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Heroines for the Planet: Laura Turner Seydel

May 31, 2011

Laura Turner Seydel is one of the most powerful women in the environmental movement. I’ve been fascinated by Laura’s work for years now, so I was honored and thrilled for a chance to interview her, to say the least. Ironically, one of my favorite shows as a kid was Captain Planeta show which Laura’s father, Ted Turner, created. That show opened my eyes as a young child, and now Laura inspires me as she carries on her family’s dedication to eco-activism.

Her environmental work is simply a way of life for Laura and her family. Her Father passed down a deep love and appreciation for nature to Laura at a young age, which she and her husband, Rutherford, have instilled in their three children.

Outside of her home in Atlanta (which is LEED-certified, of course), Laura takes a hands-on approach to tackling eco-issues. She’s the Chairwoman of the Captain Planet Foundation, which promotes environmental education and gardens in schools, and Zero Waste Zone-Downtown Atlanta. She co-founded Mothers and Others for Clean Air, an organization which raises awareness about the link between asthma and air pollution. And she and her husband together created the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Fund, an environmental advocacy group that works to raise public awareness of issues related to the Chattahoochee River and secure measurable improvements in its health.

Laura’s work doesn’t end there. She’s equally passionate about keeping toxic chemicals out of consumer products. She works with the Environmental Working Group and the EPA to protect and inform the public about toxins and pollution. She also serves on boards including The Turner Foundation, Jane Smith Turner Foundation, the Turner Endangered Species Fund, the League of Conservation Voters, the Defenders of Wildlife, and the Waterkeeper Alliance.

I asked Laura about her tireless environmental efforts, her family and her thoughts on FOX, and she shared some of her favorite all-natural products!

Lindsay: Environmentalism seems to be at the root of your every endeavor. I’ve read that your father, Ted Turner, raised you to be very close to nature from a young age.  How did your experiences as a young girl mold you into the ardent environmentalist that you are today?

Laura: It was a natural progression. Growing up, our lifestyle was centered on environmental issues. We would pick up trash along the road, keep our thermostat at an energy-efficient temperature, and spent time in nature. It is something I still instill in my kids today. For example, when we go to the beach, we spend time picking up trash along the shore. I realized how important it is to protect our natural resources so our children will have them in the future.

Lindsay: You and your brothers and sisters are all passionate about environmental causes and extremely active with the Turner Foundation. What has that experience been like for you working so closely with your siblings?  In your opinion, what has been the foundation’s greatest achievement?

 Laura: The foundation’s greatest achievement was that it brought our family together in unified and powerful way, so each member could have bigger impact with our combined philanthropy. We have had major successes in the innovative grants that we have given and through our work with sustainability projects with the National Restaurant Association, Energy Future Coalition and the Conservation Alliance.

Lindsay: The Captain Planet Foundation’s mission is to support environmental projects for children. What advice do you have for parents to get their children interested in the environment? Are your own children budding environmentalists?

Laura: At the Captain Planet Foundation, we promote environmental education and gardens in schools. As parents there are many things we can do to encourage our children to protect the environment. Get your children outdoors as much as possible. Take them to the local park and get them exploring and learning in a hands-on way. You can also plant a fruit and vegetable garden with your children. Kids love to eat the food they grow, which in turn promotes good nutrition and teaches them about the earth.

My kids are definitely budding environmentalists. When my son was home on spring break, he volunteered for the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper program and went out on river and did water testing and monitoring. He loves the Environmental Systems course at school in Toronto. My daughter wrote a book when she was nine years old about frogs, the challenges amphibians face related to global warming and the fungus that is killing them off.

Lindsay: Can you tell us about some of the work you’ve done to keep toxic chemicals out of consumer products? It’s frightening that companies are able to sell such products, isn’t it?

Laura: It certainly is frightening. I work with the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which was formed to protect people from toxic chemicals in our food, water, air and the products we use everyday. I also work with EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson to educate the public on health threats from pollution.

One easy way to find out if the products you are using are safe is to visit the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. Women make 85 percent of consumption choices. By making good decisions on the food, clothing and products we buy, we are voting with our checkbooks and letting companies know that we will not stand for toxic chemicals in our products.

Lindsay: What are a few of your favorite all-natural beauty products?

Laura: I have quite a few! I absolutely love the line Skin Essentials by Amina, which is made with organic ingredients. For hair care products, I use Aveda and John Masters Organics.

When I get my hair colored, I make sure my stylist uses environmentally-friendly products. For toothpaste, I love the JASON brand without fluoride.

Lindsay: Do you feel that mainstream media censors coverage of environmental issues? Is Fox News good for America?

Laura: As more research comes out showing the direct link between health problems and the environment, we are seeing more media coverage. The May issue Glamour magazine ran a feature story that quoted Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, about health risks from the cosmetics and products we encounter every day. Sanjay Gupta recently hosted a two-part segment on CNN called “Toxic America,” which investigated the environment’s effects on our health. Our job from the environmental side is to help people understand that their daily life support systems are under attack and we must all work together to get that message out.

I think that Fox News needs to do a better job of telling both sides of the story when it comes to health and the environment.

Lindsay: Americans by and large seem more interested in Real Housewives of Beverly Hills than learning about pressing environmental matters that will affect their children.  Is there a solution?

Laura: It is so important to realize that what we do today – recycling, choosing environmentally-friendly products and reducing our energy consumption – affects our children tomorrow. We should all care about environmental matters because they will affect our children and our children’s children long after we are gone.

Lindsay: You live in the first LEED-certified house in the southeast which is aptly named EcoManor. Do you have a favorite part of the house?

Laura: My favorite part of my house is my vegetable garden. We grow vegetables, herbs and fruits, and have a compost pile and worm hotel. It’s a great way for the whole family to spend time together and we always have fresh, nutritious produce.

Lindsay: You don’t seem to ever stop, Laura! What’s up next for you?

Laura: This fall I will be traveling to Ghana to meet with their chapter of the Captain Planet Foundation and its planeteers (young environmental activists), as well as government officials, to discuss environmental issues in their country. I am inspired and encouraged by everything these planeteers and leaders are doing to protect the environment in their country. Protecting the environment is certainly a global issue and we all need to work together if we want to achieve results.

Lindsay: Many thanks for your time, Laura.

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