Laura Turner Seydel, Trustee, Turner Foundation; Chairperson, Captain Planet Foundation

    "For a long time we have been eager for major funders to work together to support environmental education and programs that motivate kids to become agents of change."

    1. How did you become involved in philanthropy?

    My father, Ted Turner, started two foundations in 1991 — the Turner Foundation and the Captain Planet Foundation — which I have been very involved with. The Turner Foundation makes grants to environmental, conservation and women-empowerment nonprofits, and my father appointed my three brothers, my sister and me as directors. It was great having the opportunity to learn about the global challenges facing mankind and other species and then having the knowledge and the tools to really make an impact. Along the way I realized the importance of educating, inspiring, and including youth in the process of environmental stewardship. That fueled my passion and inspired my involvement with the Captain Planet Foundation. I felt the Captain Planet Foundation mission of funding grants to schools and communities to support hands-on environmental projects for children and youth around the world filled an extremely important niche. In 2001, I became board chair, and it has been a great privilege to help lead the organization. With an experienced, hard-working staff and a dedicated board, we continue to grow our reach to youth through our groundbreaking programs.

    2. What's your grantmaking strategy? What types of projects do you fund?

    The strategy at Captain Planet Foundation is to fund projects that are youth-driven, youth-performed and collaborative in nature. We want to remove barriers and help kids feel empowered so that they create real solutions for our communities and environment. A sense of urgency and engagement is critical if we want a generation of changemakers who can think critically, argue from evidence, work in collaboration and design/implement solutions

    3. Why is it so important to connect people to nature?

    Developing a sense of wonder and connection to nature, empathy for all living things, and an understanding of natural and integrated systems informs decisionmaking. Whether that decision is about personal consumption, public policies or corporate growth, the key to a livable and sustainable future is having citizens who consider impacts when making choices.

    4. How do you think Blue Sky can make these essential learning opportunities more accessible in all communities?

    Through compelling collaboration — true collaboration — between organizations. Different organizations and NGOs excel at different things. By pulling together and funding collaborations at which everyone is operating at their absolute highest capacity, we can move the needle much faster and stretch the funding dollars further.

    5. What do you value most about being in the Blue Sky community?

    That it has come to pass! For a long time we have been eager for major funders to work together to support environmental education and programs that motivate kids to become agents of change. This is a tremendous opportunity to engage the innate passion and energy of our global youth.

    6. What topics and questions are you interested in engaging with other funders about?

    I am most interested in discussing learning opportunities for youth that are tied to their K-12 educational experience; how to scale successful programs across states, regions and countries; how to collaborate in storytelling that continues to grow advocates for renewables, sustainable solutions, biodiversity and livable communities.

    7. Tell me about one or two of your favorite successful grant projects related to connecting students to nature.

    At a high school in California, a group of students studying robotics engaged in the construction of underwater robots (ROVs). But they took it a step further and fitted their finished ROVs with cameras to film pollution below the surface of the ocean. Students filmed along the coast in Orange County — before and after they helped organize an underwater cleanup event on Catalina Island. They learned how to use editing software to consolidate and organize footage captured from cleanup and awareness events. These videos are being used to empower others with understanding of ocean-related issues and steps they can take to help.

    At a high school in the San Juan Islands, Washington, students were challenged to address motor oil on roadways that was coming from increased eco-tourism. The motor oil was washing into the bay, and it was affecting keystone species, such as herring, in Puget Sound. In response, the students worked with the Kwiaht Center for the Historical Ecology of the Salish Sea to identify, collect and analyze the oil absorbency of various local mushroom species. Then they inoculated straw bales and wood chips with the most effective mushrooms to create a filtering barrier between the road and the ocean. They also designed and sold large planters to businesses downtown. These served to bring much-needed greenery to the downtown business district but, most importantly, they contained sand, rocks, plants, fungi and other natural filters to clean pollutants coming off roofs before they entered the watershed.

    Laura Turner Seydel is an international environmental advocate and eco-living expert dedicated to creating a healthy and sustainable future for our children. Laura is chairperson of 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 Board for The Turner Foundation, Environmental Working Group, League of Conservation Voters, Defenders of Wildlife, Waterkeeper Alliance, Carter Center Board of Councilors, Rotary Club of Downtown Atlanta and Advisory Board for the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. Laura lives with her husband and her three children in the first LEED certified Gold residence in the southeastern US.