We all know that a key factor in protecting our planet is publicity. If you have influence and resources, you have the ability to set things in motion and impact millions of people. Thankfully, a whole slew of celebrities have been doing just that – using their pulling power and public podium to advocate for a cleaner, greener future.
From models campaigning for sustainable water management to actors focusing on the plastics we use and abuse every day, so many of our famous friends have been using their prominence for the good of the planet. In this list of celebrities doing their part for Mother Nature, we’ve also included a few who tried and failed to make a sustained sustainable statement; the perfect reminder that sustainability is a journey, and we learn as we go!
She fights for women’s rights through her post at the United Nations, and LGBTQ and black rights via her social media accounts, but Emma Watson is perhaps best known for her commitment to sustainability. The actress was an early adopter of sustainable fashion, working creatively with clothing brand People Tree at age 19. Since then, she has appeared on the red (or green) carpet and at press events in garments from sustainable brands, vintage items, or sustainable pieces from high-end designers created just for her (this MET Gala dress made from recycled bottles, y’all!). She took part in Freedom for All’s White Shirt Project to fight brands using child labour, is the face of Good On You (an app and website that rates clothing brands’ environmental impact), and last year joined the sustainability committee at Kering, the company that owns luxury fashion brands like Gucci and Saint Laurent.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Leo is the most prolific environmental activist in the public eye. The actor produced documentaries The 11th Hour, Cowspiracy, and Sea of Shadows, was the force behind (and face of) Nat Geo docu Before The Flood, serves on many boards such as WWF, International Fund for Animal Welfare, The Solutions Project, and Global Green USA, and was appointed UN Messenger of Peace with a focus on climate change ahead of the 2014 Climate Summit. Additionally (yep, there’s more), he runs his own organisation, The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, (started at the tender age of 24!) which supports conservation projects. The LDF works with organisations like Amazon Watch (which protects the lands of the Amazon Basin’s Indigenous tribes) and invests in brands such as Beyond Meat. On a smaller, personal level, Leo was also one of the first celebrities to drive a hybrid car and to rent an NYC apartment in an eco-friendly building. Oh and when he finally received an Oscar he used the all eyes on him to tell us all climate change is real.
The producer and performer understands the crisis at hand, telling the assembly at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris that ‘climate change is one of the most defining issues of our time, one that threatens our very existence on Earth’. Aligning his actions with his words, Pharrell has been involved in a variety of environment-based projects – he participated in a social media campaign for the 2016 UN World Water Day, made a cameo in Al Gore’s docu An Inconvenience Sequel: Truth to Power, collaborated with clothing brand G-Star Raw to produce garments made from recycled ocean plastic, and pressed his 2017 single 100 Years on clay vinyl (meaning it’ll be released in 2117!). The multi-hyphenate is also the creative director of Bionic Yarn, a company that uses recycled plastic to create textiles.
In 2019, Singapore celebrated its first-ever WWF Earth Hour, thanks, in part, to actor Paul Foster. The Singaporean and Earth Hour Ambassador is all about giving back – especially to the environment. In late 2019, he co-founded All Clear, an ocean conservation drive that involves cleaning bodies of water in and around Singapore, and recycling collected trash responsibly. He’s also one of Timberland Singapore’s eco supporters and an ambassador for Nespresso’s sustainability program, promoting the eco work of the company which includes their ‘infinitely recyclable’ pods and the repurposing of coffee grounds into fertiliser.
The actress is a much-needed female figurehead on the front lines of the environmental movement. She played a huge part in publicising the 2016 protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline (and was arrested for her involvement), which would have seen a pipeline carry crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois, through communities, tribal lands, and wildlife habitats. In an essay for Time magazine, she wrote, “It took me, a white non-native woman being arrested on Oct 10th in North Dakota, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, to bring this cause to many people’s attention.” She’s vocal about reusing and recycling, creating her own cosmetics and medicines, and getting her food from farms. Woodley also worked with Greenpeace, examining the plastic pollution in the Sargasso Sea and calling upon the UN for an ocean protection treaty, and collaborated with Conservation Intl., campaigning against deforestation.
In 2011, following a trip to Africa, actress Rosario Dawson co-founded Studio 189, a fashion social enterprise based in Ghana and the U.S., with former Bottega Veneta executive Abrima Erwiah. The company both creates sustainable clothing and sells other sustainable brands, all while supporting Accra’s local textile industry and its traditional techniques. As well as providing employment to women in Ghana, the enterprise also minimises package waste streams which often lead to serious flooding and toxins entering the water. Studio 189’s work won them the CFDA/Lexus Sustainability Award in 2018. Dawson also worked with SodaStream on their first Unbottle the World Day, advocating for mindful recycling, and in 2019 produced and narrated documentary The Need to Grow, all about saving the Earth’s topsoil.
