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An Interview With Global Green CEO Dr. Les McCabe

On Thursday, the 20th Anniversary Global Green Awards will recognize sustainable leaders from around the world, including Facebook, LA Metro, Mohamed Nasheed, Trammell S. Crow and Shailene Woodley.

Established in 1996 to honor those who uphold Global Green’s mission to foster a “global value shift toward a sustainable and secure future,” the awards gala will be held at the historic Alexandra Ballrooms in downtown Los Angeles.

“We are so excited to announce the most diverse set of extraordinary leaders that we have yet to honor over the past two decades,” says Global Green President and CEO Les McCabe. “We look forward to having leaders from throughout Southern California and around the world join us to recognize the remarkable achievements of our honorees while raising critical funds to advance Global Green’s work here in LA and nationally to protect the people, places and planet in need.”

Among the honorees is Mohamed Nasheed, former President of the Maldives and a twice-named Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience. Nasheed was the first democratically-elected president of the island nation before being ousted on false charges of “terrorism.” The lifelong democratic activist was forced to resign at gunpoint in 2012. Nasheed was the subject of the 2011 documentary The Island President, which followed his fight to save his people from sea level rise.

Pro-environmental Republican and founder of Earth Day Texas Trammell S. Crow will also be honored on Thursday with the Green Philanthropy Leadership Award. For years, his annual Earth Day Texas celebration has been the largest pro-environmental exhibition in the United States.

Facebook’s Director of Sustainability, Bill Weihl, will receive the New Media Environmental Leadership Award. “Facebook has been leading the charge with respect to the impact it’s had [on the environment],” Les McCabe told Planet Experts.

Actors Shailene Woodley and Lori Woodley will receive the Entertainment Industry Environmental Leadership Award for their sustainable activism. The actors co-founded the non-profit organization All It Takes, which teaches young people how to “create sustainable, positive change among their peers, family members and society.”

A “Milestone Event”

Dr. Les McCabe, CEO and President of Global Green.

Dr. Les McCabe, CEO and President of Global Green.

The U.S. arm of Green Cross International, Global Green is an environmental non-profit that has been a pioneer in sustainable initiatives for over two decades. The 2016 Global Green Awards will be its 20th event honoring the most high-profile environmental defenders.

“It’s a big milestone event,” says Dr. McCabe. Since joining Global Green as its President and CEO in July 2014, McCabe has focused on the humanitarian challenges of an increasingly climate-impacted world. He emphasized those challenges when he spoke to Planet Experts earlier this week.

Planet Experts: The stated mission of Global Green is to help shift the planet toward a sustainable and secure future. Given the increasing impacts of climate change and global warming, what does that mission look like on the ground?

Les McCabe: Historically, Global Green has done a lot of wonderful things. It’s very entrepreneurial in the area of green urbanism, and now that 80 percent of the population live in urban areas, it’s something we’re really focusing our climate efforts on. For example, in New York the Solar for Sandy Project – thanks to a large grant from National Grid – is installing solar panels on community centers to create resilient back-up energy sites in times of crisis.

When [Hurricane] Sandy hit, everyone was on grid, so there was no place to charge cell phones, no place to refrigerate medicine – there was no electricity. These centers will become first responder sites, and it’s an opportunity for people in the neighborhood to receive the support that they need.

PE: With two decades of experience under its belt, the organization has seen a lot of environmental changes, both positive and negative. Do you foresee Global Green’s mission changing over the next two decades?

LM: The mission itself won’t fundamentally change, but it’s such a broad mission. I think what has changed and will continue for some time is the narrowing of our focus in two key areas: Green urbanism and global climate change. Green living, especially green affordable housing, quality of life, practices that are environmentally-friendly, is going to be one of the pillars of our vision for the future.

As one of the first NGOs in New Orleans post-Katrina, then followed by a similar approach to what we did in the northeast following Sandy, we’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way about the impact of climate change-related events. In particular, we’ve realized that even the best efforts, even with COP21 and everyone agreeing to sign on, at the end of the day the climate is not going to change back overnight or over a month or year or even several years. It’s going to be changed for some time. With that in mind, we need to focus on resilience and adaptation over the next 10 years, because I think we’re going to see more of these type of climate change related events.

Hurricane Sandy floods Casino Pier in Seaside Heights in Ocean County, New Jersey. (Photo Credit: Creative Commons)

Hurricane Sandy floods Casino Pier in Seaside Heights in Ocean County, New Jersey. (Photo Credit: Creative Commons)

PE: The Presidential Election is rapidly approaching, and the two candidates are polar opposites concerning the environment. Secretary Clinton seems intent on continuing President Obama’s pro-environmental and climate action initiatives, but Donald Trump has gone on record saying global warming is a “hoax.” Will the Awards reflect this charged political climate or do you try to stay apolitical?

LM: We’re bipartisan. One of our honorees, Trammell Crow, is a Republican but also someone that has been working on environmental issues for years – so it’s really not about the political party, it’s about the person. As you point out, and as was evident from the debate last night, climate change barely got a mention. It was almost in passing. I hope that will change in future debates. Anytime you have any politician – elected or running for office – who denies that climate change is occurring or has some conspiracy theory about the Chinese… It’s a fact. It’s a fact that has been proven by the vast majority of scientists.

Donald Trump, the Republican Party's 2016 Presidential Nominee, denies climate science and has called climate change a "hoax" created by the Chinese. (Photo Credit: Michael Vadon / Flickr)

Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s 2016 Presidential Nominee, denies climate science and has called climate change a “hoax” created by the Chinese. (Photo Credit: Michael Vadon / Flickr)

PE: What makes the Global Green Awards so important to the environmental movement?

LM: When I look back on the list of names, the luminaries that have been recipients of the Award, when I think of what they’ve done, it’s pretty remarkable that this organization has brought them to a stage and to a place where they’re recognized for incredible work. There’s a lot of awards shows out there, and I’d like to think that we kind of launched the awards as they relate to the environment in terms of drawing the media attention to people that often go overlooked. With respect to the years of work and effort they put forth personally and professionally, [our honorees] make the environment better and tackle things like climate change or clean affordable housing.

We’re not just focused on the celebrity role. That is one of the categories, but we look at people that have led non-profits, that have led businesses, that work in government and all sectors of society, because it’s the collective – those different entities will cumulatively make a difference in the environment and climate change. It’s not about one person and one field of work, it’s about all of them.

PE: You’ll be honoring Facebook’s Director of Sustainability, Bill Weihl, on Thursday. I admit, I didn’t realize Facebook had a Sustainability position, but in researching its renewable energy goals I see that it’s making a major effort to slash its carbon footprint.

LM: Facebook among other social media platforms has been leading the charge with respect to the impact it’s had – particularly on the millennial generation, which is a target of ours at global green. A lot of folks my age who have been around for a while have been cognizant of environmental issues for some time, things like climate change and otherwise. But the millennial generation, who as you know communicates in a very different way than older folks, is entirely connected with social media like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat. Facebook is taking a leading role, and increasingly we’re seeing more companies getting to the point where this is the norm, where everyone has a sustainability officer.

Planet Experts will be covering the Global Green Awards this Thursday in Los Angeles! To learn more, visit Global Green or its Eventbrite site today!

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