou Xun, the Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO) and global music legend Angélique Kidjo. Visit http://www.unep.org/champions/ for more details.

About Guangdong Wealth – Sponsor of the Champions of the Earth Award

Guangdong Wealth Environmental Protection is a leading supplier of water purifying products and water treatment integrated solutions in China. The company practices a business model that puts social welfare before economic interests, using the concept “let the sky be bluer and the water clearer”. The company invests in environmental scholarships for young university students, organizes clean-up operations, and donates tonnes of purifying tablets to tackle pollution in rivers in Guangdong and Beijing.


For more information, please contact:


Nick Nuttall, UNEP Director of Communications and Spokesperson, Tel: +254 733 632755 or +41 795965737 (Roaming), Email:  nick.nuttall@unep.org


NY: James Sniffen, UNEP New York Office, Tel. +1-212 963 8094/8210 or Tel. +1-917-742 2281, Email: sniffenj@un.org


UNEP HQ: Shereen Zorba, Head, UNEP News Desk. Tel.: +254 713601259    E-mail:  unepnewsdesk@unep.org http://www.unep.org/champions