honoring champions of the environment

To make a difference in our planet’s health, people need to be aware of what’s happening—and what they can do about it.

But taking environmental issues to a global audience requires time, money and personal energy. At its annual gala last Thursday, UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability honored individuals who’ve made major contributions to that effort.

Former Vice President Al Gore, whose landmark film An Inconvenient Truth shed light on environmental realities, thanked the honorees. He described the moment as hopeful and urgent. “We’re winning, but it’s very important that we win faster,” Gore said.

The honorees were:

  • Ted Sarandos, industry innovator, Chief Content Officer at Netflix
  • Eric Schmidt, technology leader, Executive Chairman of Alphabet (formerly Google), mentor
  • Wendy Schmidt, environmental philanthropist, President of the Schmidt Family Foundation and founder of Schmidt Ocean Institute
  • Jeff Skoll, social catalyst, chairman of Participant Media and the Skoll Foundation

After accepting her award, Wendy Schmidt issued a call to action to the more than 400 supporters who raised a record $1.75 million for UCLA’s environmental research, education and community projects.

“The world needs leaders in this fight, and this room is filled with leaders,” she said. “It’s time. Our fate as a species depends on billions of us now making peace with the natural world we depend on each and every day.”

The event, hosted by Tony and Jeanne Pritzker at their home in Beverly Hills, highlighted UCLA’s Hollywood connection. Environmentally-committed stars including Goldie Hawn, Norman and Lyn Lear, Courteney Cox, Maria Bello and Rashida Jones all walked the red carpet.

But Jane Fonda stole the show. During the live auction, the 78-year-old showed her youthful spirit by straddling a high bidder and giving him a kiss, causing the crowd to erupt in applause and laughter. Even Al Gore was impressed. “I think the MVP of this evening is Jane Fonda, clearly,” he said.

Peter Kareiva, director of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, drew attention to UCLA students in attendance, asking them to stand for recognition.

“The students I’m working with here are the best I’ve ever worked with,” Kareiva said. “What really sets them apart is that they’re impatient. They all get off campus and solve real-world problems.”

In addition to honoring environmentalists of all ages, the event raised money for faculty and students to continue developing solutions for the future. In a surprise announcement, Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars presented Professor Thomas B. Smith with a check for $400,000 to support the Congo Basin Institute—an on-site campus in Cameroon that will train West African students to deal with climate change, disease, food and water security, and loss of biodiversity.

(Scroll down to view videos from Al Gore, Peter Kareiva and the honorees at the IoES Gala.)