In the News
Women In Conservation: 2010 Rachel Carson Award Winners
In May, the National Audubon Society hosted its annual Women in Conservation Luncheon, designed to honor top female environmental heroes with its Rachel Carson award. This year’s winners were Tiffany Foundation president Fernanda Kellogg; Suzanne Lewis, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park; actress Isabella Rossellini; and Disney World Wide Affairs’ senior vice president of environmental affairs, Beth Stevens. Interviews which each follow.
|Fernanda Kellogg, President of The Tiffany and Company Foundation
Tiffany blue: It typically symbolizes sapphires and pearls and luxury. But to Fernanda Kellogg, president of the Tiffany and Co. Foundation and one of Audubon’s 2010 Women in Conservation Rachel Carson Award winners, it represents the ocean. “I think of water as being as precious as diamonds,” she says. “It’s only been fairly recently that people have put the same kind of energy into ocean conservation as they have with land conservation. There’s more work to be done.”
For a decade, the Foundation has been doing its part, focusing on responsible mining, park restoration and beautification in urban settings, and most recently coral conservation. “The materials to make Tiffany jewelry—diamonds, gold, and silver—are extracted from the earth,” she says. “Pearls are harvested from the sea. Land protection and ocean conservation are key areas for us.”
Kellogg has been with the Foundation since its start in 2000, and has run it for three years. She’s part of a team that gives out environment and art grants to non-profits. Last year, for example, the group awarded Trout Unlimited $250,000. Fishermen and jewelry makers might seem like an odd match, but Kellogg explains that the goals of the two organizations align when it comes to Alaska’s Bristol Bay. “The [Tiffany] company will never buy any gold that comes out of mining from that area because it should always be preserved as a natural habitat. Trout Unlimited protects that area for the salmon and trout. So that gets us from Trout Unlimited to responsible mining.”
By protecting the environment, the Tiffany and Co. Foundation is safeguarding its source material. And Kellogg, with an enthusiasm and respect for the outdoors that started when she was young and was massaged by her parents’ involvement in environmental conservation, seems poised to push the Foundation as far as she can in this realm.
No where was that more clear than during her acceptance speech at the Women in Conservation luncheon. In her coral-colored suit, black-bowed headband, and Tiffany bird lapel pin, Kellogg accepted the award with class and a tip of the hat toward Audubon’s early anti-feather trade pioneers. “Had the Tiffany Foundation been around in the early 1900s, I believe we would’ve joined Audubon in that very first historic campaign,” she says. With Kellogg at the helm, that’s easy to envision.—Michele Wilson
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|Suzanne Lewis, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park
Managing the country’s oldest national park, and the largest within the continental United States, is no small feat. For the last eight years, Suzanne Lewis has been the superintendent of the of 2.2-million acre wilderness, the first woman to hold the position. Her dedication to preservation over her 32-year career as a National Park Service employee, and her love of the outdoors, led Audubon’s Women in Conservation Program to give her the Rachel Carson Award earlier this year. Audubon sat down with her after the ceremony to discuss what it means to oversee one of the most popular national treasures. Read on for an edited version of our conversation.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you became a park ranger?
My undergraduate school roommate, her dad was a park ranger and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do during the summer. He said you ought to apply to be a park ranger, and I did. And I got the job and so I worked my first season before I went off to graduate school, and then I came back and worked summers for another two years and then I became a permanent ranger. It was a great experience.
And how did you decide to go from a seasonal ranger to a permanent one?
My first season I thought it was fun. I didn’t really feel like I had to be a park ranger for the rest of my life, but it grew on me. By my second or third season, I thought, ‘This is something I really want to do.’ I was a history major and history is a big part of the national park system. I just thought, 'You know this is a great way to spend my professional life using history to tell the stories of our nation.'
Do you think that the park service is in a unique position to teach people about conservation because of that history?
I think it’s fundamental to the mission of the National Park Service to provide education, whether you call it understanding, appreciation, or inspiration. The parks all weave together to tell a really important story about ourselves and about our struggles as a nation and our relationship to the environment. And some of those stories aren’t pretty: the story of slavery, a topic not often talked about, or the extinction of animals in certain landscapes. I think the park service, little by little, has matured and is becoming much more bold in its voice to tell those stories.
Do you think that there are a lot of people who could benefit from reconnecting with the natural world?
