National Geographic World Legacy Awards - Judging

Laura Turner Seydel

Chairperson, Captain Planet Foundation

Laura is an international environmental advocate and eco-living expert dedicated to creating a healthy and sustainable future for children. The daughter of global conservationist and CNN Founder, Ted Turner, Laura spearheads the Captain Planet Foundation, which funds environmental stewardship projects worldwide. She co-founded Mothers and Others for Clean Air and Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. She serves on the boards of The Turner Foundation, Turner Endangered Species Fund, Environmental Working Group, League of Conservation Voters, Defenders of Wildlife and Waterkeeper Alliance.

WLA: You grew up in a family that has been active for decades in raising awareness to protect the planet, from creating private nature reserves that helped bring the American Bison back from the brink of extinction to addressing major environmental issues of our time, such as global climate change. How did your upbringing influence your own work today?

Laura: I am often asked why I am so passionate about the environment. Well, my family certainly had a large influence as I was growing up. Of course my Dad, Ted Turner, the real Captain Planet, has worked his entire adult life to try and make the world a better place. I can remember growing up in the 70's during the oil embargo - Dad would keep the thermostat down in the winter to save energy- and we would just put on sweaters as a solution. Conserving energy back then was the patriotic thing to do and while many of Dad's peers were driving Lincoln Town Cars or other gas guzzlers, he was driving a little Toyota getting 40 miles to the gallon. He still drives a Toyota (Prius) today. When we were growing up we spent most of our free time outdoors, where we learned to love and respect nature. On family trips to the beach we would spend time picking up trash. We were and still are shocked by the amount of plastic pollution everywhere. Dad still leads by example - he cleans up the neighborhood where he lives in Atlanta, or where ever his travels take him in the world. My dad inspired me on such a larger scale - Ted started CNN, which shows us every day in real time just how inter-connected we are on this planet. He created the Turner Foundation, which supports conservation organizations. He also preserved and restored 2 million acres of land where he reintroduced endangered species including wolves, Bison, Bolson tortoise, cockaded woodpeckers and black footed ferrets, to name a few. It is such a thrill to see this majestic wildlife in their native habitat. And to hear them wolves howling ...a symphony of wild nature! Dad shocked the world when he gave $1 billion to create the United Nations Foundation to coordinate worldwide efforts to alleviate poverty and empower women and girls around the globe by providing access to health care and education opportunities. He realized that we could not stop the degradation of the environment without working holistically on improving the lives of people in need. He inspired me to wake up every day and continue to do everything I can to leave this a better world for my children and future generations.

WLA: The Captain Planet Foundation that you also Chair celebrates its 25th Anniversary this year, including honoring visionaries and leaders working to save the planet. Can you tell us a bit more about the Foundation's work?

Laura: The Captain Planet Foundation (CPF) was co-founded in 1991 based on the critically-acclaimed cartoon series Captain Planet and the Planeteers, created by my Dad and producer Barbara Pyle to educate and inspire younger generations to save the planet. It is easier to teach and empower youth in their ability to effect change than it is to try to re-educate adults to focus on the importance of our environment. The Foundation has played a critical role in helping to ensure that the next generation of business leaders and policy makers better understand the environmental challenges of our times and take action to protect the air, land, and water upon which all life depends. CPF has funded over 2,000 hands-on environmental education projects with schools and non-profits that serve children in all 50 U.S. states and in nearly 25 countries. More than 1.2 million children have directly participated in and benefited from these educational projects. In addition to its Small Grants Program, CPF also operates a portfolio of programs including Project Learning Garden, Project Endangered Species, the Leadership Center, SAGES, and other initiatives that promote the intersections between technology, innovation, the environment and conservation action.

WLA: Has being a judge for the World Legacy Awards changed some of your own views on travel and tourism - among the world's largest industries, estimated to be employing 1 out of 11 people on the planet?

Laura: When it comes to issues like water, climate, and energy, we cannot continue business as usual. We all have a role to play, and the travel and tourism industry in particular has a lot of power to shape the future of our planet. It is an honor to serve as a World Legacy Awards Judge and to have the responsibility to help select the best of the best. It is incredibly inspiring to see so many travel companies - large and small alike - and even entire countries, embracing sustainable tourism practices. Of course, there is a lot more work to be done, but programs like the World Legacy Awards are showing the great progress being made and shining a spotlight on way forward for the global travel industry to be a catalyst for positive change. The travel industry has been exercising the power to bring economic opportunity to stakeholders in the developing world in how they staff their facilities, pay their workers, and source their supplies. This is why the Turner Foundation has been working with the American Hotel & Lodging Association on their green certification and today, more than 3,000 hotels have earned a Green Key rating. Sometimes it is easy to forget that restaurants are also part of the travel and tourism economy. In 2006, we started a formal partnership with the US National Restaurant Association. With over 21 million workers, food service is one of America's largest private employers and has a huge impact on natural resources. When you "green" the restaurant industry, you are educating millions of people about the need to conserve energy, water and divert materials from landfills. It is also great to see World Legacy Awards Winners and Finalists also engaged in greening their supply chains. In serving as a judge, it has become increasingly clear to me that the travel industry has the power to make our world more sustainable and the World Legacy Awards are presenting a roadmap of how that can be done.

WLA: As a mother of three and a lifelong environmental advocate, what message do you have for today's younger generation as they look towards their own future?

Laura: I am the proud mother of three (smiles) and like my own upbringing, it has been very important for me to share my love of the outdoors and nature with my own children. As much as possible, we travel as a family to see and experience some of the most ecologically beautiful places on this fragile planet we all share together. Research proves that getting children outdoors, camping, hiking, gardening and enjoying our natural areas, is not only good for their health and well-being, but it also helps create a new generation of environmental stewards. Like my Millennial son, John R, young people need to step up and act to protect their life support system - the air we breathe, the water we drink, the biodiversity that has led to cures being developed for preventing and treating disease - to ensure a bright future for all. He is launching an app to engage Millennials in the political process by using social media in order to hold elected officials accountable for their votes and policies. That accountability is critical when it comes to matters of the health, quality of life and the future of our children and generations to come. My advice to today's younger generation comes down to this - live and enjoy life to the fullest, be responsible environmental citizens, travel across different cultures, meet new people, do what you can to help to others in need, explore this amazing place we call Planet Earth and do as much as you can, wherever you are to help protect it. As Captain Planet says, "The Power is Yours!"

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