Leilani Münter is a race car-driving environmental activist. Sounds unusual? It is, because she is one of a kind. After studying biology at the University of California, San Diego, this self-described “adrenaline junkie” discovered she had a knack for racing fast cars. That was the start of a new career for her, but she brought her environmental passions along for the ride.
Since her start in 2001, Leilani has had nine top 5 finishes in the male-dominated sport. Amidst competing, Leilani has been working to change the car racing industry from the inside out. In 2007, she became the first driver to neutralize her carbon footprint by adopting an acre of rainforest each time she races. In 2012 at Daytona, she spotlighted dolphin kills in Taiji, Japan with “The Cove” movie logo emblazoned on her car (she also gave away copies of the documentary to fans). Her overall goal is to green the entire enterprise by ensuring that racing stadiums are powered by renewable energy, race cars run on biofuels, and used tires are recycled. Leilani knows that some people think she’s crazy trying to change a practice that seems far from “green”, but this rallier firmly disbelieves in preaching to the choir.
“If I stopped racing, I would not take a race car off the grid. I would just be replaced by another driver. Likely one that doesn’t go out of their way to take care of the environment, is not offsetting their carbon footprint with rainforest, and is not promoting green technologies at the racetrack. I would simply lose my ability to talk to 75 million race fans about green living and hopefully win some of them over.”*
After all, Leilani asserts, “That’s how you start creating change, by having a dialogue with people who don’t agree with you.“** And she certainly has a large audience to speak to- car racing is the #1 spectator sport in the US, and the second most watched sport on television. It is a fitting place to start showcasing sustainability in the 21st century (and a burgeoning one at that: in 2010, the Pocono Raceway installed a complete 25-acre solar farm and this year, NASCAR began using 15% biofuel in its cars).
When Leilani is not advocating on the track, you can find her participating in dolphin hunt protests, lobbying Congress, or writing guest pieces for various green blogs. Food sustainability sits close to her heart, and Leilani, a vegetarian since age 6, wants people to consider their meal’s carbon footprint (she points out that “40% more greenhouse gas emissions come from raising animals for food than all the planes, trains, cars, SUVs, ships, and race cars in the world combined”). She also promotes the use of reusable shopping bags and energy efficient light bulbs and wants legislators to transition to supporting a green economy. Leilani says:
Green jobs in the form of renewable energy are waiting to be created, but we need Washington to act now to phase out the old fossil fuel economy, cut subsidies for oil and coal, and reward clean renewable energy that will create thousands of jobs here in the U.S. We need a smart grid to support electric cars, infrastructure for cars running on alternative fuels, and green buildings utilizing energy efficient systems and capturing solar and wind wherever we can and being able to send that energy captured back into the electrical grid.***
Leilani believes our continued reliance on oil poses national security issues and hopes to one day see gas stations being revamped as electric car charging stations. She knows the fight won’t be easy though…after all, she points out, “The top five oil companies spend $150 million every year on 750 full time lobbyists that live in DC working to get the laws written in their favor.”***
To learn more about Leilani (who was voted the #1 eco athlete in the world by Discovery’s Planet Green):
-visit her website (she even lists movie recommendations there!)
-read her essay “Why A Plant Based Diet Will Save the World“.
-*read the Discovery interview “Vegetarian Hippie Chick Leilani Münter Drives Change with Her Race Car“, 11/29/12.
-**read the CNN article “She’s Racing to Save the Environment“, 9/2/10.
-***read the Eco-Chick article “Heroines for the Planet: Race Car Driver & Environmental Activist Leilani Munter“, 7/1/11.