Sustainbility Column: Missing an Oscar, Winning for the Environment


Leonardo DiCaprio proves otherwise

Lindsey Sagasta, Class of 2016

If one were to ask “who is Leonardo DiCaprio?” the common response would include something along the lines of “incredible actor,” “entertainer,” “film producer” or the mind-boggling detail that he has never won an Oscar. Unfortunately, there is one significant piece of DiCaprio’s life that is overshadowed by his on-screen or behind-the-camera presence: his relationship with the environment.

When accepting his Golden Globe award in early 2016 for Best Actor for his role in The Revenant (which also won the categories Best Director and Best Drama), he stressed the importance of supporting indigenous communities and protecting the natural environment. This was not out of the ordinary for DiCaprio. In fact, for years he has been acting on his passion for environmental issues.

In 1998, he launched The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF), a non-profit focused on bringing awareness to sustainability and environmental causes across the globe. As stated on, the foundation is “dedicated to the long-term health and wellbeing of all Earth’s inhabitants.” Further, the organization has granted over $30 million to support innovative projects to “protect vulnerable wildlife from extinction, while restoring balance to threatened ecosystems and communities.”

Specifically, the organization concentrates on protecting diversity, wildlands, ocean conservation and climate change. In July 2015, the foundation’s second annual gala in St. Tropez raised an incredible $40 million for environmental preservation efforts through

auctions of luxurious items and unique experiences, such as a private concert with Elton John.

Two years after founding LDF, DiCaprio hosted an Earth Day celebration, where he interviewed former U.S. President Bill Clinton for a TV special concerning global warming. Then in 2007 he released The 11th Hour, an environmental documentary he wrote, narrated and produced. In that same year, he joined Al Gore to announce at the Academy Awards ceremony that the planning and productions processes had incorporated sustainable and mindful practices. Since LDF was established, he has served on the boards of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Geographic’s Pristine Seas and the World Wildlife Fund.     

Although an Academy Award has slipped through his grip, DiCaprio has collected awards that other actors and actresses could only dream of winning. In 2014, he was awarded the Clinton Global Citizen Award and was designated as the United Nations Messenger of Peace for Climate Change. This January, he addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and received the Crystal Award, which is given to artists and cultural leaders who are helping to combat the world’s humanitarian and environmental challenges. In his acceptance speech, he announced that LDF is donating another $15 million for projects and urged business leaders to consider global warming.

Another astounding feat for DiCaprio, which also occurred this January, was a discussion with Pope Francis in Vatican City. They talked about climate change, DiCaprio donated an undisclosed amount of money to papal charities and Pope Francis gave him a leather bound edition of his famous encyclical regarding the environment.

It’s true: Leonardo DiCaprio is more awesome than you originally thought. In a world where climate change, environmental preservation and humanitarian issues are so pressing, it is comforting to know that people such as DiCaprio are using their fame to make the world better for everyone. Fingers crossed for February 28.