Rock the Earth is pleased to present the recipients of the 11th annual Planet Defender Awards. The Planet Defender Awards pay tribute to the exceptional individuals and groups that work to protect the earth, and in doing so, inspire others to do the same. The awards recognize the work of people in three categories: artist, community leader, and grassroots activist. This year we also recognize a special lifetime achievement Planet Defender Award.

The 2016 Planet Defender Award winners are:

– Artist: Leonardo DiCaprio

– Community Leader: Tom Szaky

– Grassroots Activist: Dianna Cohen

– Lifetime Achievement: Marc Ross

Planet Defender – Artist: Leonardo DiCaprioleo-1030x782

Actor, producer and writer Leonardo DiCaprio founded the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) in 1998. The Foundation believes that, “we can create a world where both nature and humanity can coexist in harmony.” (

LDF focuses on four areas: protecting diversity, oceans conservation, wildlands conservation, and climate change. DiCaprio has devoted his massive social media profile (over 37 million followers) to bring awareness to these critical issues.

Leonardo DiCaprio has a long and respected record of environmental/wildlife advocacy, which is reflected in the closing words of his 2016 Oscar acceptance speech:

“Making The Revenant was about man’s relationship to the natural world. A world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history. Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow. Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this. For our children’s children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed. I thank you all for this amazing award tonight. Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted…”

Planet Defender – Community Leader: Tom Szaky

TomSzaky_m_0801.jpg.653x0_q80_crop-smartAs founder and CEO of TerraCycle, Tom Szaky has been on a mission to compost, fertilize and upcycle for the past 15 years.  TerraCycle was formed in 2001 in the Princeton dorm room of Tom Szaky.

TerraCycle, based in New Jersey, first made its name by using worms to compost organic waste and turning that compost into liquid fertilizer. The fertilizer was packed into recycled plastic bottles and branded as “Waste in Waste.” Waste in Waste expanded into local schools and organizations, and was dubbed the “Bottle Brigade.” Additionally, the Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo gave TerraCycle license to repurpose their products.

Since then, TerraCycle has become a global leader in recycling hard-to-recycle waste, and offers a range of free programs funded by conscientious companies, as well as recycling solutions available for purchase for almost every form of waste.

More recently, TerraCycle has been partnering with municipalities for zero-waste solutions, including the recycling of cigarette butts, and is also partnering with manufacturing facilities around the world to help recycle waste at the facility level.

Over the last 15 years, Szaky and TerraCycle have been a true driving force behind  educating the public about the value of conservation through compost and upcycling.

“It’s an honor to be selected as this year’s community leader recipient,” said Tom Szaky. “Without our community volunteers around the world, TerraCycle wouldn’t be able to recycle the amount of material it does. It’s those teachers, students, parents, individuals, office managers and more who help us reduce what gets sent to the landfill or incinerator.”

Planet Defender – Grassroots Activist:  Dianna Cohen

27153_web.ns_.1.4.cohen_.pica_In a world being inundated by unbiodegradable trash, artist-advocate and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC) Dianna Cohen has had successful advances with education, advocacy, and citizen mobilization to reduce/refuse the use of single-use plastics (SUP’s).

Cohen has been collecting plastics and creating art installations to shine a spotlight on plastic pollution in our oceans since the 1980s

In addition to her work with PPC, Cohen works to create Plastic Free Schools, hosts international Sea Change Youth Summits, and helped create Refill Revolution in collaboration with Bonnaroo & Steelys. Cohen’s connections with the music industry have allowed her to obtain pledges from a variety of artists to engage in plastic free touring. A plastic-free tour refuses plastics in all aspects of touring and performing. Artists that have pledged to go plastic free include: Jackson Browne, Jack Johnson, Bonnie Raitt, David Crosby, Dawes, Shawn Colvin, and many more.

Cohen’s dedication to educating the public about SUP’s over the last 25 years has had a significant impact on the way many people think about and use (or refuse) plastic products.

Planet Defender – Lifetime Achievement Award:  Marc Ross

Marc-Ross-e1409944693777Founder of Rock the Earth, Marc Ross is both an avid music fan and environmental attorney and has lived at the logical intersection between music and conservation for over 14 years. Since its inception, Rock the Earth has championed dozens of issues, protecting natural resources and public lands around the world. Ross established partnerships with some of the biggest names in music, drawing attention to important issues while also showing artists how to leverage their public platforms for good.

During his tenure with Rock the Earth, Marc was instrumental in halting unsustainable drilling on 55,000 acres of public lands on Colorado’s Roan Plateau by bringing a successful lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management in federal court; stopping the development of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) refinery in Australia’s Kimberley region through submission of more than 1,200 letters to Chevron in collaboration with John Butler; protecting Browns Canyon as a National Monument (on February 19, 2015, President Obama declared Browns Canyon a federally and permanently protected National Monument), and has had many, many more victories.

Marc is a contributing author to the Huffington Post, most recently with an article on “Water Wars.” He is also the recipient of an E-Cheivement Award and a Mimi Fishman Foundation Community Service Award. Marc lives in Denver with his family and continues his support for Rock the Earth and environmental advocacy generally. Rock the Earth is thrilled to bestow upon Marc the 2016 Rock the Earth – Planet Defender Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I am incredibly honored and humbled to accept this Lifetime Planet Defender Award from the organization that means more to me than any other. But make no mistake about it — this is really an award that I accept on behalf of the hundreds of volunteers who have worked tirelessly to propel Rock the Earth forward, into being the leading environmental advocacy organization working with the music community. I am grateful for this award and recognition.”