Goldman Environmental Prize reaches 25-year milestone

The Goldman Environmental Prize — which annually hands out six $150,000 awards to environmental heroes from around the globe — celebrated its 25th anniversary on April 28 by feting the 2014 winners at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco.

“The future is something that is headed toward peril if we don’t come together to change the course of human behavior,” Douglas Goldman, vice president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, said in an interview before the prizes were announced. “This prize specifically is awarding people who have done extraordinary things to change that direction.”

Founded in 1990 by Bay Area philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman, the foundation is now run by their three children: Bay Area philanthropists Douglas and John Goldman and their sister, Susie Gellman, a philanthropist based in the Washington, D.C., area.

Rhoda Goldman died in 1996; her husband, Richard, died in 2010.

“Our parents were lovers of nature and our mother was ahead of her time,” John Goldman said in March at a Commonwealth Club event commemorating the prize’s 25-year history. “Our mom coined [the term] recycling before it was popular.”

The announcement of the Goldman Environmental Prize winners takes place every year around Earth Day on April 22.

“My siblings and I were involved with the prize from day one,” Douglas Goldman said. “It is such a huge part of our family — not just a legacy from our parents, but also an integral part of what our family is.”

He also noted that the prize is grounded in the Jewish values of tzedakah and tikkun olam. He said the prize recognizes activists who are working to implement both values.  “[The recipients] are making the world a better place, and they reflect our shared responsibility to repair and indeed transform the world, making it a better place for everyone,” he said.

The 2014 recipients: Suren Gazaryan, who organized protests against illegal construction and logging in the Krasnodar region in Russia; Ruth Buendia Mestoquiari, who fought dam building in Peru; biologist Rudi Putra of Indonesia, who fought deforestation and illegal palm oil plantations; Desmond D’sa,  who co-founded the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and shut down a toxic waste dump; India’s Ramesh Agrawal, who informed villagers about industrial development projects and helped shut down a large coal mines; and New York attorney Helen Slottje, an anti-fracking activist.

The winners were to attend an April 30 ceremony in Washington, D.C., and also will be recognized at a congressional lunch on Saturday, May 3.

Since the inception of the award, almost $16 million has been awarded to 157 people from 79 countries.