I think it’s almost critical, especially since we’re finding that there are many people who haven’t had those experiences in the outdoors, in a large natural landscape. I do think that it leaves an impression on you. To be standing in Lamar Valley in the middle of Yellowstone National Park is a stunning, life changing experience. I think that for everyone there is something in the great outdoors.
Do you think that it’s challenging to be the superintendent of such a large park with so many visitors and so many employees?
I think that Yellowstone was a very controversial place when it was established in 1872 and it remains that today. There are still hotly debate issues and so it makes it challenging in the sense that you feel the yin and the yang of every issue. I just try to find the center of my compass and steer hard by it, listen to both sides, and then make the best decision that I can. And they’re not always popular and they’re not without criticism. I count my blessing that I spent many years in other national parks before Yellowstone because Yellowstone is not a dress rehearsal. It’s a get up and go every day.
Do you find it difficult to be a woman in conservation?
You know, I don’t. I’m often asked what’s it like to be the first female superintendent at Yellowstone and my response is usually that I’ve kind of been the first female everything in any park I’ve been at, so I was used to it by the time I got to Yellowstone. Everywhere I was a superintendent before Yellowstone, I was the first female superintendent, so I had a lot of practice. The park service has changed, there are more women in the park service than there have ever been.—Susan Cosier
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|Isabella Rossellini, actress, director, writer, and environmental activist
The enormous success of Green Porno and “Seduce Me,” Isabella Rossellini’s series on the Sundance Channel about the courting and mating rituals of various organisms, brought her love of the animal kingdom to the small screen. It also got the attention of people who work on Audubon’s Women in Conservation Program. Hollywood royalty, Rossellini is now highlighting the majesty of wildlife—and occasionally the plights they face—with her unconventional pieces, bringing attention to how much we don’t know about the world around us and why conservation is critical. Audubon had the opportunity to speak with her about her project and Rachel Carson Award. That lively discussion, in edited form, follows.
How did you come up with the idea for the Green Porno and Seduce Me series?
Robert Redford, who is always seeking to expand what we mean by film or audio visual, thought that the Internet may be the opportunity to revive a short-film format. Short-film format was very popular at the beginning of cinema. It disappeared around the ‘60s when television became very strong, and so the shortest-film format that exists nowadays that has a professional outlet is the half-hour TV show, which is 22 minutes, and then the rest is advertisement. Redford commissioned several people, including me, to try to come up with ideas for a series of two-minute films, and he also added that if the series were about the environment, he would like it because he’s a very committed environmentalist, Redford. And at the time, Sundance was also doing a program called The Greens and it’s how to make your house green, how to eat green, and so I thought, they don’t have green porno. I’m going to make Green Porno for them.
I’ve always been interested in animals and animal behavior just as a hobby, but I do know that it is a strange hobby. But I knew everybody was interested in sex, so I said, 'Okay, I’m going to make these short films about the sex lives of animals.' We did the first three and Redford liked them, and then he commissioned eight, and now we’re up to 28 in Green Porno and Seduce Me. We are doing more and more and more.
Did you expect the shows to be as successful as they have been?
No, no we didn’t expect it. I was always complaining as an actress or as a model, saying, ‘Oh you know all these films, or art in general, they talk about love, there is an enormous subject about love, but there is very little about the environment in the arts.’ A lot of it is sexuality or making love, or falling in love, or tragedies, but to me, my mind is very occupied with animals or the environment and I never see that reflected in the arts, so when this opportunity at Sundance came, I thought ‘well maybe I’ll be the artist that makes this.’ But I also wanted to make it comical. There isn’t really anything—yet—funny about the environment, it’s always presented in very dark tones, and I know that just going birdwatching, or living with my dogs, makes me laugh. Animals make me laugh, I find them comical, so I wanted to capture that.
How did you prepare for the series?
I always take classes because I don’t have a background in science, and they’ve been very, very helpful for me to write scripts and stories. I wrote a script about Darwin, so classes were essential. And then I have to two consultants. I think I’ll continue to take classes forever. I’m so old that the teachers—they’re always very kind to me. They understand that there’s this old crazy lady there. [She says laughing.]
You said you’re a bird watcher. Have you always been interested in the environment?
I’ve always liked animals, so that’s the impulse. Now that they’re so threatened, you become more interested in the environment. I feel like a lot of other people: responsible to do something.
