UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations Thursday recognized two US teens as International Forest Heroes for their efforts to cut the use of Southeast Asia palm oil, production of which is linked to rainforest destruction.
The two 16-year-old Girl Scouts from Michigan, Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva, who shared the award with four others from different nations, were recognized for campaigning to get Southeast Asian palm oil out of Girl Scout cookies.
They were among 15 finalists from 14 countries nominated for the prize honoring grassroots forest conservation efforts, marking the International Year of the Forest.
The girls' interest in palm oil grew out of their concern from the age of 11 for endangered orangutans and their shrinking rainforest habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia, where much of the world's palm oil originates.
Last year, their efforts led to the Girl Scouts of the USA announcing a switch towards sustainable palm oil by 2015 as an ingredient in its Thin Mints, Tagalongs, Do-Si-Dos and other fund-raising cookies.
Also sharing the prize were Paul Nzegha Mzeka of Cameroon, Shigeatsu Hatakeyama of Japan, Anatoly Lebedev of Russia and Paulo Adario of Brazil.
"Each hero embodied innovative approaches and grass-roots initiatives that make a direct impact on the forests to which they have dedicated themselves," a UN statement said.
"While these Forest Heroes come from varied backgrounds, they share a common courage, passion and perseverance that serve as inspiration to anyone wishing to make a difference for forests."
The girls were nominated for the award by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"We are so honored to receive this award and it's truly humbling to have our work recognized on the world stage," said Vorva.
In 2007, they launched Project ORANGS (Orangutans Really Appreciate and Need Girls Scouts) to persuade the Girl Scouts to replace the palm oil in Girl Scout cookies with a sustainable alternative.
Last year, Girl Scouts of the USA and Kellogg's, which produces cookies, developed a plan to transition to sustainable palm oil by 2015 and also pledged to reduce palm oil use across its entire product line.
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