Photo: Getty Images
LOS ANGELES – The stars of sustainability and celluloid joined forces last night in the city’s historic Alexandria Ballrooms. Global Green, the U.S. arm of Green Cross International, rolled out the green carpet to welcome its honorees to the 20th Anniversary Global Green Awards, an annual LA event that spotlights environmental activists.
Among the honorees was actor Shailene Woodley and her mother Lori. Shailene rose to fame in 2014 with two major commercial hits, The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent, but her philanthropic work dates back much further. In 2010, the Woodleys co-founded the non-profit organization All It Takes, which focuses on cultivating leadership among youth and fostering sustainable, positive change in society.
Shailene is also an outspoken critic of the North Dakota Access Pipeline and has taken part in several demonstrations alongside the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Her own organization, Up To Us, is dedicated to teaching peaceful disruption and protest.
— Pierce Nahigyan (@PierceNahigyan) September 30, 2016
In accepting the Entertainment Industry Environmental Leadership Award, Shailene thanked both Global Green and her mother, but also offered the audience a stark reality check:
“The way the world works right now, the way the system in America works, is, unfortunately, all of us get to be here tonight with makeup and dresses and nice suits and delicious organic food, and those people who are directly being affected…little kids have to rely on asthma respirators because they’re playing in a soccer field that is right next to a fracking lot. They don’t get the luxury of being here.”
According to NRDC, LA County boasts more than 6,000 oil and gas wells, with hundreds located in the city of Los Angeles. These wells are “in close proximity to urban communities identified by the California Environmental Protection Agency as among the most polluted in the state.” As Shailene pointed out, the overwhelming majority of these communities are hispanic, which makes this environmental issue a racial issue as well.
“I don’t like using the words ‘environmental issues,’ because to me when we talk about the environment, we’re talking about eco-feminism, we’re talking about racism,” said Shailene. “None of us up here have to deal with fracking in our backyards, none of us have to deal with oil drills in our church parking lots. But they do.”
I had a quick moment to speak to Shailene before she accepted her award and I asked how it felt to be honored for her activism. “It means that there’s a certain awareness,” she said. “An award is an award, it’s temporary. But raising awareness empowers people beyond this one sedentary moment.”
Bill Weihl Accepted the Award for Environmental Leadership in New Media
Facebook’s Bill Weihl, Director of Sustainability for the social media giant, said he was “flattered and humbled” to receive Global Green’s New Media Environmental Leadership Award. Since 2010, Facebook has ramped up its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, a metric that has grown alongside its expanding user base. (To give you an idea of what that looks like, by the end of 2015 an estimated 1.59 billion people were using Facebook per month, with each user producing an annual 281 grams of CO2.)
“We all depend on the environment,” said Weihl. “We depend on it to survive, and as Shailene [Woodley] said, to thrive. We need clean air, clean water, clean land, clean oceans. We need an atmosphere that isn’t acidifying the oceans. There is a beauty and wonder and awe to be found in the natural world, and there’s an intrinsic value in preserving it.”
Today, Facebook generates 35 percent of its energy from clean and renewable sources and aims to increase that to 50 percent in just two years.
In his acceptance speech, Weihl said that Facebook is not only improving its own energy efficiency, it is helping other companies shift to renewables by partnering with the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA). The alliance works with multinational corporations, utilities and policymakers to streamline the transition to cleaner energy. The partnership, said Weihl, has garnered results much faster than any company could do individually.
“We’re already seeing major progress with many more companies getting involved, policies changing, the way it’s getting easier to buy clean energy,” continued Weihl. “It’s amazing when we go to legislators and regulators and utilities, not just as one company but as 50 or 100 companies, and say, if you want our business, you need to have policies that allow us to buy clean energy. They listen.”
“Now We Have the Pentagon”
Weihl wasn’t the only honoree to extol the new sustainable business ethic. Upon accepting his award for Green Philanthropy, Trammell S. Crow announced that next year’s Earth Day Texas will be the first in its history to offer a major talk on global warming.
For the better part of a decade, Earth Day Texas has been the nation’s largest pro-environmental exhibition, drawing businesses and organizations together in a state not often praised for its eco-consciousness. Planet Experts attended the event this past year, and while hundreds of booths and talks were dedicated to saving the planet, EDTx has yet to officially host a major segment on climate change or global warming. This is largely due to the expo’s relationship with businesses that are viewed as pro-fossil fuel.
“You want people to come, in Texas?” Trammell told me with a wry grin. Though a green activist down to his southern bones, Trammell is also a practical businessman and Republican. He understands the challenges that large corporations face in transitioning to sustainable practices. That’s why EDTx has spent so many years building up its relationship with its sponsors, attendees and honored corporations; it needs its audience to understand that nobody’s trying to trick them into supporting something that they don’t believe. But change is coming, and when Earth Day Texas 2017 begins, it will do so with the full support of the U.S. military.
“This time,” said Trammell, “I’ll stand on the stage and I’ll say this is about global warming to our audience.” Each wing of the U.S. military will be part of the presentation, and they’ll talk about the science of global warming and climate change. “I’ll introduce the army, navy, air force, marines. It’s got to the point, now we have the Pentagon.”
Trammell was proud to bring EDTx to his beloved state, and in accepting the award for Green Philanthropy he was even prouder to announce the strides they’re taking to bring climate science to the mainstream. Before he left, Trammell handed me a little glass replica of the Earth, no bigger than a blue marble. He’s fond of giving them away to the people he meets as a reminder that we all hold the fate of the planet in our hands.
Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks on “Reconnect[ing] Humanity to the Environment”
President and CEO of Earth Friendly Products, Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, accepted the award for Corporate Environmental Leadership. Planet Experts has previously covered EFP, which has taken its sustainable practices further than just about any of its competitors. Six years ago, the company transitioned to running on 100 percent renewable energy, and that’s in addition to providing its consumers with affordable, non-toxic cleaning products manufactured using Zero-Waste guidelines.
Family-owned and operated since 1967, EFP has made a promise to its consumers “to make green cleaning a reality for all by using sustainable practices that protect people and the planet.”
At the end of the evening, I chatted with Ms. Vlahakis-Hanks, who was exultant to be honored on Global Green’s 20th anniversary. “I so admire their tireless dedication to reconnect humanity with the environment,” she said. “We’re trying to do the same thing at Earth Friendly Products and I appreciate them putting our company on the global stage and sharing our story and our mission, so tonight is really a great honor.
“Next year will be our 50th anniversary, and so 50 years being family owned and operated, cruelty free – we never test on animals – and with more products certified by the Safer Choice than any company in the nation. We’re really proud of those things. So to be able to come here, to L.A., and to share our story with Hollywood… Global Green is able to bring in so many of the influencers and tastemakers who are really driving the awareness of the importance of going green.”