The singer has long been a human rights advocate, with his participation in Live Aid and work with Amnesty International, but Sting is also a proponent of caring for our Earth. In 1989, the singer co-founded Rainforest Fund (then known as Rainforest Foundation), with wife Trudie Styler and Dr. Franca Sciuto. Having fulfilled a promise to protect the land of a tribe in the Amazon, the group expanded its focus from the Amazon to all of the world’s rainforests. It has done a fantastic job so far, preserving over 115,000 square kilometres and raising over $25m. The foundation also puts on an annual benefit featuring stars such as Bruce Springsteen and Annie Lennox. As a fitting thank you for his work, in 1994 Sting had a species of Colombian tree frog named after him – the Dendropsophus stingi.
Singer Kesha is a huge animal rights advocate, citing animals and the natural world as inspiration for her life and her music. In 2013, she participated in Humane Society International’s Cruelty-Free campaign, calling on the EU to ban the sale of cosmetics tested on animals, and that same year she received the Wyler Award from Humane Society of the United States, praising the animal issue awareness she was spreading via mass media. Kesha also backed campaigns banning the shark fin trade, supported HIS’s Canadian seafood boycott in protest against the annual killing of baby seals, and featured in a video about the struggle of street dogs. Other topics that have appeared on her social media accounts include coral reefs and the management of wild horses.
It’s not just solo stars spreading the message – earlier this year female K-Pop band Blackpink were appointed Climate Change Advocates for the global campaign against climate change, in association with the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), happening in November 2021 in the UK. That’s not all; last December, in collaboration with the British Embassy in Seoul, the group released a video on YouTube in which they spoke about climate change and called their fans – affectionately known as ‘blinks’ – to action.
Another on-the-streets protestor, Mark Ruffalo’s main environmental focus is the effect that oil and gas have on the environment. As well as publicly denouncing the Keystone XL Pipeline, he hosted a ‘Toxic Tour’ of all of the hidden oil drill sites in LA, produced and narrated the documentary Dear President Obama, which criticised the former president for expanding the practice of applying pressure to rock formations to accelerate the release of natural gas and petroleum, and appeared in the documentary In This Climate. Ruffalo also takes to Twitter to air his personal views about environmental damage and extends his activism to his on-screen work, starring in the movie Dark Waters, a drama about a lawyer who sues a chemical company for poisoning a river.
Olivia Wilde, actress, director, and activist for social causes, is one half of the duo behind Conscious Commerce, an initiative that aims to raise awareness with regards to what we buy. The consulting company (which she runs with her friend, Babs) supports sustainable, ethical products and brands, from True Botanicals to tea company Runa – and Wilde is regularly spotted wearing, modelling, or personally advocating the products the company backs. Notable collabs include H&M Conscious, thredUP (an American used clothing website), and Anthropologie (with whom she designed a dress).
He’s best known for his string of chart-topping R&B hits in the ’00s, but singer Akon is also an eco-entrepreneur. In 2014, the singer co-founded a solar energy programme, Akon Lighting Africa, aiming to provide electricity, specifically light, to various countries in Africa. The year after, he started Solektra Solar Academy in Mali, teaching students how to use solar energy grids and equipping them with the necessary skills to maintain them. This venture was announced at the UN Sustainable Energy for All Forum in New York.
Brazilian supermodel Gisele has spent the majority of her adult life protecting the environment. As well as participating in eco-documentaries (she exec-produced Kiss the Ground and featured in Years of Living Dangerously), she created the Projeto Agua Limpa (Clean Water Project) in her hometown with the aim of aiding the recovery of vegetation, continues to donate profits from her Ipanema flip-flop brand to environmental projects, and is a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN’s Environment Program. Gisele was also awarded the Global Environmental Citizen Award by Harvard Medical School and the Greenest International Celebrity of the Year (2011).
Korean-American singer Eric Nam is passionate about showing up for issues close to his heart. In December 2017, he was part of 24 Hours of Reality, an annual 24-hour broadcast hosted by The Climate Project, aiming to spread the message about climate change and show the measures that are being taken around the world to combat it. In an interview on the broadcast, Nam spoke about the dangers the planet is facing and what we can do to help. The K-Pop star, born and raised in Atlanta, has also been active in voicing his opinions on Asian hate, following this year’s Atlanta shooting, both on his social media platforms and in an essay for Time magazine.
