Shailene Woodley is a force of nature in Hollywood starring in hit shows like Big Little Lies, and box-office smashes like Divergent. But what the actress wants more than anything is to be a force of change for nature.
The 27-year-old has been outspoken about many environmental issues over the years and recently partnered with American Express to launch the #BackOurOceans initiative with Parley for the Oceans that focuses on protecting our oceans and sparking a global conversation about the harmful effects of single-use plastics. Woodley opened up to Gotham as part of the campaign to reveal how she's "not perfect" when it comes to living a sustainable life and how we can all do more.
Obviously, you've been very outspoken about protecting the environment. But why was this partnership with American Express important to you?
SHAILENE WOODLEY: First is important to me because it's important to show that we all have like the stakes in the game. Corporations have a responsibility and can be leaders and innovators in this space. And that as consumers or advocates, we have the power to partner with particular corporations and uplift their voice and explain why we all have a piece of this puzzle and how important each of our voices are also is really exciting.
Where did this passion for ocean conservation come from?
SW: I have always cared about our earth, and I don't really know why. I guess I find it to be the most neutral listener there is out there. I feel like the earth is neither for you or against you. It just is. And there's a presence, but that's hard to ignore. So, for me, it's always been a place of refuge, a place of safety, a place of learning, and growth and wisdom. And I feel like there's a disconnection between human beings and nature. We'll talk about it as if it's something that's outside of ourselves, that we are not nature. But we are.
How do you incorporate honoring the planet into your daily life?
SW: Everything I do has a certain mindfulness to it. The beautiful thing about this work is once you know, you can't unknow. You can try all day long to ignore the fact that you're drinking out of a plastic water bottle, but your conscious is going to nag at you until you decide to get rid of that plastic water bottle. I'm not perfect. I still use single-use plastics, probably three or four times a day in my daily lifestyle. It's really difficult right now to eliminate it altogether because there aren't a lot of alternatives available at the moment. But the more awareness that's created, the more that we have these conversations, the more we all come together to collaborate and discuss this issue, then inevitably innovations will be made that will provide us with the opportunity to endorse and financially support companies that are making a difference with the products that they choose to deliver to consumers.
Now, you mentioned that you do spend pretty much your entire life on the road, and sustainable travel is a very hot topic right now. How do you travel responsibly?
SW: Yes, I'm contributing to the fossil fuel industry with the amount of airline travel that I do. I try to be as carbon neutral as possible. There's a lot of organizations that you can go to, and you can pay to offset your carbon footprint. And I also do a lot of work when it comes to planting trees. I think we don't emphasize that enough that planting trees makes such a difference for this planet and also helping to restore mangroves. But for me, it's all about like what are the organizations that are doing to work on the ground to offset our carbon footprint.
Is there something in your mind that stands out above other environmental issues that we should be doing?
SW: I think it's innovation, to be honest. Some of our products are a little bit archaic in a sense that we know they don't work, but we're continuing to perpetuate them. Like they might work for the sake of convenience, but they're not working for the sake of sustainability. Where are the new products that will replace plastics? Where are our new products for paper? So where are the innovators? They all exist. It's just a matter of getting kind of the right resources and money and power behind them—even meat replacement. I'm not vegan or vegetarian, but when it comes to meat consumption, a lot of deforestation is to create cattle farms. So how do we, as a corporate society, talk about cutting down our meat consumption?
You're a role model for a young generation that could be those next innovators. Do you find that's an important role given your position?
SW: I don't do it for any other reason than I want to have babies and I can't bring them into the world the way that it is right now. So, I'm going to work my ass off every day to change things.
Photography by: Matteo Prandoni/BFA.com