Meet The Extraordinarily Wealthy Who’ve Pledged To Protect Our Earth

Started by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, The Giving Pledge was an open invitation to the world’s wealthiest to publicly commit the bulk of their wealth to philanthropy. This Earth Day, we look at some of those 220 signatories benefitting the environment.

Sir Richard Branson and wife, Joan, attend the ceremony honoring him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2018.
Image: Getty Images

01 | Richard and Joan Branson

‘Stuff’ really is not what brings happiness. Family, friends, good health and the satisfaction that comes from making a positive difference are what really matters.”

Now that Richard Branson has delegated the management of Virgin Group, he spends 80 percent of his time working with Virgin Unite and other partners to create not-for-profit enterprises to tackle global issues. In response to the United Nations Climate Change Conference, Branson and a group of like-minded entrepreneurs founded Carbon War Room (CWR) as a global non-profit in 2009 to accelerate the adoption of business solutions in shipping, buildings, aviation, and other sectors to advance a low-carbon economy.

In 2014, 12 Caribbean nations agreed to collaborate with CWR to reduce their use of imported fossil fuels. That same year, Carbon War Room merged into Rocky Mountain Institute to move more quickly to transform global energy use. Branson’s work with WildAid, part of the Gaia Rocks campaign, is preventing poaching of rhinos in Africa and whale sharks in the Caribbean, among many other endangered species.

Paul G. Allen at the UCLA Institute Of The Environment And Sustainability Celebrates Innovators For A Healthy Planet in 2017.
Image: Getty Images/Todd Williamson

02 | Paul G. Allen

By dedicating resources that can help some of the world’s most creative thinkers accelerate discovery, I hope to serve as a catalyst for progress — in large part by encouraging closer collaboration and challenging conventional thinking. When smart people work together with vision and determination, there is little we can’t accomplish.”

During his lifetime, the late Paul G. Allen (an early technologist and co-founder of Microsoft) worked to tackle climate change and save Earth’s most iconic species from extinction, protect the biodiversity of the world’s ecosystems, and restore our oceans to health — a legacy that lives on through the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. Its Oceans programme funds research into the health of southern resident killer whales, and sharks, rays, and coral reefs around the world.

The Foundation funds an autonomous network of long-endurance robots that explore below the Antarctic ice to collect critical data to better understand ice-sheet contributions to sea levels, and is also a Global Alliance Founding Partner of The Earthshot Prize, launched by Prince William. The initiative will award five £1 million grants to “Earthshots”— simple yet ambitious goals for our planet — per year for the next ten years. The first will be announced in London later this year.

Jack and Laura Dangermond, with National Audubon Society president and CEO David Yarnold (right) attend the National Audubon Society Annual Gala in 2015, where the couple were presented with the Audubon Medal
Image: Getty Images/D Dipasupil/FilmMagic

03 | Jack and Laura Dangermond

Our sense is this is making an enormous difference in issues ranging from climate change and natural resource management, to urban and regional planning, transportation, security and human health.”

In 1969, environmental scientist Jack Dangermond and his wife, Laura, created Esri to use computer mapping and spatial analysis to tackle geographic problems. As of last year, Esri was the largest geographic information systems (GIS) software developer in the world.

Esri’s ArcGIS platform provides data and analytics so that informed conservation plans can be developed and executed to protect complicated biodiverse environments. Using Esri technology to collect and manage its data, the National Audubon Society, an American non-profit environmental organisation dedicated to conservation of birds and their habitat, completed a comprehensive survey of protected bird species in the state of Washington.

Kjell Inge Røkke’s REV Ocean is a not-for-profit with one overarching purpose and ambition: To make the ocean healthy again. It is one of four foundations that came together in this video support for the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030). Video: Rev Ocean/YouTube

04 | Anne Grete Eidsvig and Kjell Inge Røkke

Ten years ago, we as a family reached the conclusion that our assets…are not ‘only ours for the keeping’. We decided to give most of it to the causes our family believes can make the planet a more sustainable and fairer place to live.”

Shortly after signing the Pledge in 2017, Kjell Inge Røkke founded REV Ocean, a not-for-profit organisation and namesake expedition yacht that share a single overarching mission: to make the world’s oceans healthy again through multidisciplinary initiatives to remedy plastic pollution, climate change and ocean acidification, and the environmental impacts of fishing and overfishing.

When it launches in late 2022 or 2023, the 183-m-long REV Ocean will be the largest superyacht cruising the world’s oceans, operating in partnership with the UN Environment Programme and WWF Norway and be available for research and expedition sailings with priority given to young, unestablished scientists. Røkke’s company AKER and the REV Ocean organisation will also build a landmark, lighthouse-inspired building in Oslo to house World Ocean Headquarters, a hub that will gather governments, the private sector, academia and civil society to protect and restore the health of the ocean and ensure its resources are used sustainably.

Jeremy and Hanne Grantham attend The Nature Conservancy 2016 Gala.
Image: Getty Images/Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan

05 | Jeremy and Hanne Grantham

We should view our efforts on climate change and toxicity not as philanthropy but as vital investments in our grandchildren, in our civilization, in the pleasant world we inherited and appear to be throwing away, and in our very survival as a species.”

Investor Jeremy Grantham, British-born co-founder of investment management firm Grantham Mayo Van Otterloo (GMO), decided to donate 98 percent of his net worth, or about US$1 billion, to addressing the effects of global environmental degradation and climate change through various organisations, including the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment and groups at UK universities. Grantham aims to tackle the collapse of biodiversity as a result of human development, choosing to focus in his Pledge on the perils of deforestation, intense monoculture and chemical pesticides.

David Rockefeller Sr (middle) with conservationist and filmmaker Susan Rockefeller and fashion designer Ariana Rockefeller at the 2016 Museum of Modern Art Party in New York City.
Image: Getty Images/Neilson Barnard

06 | David Rockefeller

Our family continues to be united in the belief that those who have benefited the most from our nation’s economic system have a special responsibility to give back to our society in meaningful ways.”

Since 2006, the Environmental programme of the Rockefeller Family Foundation (RFF) has focused on climate change, particularly public education on the risks of global warming and how to solve it. As a result, RFF’s initiatives aim to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and how they are mined and transported, and US policies to reduce carbon emissions. RFF also offers a platform for passionate new voices on the climate problem and to shed light on the corruption of science by large companies which continue to benefit from the harmful status quo.

In 2010, when Rockefeller signed the Pledge, he doubled down on his work, addressing critical global challenges including poverty, sustainable development, and environmental degradation. He passed on at the extraordinary age of 101 in 2017.

Real estate mogul Marcel Arsenault, founder of Real Capital Solutions, is also co-founder of One Earth Future, the Arsenault Family Foundation and the Secure World Foundation.
Image: Getty Images/Cyrus McCrimmon/Denver Post

And beyond Earth….

07 | Marcel Arsenault and Cynda Collins Arsenault

In the wrong hands, money can lead to destructive ends. We view our money as an obligation and a tool to accelerate a more peaceful world for humanity.”

The Arsenaults’ commitment to safeguarding our home for future generations extends to the space around it: part of their contribution goes towards funding the Secure World Foundation (SWF), which works with governments, international organisations and industry to develop sustainable, secure, peaceful uses of outer space.

As a growing number of agents look to outer space to further their socioeconomic and national security goals, the Earth’s atmosphere is becoming crowded with debris and the cost of using space is increasing — both of which have negative implications for ongoing scientific exploration, observation and telecommunications.

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