Trudie Styler -- actor, producer, director, human rights activist, environmentalist and organic farmer -- founded the Rainforest Foundation Fund with her husband, Sting, in 1989. Styler's annual The 'Sting & Friends' Rainforest Foundation Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall in New City, which marks its 23rd anniversary on April 3, is a celebration of hope and the human spirit. Organic Spa Magazine's style and sustainability correspondent Zoe Helene caught up with Styler this month.
Zoe Helene (ZH): What inspires you to do this work, and what keeps you going through the tough spots?
Trudie Styler (TS): I've been very fortunate in life, and I've had many opportunities to see the world and meet some extraordinary people. Having witnessed environmental catastrophe and the human suffering that results, I feel a responsibility to do what I can to try to make a difference. Luckily I have a lot of energy, and I like a challenge, so I'm honored to be able to channel that energy to raise awareness about important issues.
ZH: You've made impressive progress.
TS: Since we began the Rainforest Foundation all those years ago, we have helped local indigenous communities gain legal rights to protect more than 100,000 square kilometers of forest. Our current program of projects will protect a further one million square kilometers. That's the combined area of Texas, Washington, and Pennsylvania. We are now supporting the fight against deforestation in 23 countries, covering all the major tropical regions. And as we protect the rainforest, we help to sustain the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of its people.
ZH: The year marks the 23rd anniversary of the benefit concert on April 3rd. As producer you will be surrounded by positive people who care enough to attend and contribute. Yet still the rainforests around the world continue to be aggressively destroyed and deforestation seems to only be accelerating.
TS: It's true that deforestation continues, but actually I believe that we are beginning to see some major changes now in attitude. It's becoming more widely accepted that deforestation is the biggest single cause of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. And economics are now playing a part -- I think we are actually on the cusp of a major shift in how economics and environmental conservation are connected.
The Brazilian government is taking a tougher stance on illegal logging in the rainforest, and indeed the National Institute for Space Research has said that between August 2010 and July 2011 deforestation dropped 11 percent from the previous year. So I have hope.
ZH: A growing number of people are willing to face the facts, but against the sheer power and magnitude of destructive forces, it is easy to feel helpless. We're grieving. How can everyday people help?
TS: We can all speak out against injustice. The power of the individual is a very real force -- it may take time and commitment to achieve our goals, but one by one each voice joins together as we stand up for what we believe. There have been huge changes in the world in our lifetime -- technological changes brought about by creative and imaginative individuals and social changes brought about by courageous and fair-minded people. I never underestimate the power of being true to oneself and taking a stand.
ZH: Traveling to remote Amazonian villages means long river rides. Along the way it is not unusual to see massive timber barges riding low in the water, loaded down with felled giants like so many Lincoln-logs, with still more logs dragging behind in the water. We're talking old growth trees. Is this Dr. Seuss' The Lorax all over again?
TS: We live in an industrialized society, and that isn't going to change, and I know it is sometimes easy to imagine that we will continue destroying the world until there is nothing left but perhaps one seed with which to start again, like in the story. However, we have a real opportunity to build a new global economy based on environmental conservation. If money makes the world go around, I see a future where it will continue to do so but maybe in a very different way -- a way that supports the life of the earth instead of exploiting it.
ZH: Most consumers would not chose to buy rainforest-harvested wood if it was clearly marked as such, just as they would not chose to buy GMO foods or child-labor manufactured goods. Why then are companies not required by law to mark rainforest-harvested wood supplies and products?
TS: Well that's a very good question. I believe very strongly that labeling of products is extremely important, and that governments around the world should legislate to make that happen. I believe it would enforce corporate responsibility, it would give consumers genuine choice, and in the long run I'm certain it would increase the markets for eco-friendly and harm-free natural products.
ZH: How do you protect your mind/body/spirit from the degree of man's inhumanity towards man and nature that you witness out there on the front-lines?
TS: While there are some terribly harsh realities in the world -- caused both by humankind and by nature -- the resilience of the human spirit is always remarkable and inspiring. For every harmful deed there are many more acts of compassion, and ultimately this supports my continued faith in human nature.
ZH: I'm looking forward to watching your new yoga, Pilates and dance workout DVDs. How does staying healthy, strong and vibrant support your work?
TS: Staying fit is vitally important to me. Good nutrition is the cornerstone of good health, mental clarity and high energy levels, and I'm passionate about the value of organic food. Exercise is another key ingredient -- I work out most days and the time I spend on staying strong and mobile pays back dividends in terms of my energy, how much I can get done every day, and my quality of life.
ZOE HELENE is a visionary artist/activist. She is deeply committed to the arts and archetypes, wilderness and wildlife, women's rights, and the rights of children--who are stewards of the future. Zoe feels strongly that there can be no true sustainability without a civilized gender balance of power, worldwide. Towards this end, she is busy developing Cosmic Sister, a collective venue connecting kindred spirit women on the path. Zoe has 20+ years of interactive, integrated and converging media leadership experience in Digital Revolution. She is married to ethonobotanist Chris Kilham, who she works and travels with extensively, exploring remote regions of the globe working to promote medicinal plants, environmental protection, and cultural preservation. Zoe is also the Style and Sustainability Correspondent for Organic Spa Magazine, which is where this interview was originally published.