Rainforest Crusader Sting Talks His Daughter's Role in the North Dakota Pipeline Protests

Courtesy of The Rainforest Fund
Sting and Chief Raoni of The Rainforest Fund in 2009. 

Billboard’s Philanthropy Issue: Inside How the Music Industry Gives Back

Other stars may catch fire and flame out, but Sting, 65, prefers to keep his life permanently on simmer. That goes for his nearly 40 years as a recording artist and performer, and also for his work as an activist and a philanthropist. In 1989, he and his wife, Trudie Styler, met Chief Raoni, leader of the Kayapo people of Brazil, who inspired them to focus much of their lives and resources on preserving the rain forests.

Their Rainforest Foundation has come to dominate international conservation efforts in jungles throughout the world. The 17th annual benefit concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall -- which in past years has featured performances by Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga and Elton John -- is scheduled for Dec. 14. Sting’s new album, 57th & 9th, will be released on Nov. 11.

Celebrities are sometimes considered dilettantes when it comes to philanthropy. What have you done differently?
We’ve always been very focused. We weren’t trying to save the entire planet. The way the foundation was set up was to protect people’s human rights, and an effect of that is to protect their ancient lands.

What are some ways you have been able to remain focused on your mission?
It’s very specific, like creating a legal infrastructure around a tribe or preventing illegal pipelines from being laid. They’re achievable, measurable goals.

You have known Bill and Hillary Clinton for a long time, and you have said that you admire the former ­president’s approach to ­philanthropy. What is your most powerful memory of him?
Trudie and I ran into him in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami. He was actually with George Bush Sr., doing a tour of the countries that had been hit, and we asked him to step in to get some relief goods off the dock where they were held up in paperwork. There is nothing quite like watching him do his thing. He just launches into action, and it’s magic.

Should leaders be judged by their philanthropy?
I can’t help but judge the Clintons partly by their philanthropy, the way they are so driven by that. And I judge the other side by, well, frankly, the lack of it. It’s a measure of character, plain and simple.

Have your six children inherited your philanthropic bent?
Yes. We didn’t encourage or discourage it. My daughter is involved right now in organizing protests in North Dakota against the pipeline there. She didn’t consult with us.

To help support the organization, go to rainforestfund.org.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 5 issue of Billboard.