Presented by Toyota


“Prime” means the best of the best, the top of the heap, the first among equals. That’s clearly one of the reasons why Toyota named its latest Prius model the “Prime.” The company calls its ecological hero the most technologically advanced Toyota Prius in the model’s nearly two-decade global history.

To celebrate its cutting-edge innovation, alongside the world-changing engineering and technology that goes into the 2017 Prius Prime, the company partnered with VICE to name and honor Humans of the Year: leaders in their industries working to make a powerful, world-changing impact on the global environment, who don’t make the news as often as they should.

From scientists researching Mars missions and the human brain to spies fighting wildlife poachers and more, the Humans of the Year series will offer in-depth profiles on their work and their visions for a better world. Here’s a sneak peek at just a few of those global leaders.

Prime engineering + design

Greg Crutsinger was inches away from capturing the Holy Grail of academia: a faculty position at a top-tier university. He was well on his way as a well-published, tenure-track professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at the prestigious University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

And then he discovered drones.

The drone industry was just getting democratized, and as he dove into the community of drone fanciers, followers, and innovators, he recognized not only the excitement of a new technology and business in its infancy, but also how drones as a new tool would transform the field sciences overnight.

Cutting-edge, lightweight cameras, including mapping, thermal, multispectral and lidar, emerged. They allowed for incredibly high-resolution data to be collected at very precise repeated measures. That meant an unprecedented amount of data at an affordable price—far lower than traditional scientific instruments could offer.

And with cloud connections, scientists could use smartphones to link drones across research teams. Organizations could capture data with the touch of a button. It presented an opportunity for ecological drone data to be globally crowdsourced, at scale, and with minimal financial investment in technology.

Crutsinger is now a scientific program director for Parrot, a global leader in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) manufacturing, where he works to realize the potential of drones to transform how data are collected and their role in contemporary ecological questions.

He’s become a leading expert in drone agriculture, working to help eliminate food insecurity by making farming more efficient and more effective with drone technology—and it’s changing the game for farmers struggling in the U.S.

Mechanical genius

In early 2000, Jessa Jones was immersed in a PhD in genetics, studying how really, really tiny things built inside cells pull off incredible feats like controlled cell division. Nowadays she still spends her nights staring into a microscope, but she’s studying how really, really tiny things stuck on a piece of copper pull off incredible feats like displaying funny cat videos.

A micro-soldering specialist, Jones is singlehandedly diverting tons of e-waste from landfills with her third-party repair business, iPad Rehab, working every day to combat the increasingly disposable nature of smartphones. Armed with her powerful microscope and her precision soldering irons, she can fix practically any mobile device, and has become one of the most respected third-party repair experts of Apple devices. Repair shops from around the country send her the devices they can’t fix.

Always a proponent of repairing instead of replacing, she’s been active in identifying and solving some of Apple’s most annoying and unacknowledged bugs, and advocating for the third-party repair industry as one of the few solutions to the growing burden of e-waste.

Lately, she’s been on the forefront combating what analysts, independent repair specialists, and industry watchdogs are calling the Touch Disease of the iPhone 6 and 6s. Apple, on the other hand, calls it “not a problem.”

Jones has called the Touch Disease “the single biggest defect we’ve ever seen,” and it happens even to phones that have been swaddled in bubblewrap and Otterboxes. After about a year, the flexibility of the phone, along with its motherboard design, often makes the touchscreen non-responsive.

Apple currently only offers customers a replacement device for out-of-warranty cost of $349. Jones has been focused on letting owners know that instead of adding another phone to the landfill, you can prolong the life of your devices, reduce waste and keep the earth cleaner with a fast, affordable repair—a simple replacement of the integrated circuit that controls the touchscreen.

Apple reportedly continues to remove information about repairs from its support forums, but Jones will continue to demand that users have a right to repair their iPhones for as long as it takes, because it’s good for the environment, good for the economy, and good for consumers.

Engine of change

Marty Baum’s official title is executive director and Indian Riverkeeper of the grassroots environmental organization of the same name–one of more than 240 “Waterkeeper” orgs dedicated to protecting and restoring the waters of North America’s most diverse estuaries. He devotes his time to the 156-mile-long South Florida estuary, home to more than 3,000 species.

But in June 2016, the Florida governor declared a state of emergency. Billions of gallons of water have been discharged from the federally owned and operated Herbert Hoover Dike. The discharge has brought with it enormous toxic algae blooms that are devastating the estuary.

But that’s not the only source of destruction. Broken septic tanks flood the water. Agricultural runoff from sugar fields and cattle pastures goes unchecked. Manufacturing is not well regulated, and private fertilizer use is increasing. It’s all helped the toxic algae to thrive, killing sea grass, fish and mammals, and depriving the water of dissolved oxygen.

Baum will not stand by and let the destruction continue—and, in fact, has been fighting for years to stem the tide.

On a daily basis he patrols the lagoon as the area’s Batman, tracking blooms, investigating pollution, dumping, and fish kills, and monitoring water quality for ongoing analysis. On land, he’s been suing the government since 2002, fighting for faster-acting, stronger regulations and protections, and advocating for public policy that benefits the well-being of the lagoon and its watershed.

He is the champion of our right to clean water. Speaking to civic clubs, regulatory agencies, legislators, and local governments about lagoon issues, he urges his community to join him in protecting and restoring the area’s legacy, the Indian River Lagoon.


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