Robert Redford–Shining Star for the Environment
This past October, Robert Redford was made a knight in the Legion of Honor, France’s highest cultural honor. The elite recognition of merit commemorates not only military, but also cultural, scientific, or social contributions of people from any nationality. In a ceremony at the Paris presidential palace, French President Nicolas Sarkozy pinned a red-ribbon medal on the 74-year-old actor, director, and environmentalist. Redford was recognized for both his lengthy film career and for his loyal efforts to protect the environment. Sarkozy said, “You are the incarnation of the United States and all that the country represents…We need friends like you who have the courage to try to wake up people’s consciousness…May your shining star continue to inspire through both your talented cinematic artistry and noble works in preserving the environment.”
Redford has indeed shone and ridden valiantly through the fields of entertainment. Many think of him as “The Sundance Kid,” from his breakthrough role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969, alongside beloved friend Paul Newman. Four years later, Redford became the number one box office actor in The Way We Were and The Sting.
He began his directorial debut in 1980 with Ordinary People, which won him an Academy Award for Best Director. Redford was nominated for many more Academy Awards and received dozens of other prestigious awards during his career that has spanned over four decades and continues.
What Redford has given back to the film industry is equally as impressive as what his world audience has received. In 2002, he won an Honorary Award at the Oscars not only for his many roles as actor, director, and producer, but also as founder and president of the inspirational Sundance Institute and Sundance Film Festival in the mountains of Utah.
Founded in 1981, Sundance Institute has been the majestic landscape and creative playground for innumerable new voices and new stories in the world of independent film, theater and the musical arts. Sundance offers workshops, labs, fellowships and mentoring support in everything from documentary film to The Native American and Indigenous Program. The Sundance Film Festival is one of the most famous film festivals in the world, and has catapulted artists and their stories from mere creative genius to winning at the Oscars.
Even at Sundance, Redford is clean and green from his choice of cars to the Film Festival’s efforts of walking paths, shuttles, and recycling. They even have reminders to lower the thermostat and turn off the lights when guests leave their festival accommodations.
As a young boy, Redford enjoyed the ocean and the Sierras, and worked at Yosemite National Park where he became awed at the beauty of nature. In an interview with Bob Edwards, Redford said, “I got exposed to some of the most majestic power I had ever experienced—it was real, it was live…I think that’s where it started. I became very active in 1969. In the earlier years, there was not a big population of environmental activists, so you were up against tremendous odds.
Redford has spoken on behalf of nature for his entire adult life, calling on both those in government and the American people to embrace a future with clean energy. As a filmmaker, he produced films as far back as 1979 to bring attention to conservation, such as The Solar Film, which was nominated for an Academy Award. More recently, he has brought attention to our nation’s dependency on oil and reminded us of our right to maintain nationally preserved land.
Redford is on the Board of Trustees of the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an organization dedicated to solving the most challenging environmental issues. Redford explained that he needed to consolidate his energies behind a group that he believed had the most power—and that was NRDC because they had the power to go to court. Along with members of congress, NRDC and other preservation groups, Redford used his voice to halt the Bureau of Land Management from auctioning and leasing over 100,000 acres of Utah wilderness to gas and oil companies in 2009, during the final days of the Bush administration. In a discussion with Bob Edwards, Redford adamantly stated, “That land is public land. It does not belong to this administration or the last one. It belongs to us.”
Redford wrote the forward to A Force for Nature: The Story of NRDC and the Fight to Save Our Planet (Chronicle Books, 2010), authored by environmentalist and founder of NRDC John Adams and his wife, Patricia Adams. Redford volunteered his time and expertise to launching NRDC’s film and video products. He has been the narrator for numerous NRDC videos including recently produced, The Fix: Robert Redford Reflects on the Gulf Oil Disaster.
In narrating The Fix, Redford says of the disaster, “…what can’t be disguised are the consequences…eleven people were killed…the economic consequences are going to spread…maybe we needed it to be that bad to put pressure on the government…when I hear Chevron say, ‘we’re in the human energy business,’ I want to throw up. When BP…put millions of dollars to pull the wool over our eyes, it’s about time to cut all that!”
A prolific writer on such topics as conservationism and renewable resources at progressive news website, The Huffington Post, his voice echoes again and again the notion that we have a legacy to pass down to our children and our children’s children as their birthright. In a December 2008 post, Redford writes, “You can’t put a price on silence or solitude. You can’t quantify the beauty of wilderness.”
The sheer number and prestige of organizations that have recognized Redford’s extraordinary contribution to the environment are as impressive as those who have honored his involvement in cinema. In 1987, he won the United Nations Global 500 Award; in 1997, he received the National Medal for the Arts by President Clinton; in 1989, it was the Audubon Medal Award. Time magazine named Redford a “Hero of the Environment” in 2007. Redford was presented with the ROBIE Humanitarian Award at the 2009 Jackie Robinson Foundation awards ceremony, an honor bestowed upon recipients who use their talents for creating a better world. Also in 2009, Redford was the first-ever recipient of the Duke LEAF (Lifetime Environmental Achievement in the Fine Arts) awarded to “an artist whose work has lifted the human spirit by conveying our profound spiritual and material connection to the Earth, thereby inspiring others to help forge a more sustainable future for all.”
His latest vision, inspired by Redford and his children James, Shauna, and Amy, and opened in 2009, is the Redford Center in Berkeley, CA. According to their website, they are “a group driven by creative innovation and social activism…the professional staff seeks to shape programs that inspire hope and deepen commitments to social issues.” Events include topics such as Greening America’s Schools and The Art of Activism with Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker. Redford is quoted on this creative and inspiring site, “We can’t expect to create the change we seek, if we aren’t living as part of the solution.”
Living the solution with deep compassion and a voice of determined justice, Redford is truly a national treasure, acting on behalf of what he considers our country’s sacred natural treasures. Life-long friend, fellow actor, director and producer Sydney Pollack once said of Redford, “He’s probably the closest we have in this country to royalty.” A humble and private knight, Redford receives his recognitions graciously with the hope that they garner more attention and action toward saving and protecting what he holds most dear, his Queen, Nature herself.