While Adrian Grenier was charming TV audiences as Entourage’s Vinny Chase, he was also saving the planet. No biggie. The actor, who is a UN Regional Goodwill Ambassador for North America, is intent on saving marine life, especially from unnecessary evils such as plastic. He helped to ban single-use plastic straws in Seattle and worked on UN campaigns Clean Seas, a bid to end ocean plastic pollution, and Wild for Life, which advocated for the conservation of sawfish. In 2015, he co-founded Lonely Whale which crusades for the protection of marine wildlife mainly through unconventional efforts to eliminate single-use plastics, such as opening a pop-up museum of plastic in NYC and partnering with Tom Ford to offer a cash prize to innovators who could create the best sustainable alternative to thin-film plastic. In 2008, Grenier also had his own 13-part TV series called Alter Eco, in which he and a team of builders and activists renovated his home, eco-style.
Miley Cyrus is a keen activist, speaking up for gender fluidity, veterans, and, in 2014, veganism. The singer and actress adopted a vegan diet based on her deep love of animals and became one of the few famous faces of the movement at the time. However, seven years later, she revealed that she had reintroduced fish to her diet because her body was in pain and her brain wasn’t functioning properly thanks to a lack of omegas. Unfortunately for Miley (but fortunately for the education of people the world over), people were quick to dispel the myths she’d perpetuated about veganism, omegas, and poor health. That said, in the seven years Miley was a vegan, we like to believe that her passion for the whole vegan lifestyle spread far and wide and that she’s still embarking on her animal-saving, sustainable journey. Kindness is everything, people!
The young singer and actor is on a mission when it comes to clean water and giving up plastic bottles. In 2015, Smith started his own company, JUST Water, which offers sustainably sourced water (and waters infused with organic fruit essence) packaged in a recyclable, plant-based carton. In more recent times, he launched The Solution Committee, a mini snapchat series highlighting work by young activists, and co-founded 501CTHREE, a non-profit aiming to develop solutions to the climate crisis using technology, such as distributing mobile water filtration systems called Water Boxes (one of Fast Company‘s Innovation by Design Award winners) to communities in the US.
The media might consider Goop controversial, but they can’t deny that Gwyneth Paltrow has been using the site as a platform for clean, sustainable living. The brand advocates for small, sustainable steps like ‘Meat-Free Monday’, and only promotes and sells clean, toxic-free beauty and household products, from cosmetics to bamboo toilet paper. The award-winning actress, often at the fore of wellness ideas that the Western world has yet to fully embrace, has also been known to live carbon-neutrally and to spread the message of sustainability across her social media platforms, earning her plaudits from the Environmental Media Association and the Environmental Working Group.
Another K-Pop girl group stepping up for the environment is Red Velvet. Like Blackpink, this five-piece ensemble are playing a big part in spreading the message about climate change in the lead up to this year’s conference. In August last year, the band – UN Goodwill Ambassadors – took to YouTube to promote the very first UN International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, facilitated by the UN Environment Progamme. In the clip, the band bring awareness to air pollution and how it affects the planet’s present and future.
The pop icon headlined the 2007 Live Earth concert, tying her performance in with song Hey You, which called on people to be accountable for their impact on the planet, and gave a short speech about global warming. She also lobbied the government about radioactive waste (admittedly believing that a mysterious Kabbalah liquid could solve the problem), but Madonna hasn’t necessarily lived up to her passionate cries for planet protection. Shortly before her Live Earth performance, it was estimated that the singer produced ‘the same amount of carbon as 102 average Britons’, referring to her flights, car trips, concerts, and staff members. Since then, we haven’t heard anything about sustainability from the megastar. Here’s hoping she acted on those findings and has since been making little green changes to her professional life!
Much like wife Chrissy Teigen, John Legend is vocal about causes he cares about – the planet being one of them. Back in 2009, the singer collaborated with REVERB, an environmental NGO, so he could reduce the carbon footprint of his 50-city tour. The merchandise was eco-friendly, the tour website included resources that allowed ticket-holders to arrange ride shares, and Legend even invested in wind farms and other green projects to offset the remaining carbon emissions the tour produced. The producer also performed at the Green Inaugural Ball, which celebrated Obama’s promise to make sustainable energy a priority, worked with music event Live Earth, and partnered with organisation Tide in the relief effort for Hurricane Katrina.
Gigli might have been a flop, but Ben Affleck’s efforts for the planet are not. In 2010, the actor co-founded the Eastern Congo Initiative, aiming to raise awareness of the plight of the region, including how the region’s natural resources were under threat which, in turn, threatened the livelihoods of the community. Through making grants, partnering with local community-based organisations, and introducing the world to what Eastern Congo has to offer, ECI has been helping the community increase agricultural productivity and improve their lives. In the past, the group has worked with sustainable cacao growers and coffee farmers, and large international buyers such as Lush and Nespresso.
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