Laura Turner Seydel – Chairman and President of the Captain Planet Foundation
Green Do-Gooder: Laura Turner Seydel – green philanthropist and eco-living expert – tells how she’s turned her passion for the environment into several successful nonprofits.
By Claire Basarich
Though environmentalism has only recently become chic, Laura Turner Seydel, 46, is a longtime devotee of the cause, something she claims to have inherited from her father, CNN and TBS founder Ted Turner. As chairman and president of the Captain Planet Foundation, which raises more than $500,000 annually to educate children about environmental preservation, she’s made green philanthropy her business with projects like EcoManor, Georgia’s first home to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. EcoManor (where Seydel now lives) showcases conservation efforts and green technology and serves as an educational tool for energy-efficient, eco-friendly building. Seydel also co-founded Mothers & Others for Clean Air, educating moms on protecting themselves and their children from the effects of air pollution.
She recently took time from her busy schedule – writing a book on how to be an “eco-mom” (due out next year) and speaking globally for her sustainable causes – to talk to PINK about green living, what she learned about philanthropy and conservation from her famous father, and how she drives innovation for nonprofits.
PINK: When did you first become an environmental steward?
Laura Turner Seydel: When my siblings and I were growing up, rather than using harmful herbicides on our lawn, my dad showed us how to pull weeds. Rather than simply giving us money, he had us pick up bottles and cans, walk them to the store and trade them in for money to buy candy. We didn’t realize it was about recycling, but it was a great motivation. It’s been a steady drumbeat my whole life. Instead of driving a big car as a symbol of success, he bought a used Toyota Corolla. He would show us Jacques Cousteau documentaries and stories on CNN so we could see where countries were suffering from lack of resources.
PINK: What do you think has prevented other people from going green?
L.T.S.: Lack of information. The prices of energy were so low before that there wasn’t really an incentive. Now with the rising cost of fuel, people are looking at alternative sources.
PINK: What are some small steps to green living that you can suggest?
L.T.S.: Change out toxic cleaning products used inside the home for safer ones. The nonprofit organization Healthy Child Healthy World has made the link between nonhereditary forms of cancer in children and toxins used in households. Also, the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Fund has found that the No. 1 cause of river pollution is from lawn runoff. It’s possible to use organic products in your garden. And then there’s recycling. The whole family can do it, and it makes a big difference. The energy saved by recycling one plastic bottle could run your TV for three hours.
PINK: You built the EcoManor, but isn’t an “eco-friendly mansion” an oxymoron?
L.T.S.: Our house is incredibly efficient because the LEED certification standard is so stringent. We’ve done everything that you can do. We are the first to use solar and geothermal energy sources together, and we have four certifications from EarthCraft Communities, LEED, the National Wildlife Federation and Energy Star. Our neighbors’ houses built in the 1920s are much less efficient.
PINK: Some of your neighbors have complained that EcoManor is too big or an “eyesore.” How do you respond?
L.T.S.: As you can imagine, with any new house in a distinct neighborhood, you will find people who don’t approve of the design or size of the house. We met with our neighbors before building the house and even hosted a get-together for the entire neighborhood once the house was built. We’ve had both positive and negative reactions, but most of the neighbors have applauded our efforts to build green and have asked for tips and product information for their own homes. In terms of the size of the home, it fits in with the entire neighborhood. And believe me, with a family of five (including our pets) there isn’t any wasted space.
PINK: How do you respond to critics who say celebrities are going green simply because it’s currently in vogue?
L.T.S.: I’ve been doing it for 20 years! I sat on environmental boards even when it wasn’t in vogue. I am a megaphone for the planet. I’m always talking about these issues.
PINK: How do you stay green when you travel?
L.T.S.: When I go to New York City, I really like using EVO Limo, the environmental car service. I like staying in Kimpton hotels, which are a greener hotel chain that sets an example for others.
PINK: What are some innovative things you’ve done to draw attention to your causes?
L.T.S.: At our annual fundraiser for the Captain Planet Foundation, we throw a fun party with music as the centerpiece. This time, for our 13th year, we’re going bicoastal and are teaming up with the Jules Verne Adventure Film Festival at the Shrine Auditorium in L.A. to show documentaries to thousands of inner city kids.
PINK: What has been the biggest challenge in your career?
L.T.S.: Becoming comfortable with public speaking. It was something I had to develop. The more I get out and speak publicly, the more confident I’ve become.
PINK: What’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever made?
L.T.S.: I’m getting ready to make it. I’ve taken on too many causes, so I’ve got to reign myself in and get focused.
PINK: What do you do to relax?
L.T.S.: The last good book I read was Last Child in the Woods (Algonquin Books, 2006), about nature-deficit disorder. It’s been proven that children raised with outdoor experiences are happier, and that many kids now on medication have been raised indoors. Americans spend 85 percent of their time indoors. How can you learn to respect something you never get to know?
PINK: What is the most remarkable thing you’ve done to get where you are in your career?
L.T.S.: Working for Greenpeace right out of college. At that time, Greenpeace activists were considered to be extreme environmental wackos in the U.S. I worked there at a very exciting time, when young volunteers were bringing up issues from nuclear testing to dumping waste. I went from a cushy situation in college to living in a house full of volunteers for the cause. It was a good training ground.
PINK: What’s the best advice you ever received?
L.T.S.: From my father: “Don’t smoke cigarettes.” But it was too late; I had already started. Quitting was one of the hardest things to do. Also from my father: “You can’t always be right, but you can be on time.”
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