Pure Earth President Richard Fuller, an Aussie based in New York, was recently recognized with the prestigious Order of Australia Medal for his service to conservation and the environment.
“…my hope is that this recognition brings more attention to the global pollution crisis that is taking 9 million lives every year, and disabling millions more.” — Richard Fuller
For more than two decades, Richard’s singular focus has been on the growing pollution crisis. He established Pure Earth to conduct cleanups, formed global partnerships to scale up projects, gathered scientific data to support action on policy, and along the way, he assembled a passionate army of pollution fighters around the world.
“He would speak to anyone who would listen. On the street, in the elevator, at every conference. If you’re working in any field related to the environment and health, you will have probably crossed paths with him, and you will remember him. He’s the one armed with a mountain of pollution data and facts, as well as actual solutions that he can point to with examples–the poison town in Kenya, the school in Colombia where every child has high levels of lead, the town in Kyrgyzstan where mercury was being piped into every field and home through a contaminated irrigation canal. If you want to know how to solve pollution problems, ask Richard Fuller.” — Karti Sandilya, former North American representative of the Asian Development Bank, current Senior Advisor at Pure Earth.
Last year, as co-chair of the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, Richard succeeded in pushing the urgent message of pollution’s toll out to over 2 billion people worldwide through news reports as well as in personal presentations at high-level gatherings at the World Bank, the U.N., and the World Economic Forum in Davos (see video below).
“It is no exaggeration to say that Richard was instrumental in embedding pollution remediation as an integral part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals… If countries are able, by 2030, to substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses’ caused by pollution, we will all owe a big debt to Richard Fuller.” — Jairam Ramesh, Member of the Upper House of the Indian Parliament.
A “Forgotten” Crisis
Of the $390 billion in global philanthropy, only $70 million is directed at pollution, even though the death toll from pollution is 3x more than AIDS, TB and malaria combined, and 15x the toll from violence and all forms of wars. As polluting industries were off-shored to poorer countries, pollution became viewed almost as a thing of the past, with the exception of disasters.
“When I was growing up in Melbourne, I remembered learning about pollution. But in the intervening years, that awareness about pollution diminished.” — Richard Fuller
By the late 1980s, with much of the industrial pollution crisis under control in wealthy countries, the conversation turned to the hole in the ozone, biodiversity, population growth, then climate change and sustainability. It was during this period that Richard arrived in New York as a young entrepreneur and environmentalist to launch Great Forest, one of the first companies aimed at helping businesses go green.
With the success of Great Forest, Richard realized he could make a bigger contribution to environmental progress. He invited friends from around the globe to a virtual think tank. The challenge? To identify a major environmental problem that was causing great harm, but was not being addressed. It soon became clear to the group that rapid industrialization in the developing world was causing disease and death. He saw it hitting babies and young children the hardest. Richard and his childhood pal traveled through Southeast Asia, organized a few cleanups with simple, low-cost interventions, and launched Pure Earth (then called the Blacksmith Institute) with profits from Great Forest.
He has not looked back.
“Today, 92% of deaths from pollution occur in low and middle-income countries, but we are affected too. Pollution travels. And as we see, pollution can come back. The problems in Flint are just the tip of the iceberg. But the good news is that we know how to clean it up. We’ve done it before, and we can do it again, in the U.S., and around the world.” — Richard Fuller
“It takes a particular kind of environmentalist to make his life’s mission ‘brown’ problems in the global south, rather than green ones in the north… Glamorous work it isn’t, but the impact of Fuller, and those whom he has inspired, on some of the world’s worst pollution problems has been simply incredible.” — Gareth Evans, former Foreign Minister of Australia and of the International Crisis Group.
Pure Earth would like to thank Australia for the recognition, and friends and colleagues around the world for their continued support. Together we can beat pollution.