How does it feel to be honored as a woman in conservation?
I was very surprised because I see myself as a clown, I don’t see myself as an activist, and so I was very surprised. There are a lot of people that are working in the environment in a much more acceptable way, but mine can be a little controversial, so I’m very grateful. I hope that the world comes to recognize that maybe there is room for art that is dedicated to the environment, and I guess that was maybe what they understood in my attempt, so I’m very pleased.—Susan Cosier
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|Beth Stevens, senior vice president of environmental affairs at Disney
To Beth Stevens, winning a Rachel Carson Award fits: Carson is her role model and the namesake of the center where Stevens conducted her doctorial research. But Stevens, who has been with Disney for more than a decade, is also humble, crediting her larger Disney family for the environmental strides the company’s made.
And if you don’t necessarily associate Mickey and Minnie with conservation, maybe you should. Stevens says the company’s been in the green game since Walt’s day; today, it has seriously ambitious goals for cutting water use, energy consumption, waste, and emissions. As senior vice president of environmental affairs at Disney World Wide Affairs, Stevens is in the thick of it all. Audubon talked to her about what it means to be a female conservation leader, as well as Disney’s unique ability to reach thousands of children daily.
Audubon: Is it challenging to be successful as a woman in conservation?
Stevens: Conservation is as much about understanding how to work with different people and understanding how to bring all the disciplines together as it is about having a scientific answer or having a public relations answer. It’s like a big puzzle. And it’s about bringing the puzzle pieces together. I really don’t feel like it’s any harder being a woman.
How do you feel about earning this recognition?
To get anything done, it has to be very collaborative and it depends on partnerships. Nobody can do it by themselves. It takes a team, no matter what you’re doing in conservation. So I really feel humbled because I’ve been privileged to be part of many great teams of people who’ve done some really positive conservation work.
What do you say to people who don’t consider Disney an environmental company?
This is not a new idea to Disney at all. We have a very long and rich history and legacy of environmental stewardship. While it may sound trite, it started with Walt himself. He loved nature. He loved animals. If you think about it, the True Life Adventures—which he started—were really the first nature documentaries. And Walt, he had a lot of foresight. When he bought all of the land in Florida to build the Magic Kingdom, he set aside almost half of the land as a conservation area.
Disney has a unique stage from which to teach crucial environmental lessons. What advantage does that offer?
I spent my first 11.5 years at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. There, we have a huge opportunity to inspire, every single day, all of our guests to care more about the future of wildlife and wild places. It’s a great immersive experience, and there are so many experiences there. I believe that there’s one that will touch somebody. For everyone there’s somewhere in that experience at Animal Kingdom, someone’s heart strings are going to be plucked, and they’re going to leave the park caring more about the future of wildlife than when they came in.
In my current role, I work with every business across the company, and we’re a very large company. We have amazing potential because we’re such a powerful, far-reaching brand. We have the potential to really educate and inspire all of our many consumers—guests, viewers, fans—to inspire everybody to care more about the planet, and to inspire a sense of environmental stewardship. Certainly with youth, we have just untapped potential.
Describe the environmental programs geared toward children.
We really recognize that kids are aware of environmental problems. They want to know what to do about it. They really care. So we took that passion and we developed two programs. They’re really designed to empower kids in a positive way.
Planet Challenge is a program geared toward classrooms, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classrooms, and it’s a project-based learning competition. Classrooms come up with environmental projects that they want to do in their school or community. It’s very student-driven. They carry this out over the course of time. It’s a competition in the sense that we give out prizes and grand prizes to the winning classes.
Disney’s Friends for Change is a fabulous program set up to help kids help the planet…A lot of the Disney Channel stars came together to start this campaign. We give kids great tips on simple actions they can take in their everyday lives that can make a difference. They can go online and make a pledge and see immediately the impact of their pledge. They also can vote on how they want Disney to spend $1 million on conservation programs around the world. And in fact, National Audubon has been the recipient of two Friends for Change grants for two different projects.
What do you consider the biggest environmental concern today?
As a society, we’ve sort of taken for granted the fresh air that we breathe. We’ve taken for granted that there will always be water. Our natural resources are really undervalued…It’s really important that we start to value those because then we’re going to pay attention to them, and we’re going to try to save them.
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