When Gisele Bündchen turned 40 in July, she decided to plant 40,000 trees in honor of her birthday—a figure that soon rose to 250,000 thanks to the incredible support of her fans. It’s just the latest in a long line of eco-minded initiatives launched by the Brazilian supermodel, who has been a vocal environmental campaigner for more than a decade. Since 2009, Bündchen has been a global goodwill ambassador for the UN’s Environment Program, spoken out against the devastating impact of deforestation in the Amazon, and recently served as an executive producer on Netflix documentary Kiss the Ground.
Here, in a personal essay for Vogue, Bündchen explains why she’s determined to leave the world in a better place than when she arrived, and how everyone has their part to play when it comes to tackling the climate crisis.
Harness and protect the power of this planet
I was born feeling deeply connected to nature—it’s the place I go to recharge. I come from a small village in the south of Brazil. During school breaks, my mother used to drop me and my sisters off at my grandmother’s house. I loved visiting her because we would milk the cows in the morning, collect eggs from the chickens, and help her tend to the garden where she grew her own vegetables and herbs. My grandmother had a deep appreciation for nature and grew everything she ate—it was beautiful.
Even though I’ve had this love for nature my entire life, it wasn’t until I visited the Amazon rainforest for the first time in 2004 that I realized that, although vast, it’s so much more fragile than I thought. I spent time with the Kisêdjê tribe in the Xingu region. These incredible people are so respectful of, and in tune with, nature. They live off of nature, yet they don’t take more than they need. Still, their survival was under threat because of deforestation and mining, which was contaminating their water supply.
I felt I needed to do something to help, so I began supporting projects to help indigenous people living in the region, those who understand the value of natural resources. The only reason we’re alive is because Mother Nature is giving us everything we need to survive. What do we do? We just take. We, as humans, believe everything is here to serve us, but that’s not true. Earth is a living being. It’s important for us to understand how lucky we are that we get to live on this beautiful planet with all these incredible resources.
The reason I’m working to protect the planet is that I want to serve human survival and the health of all species. If we don’t take care of the gifts that the planet is giving us, and if we don’t live in harmony with all the different creatures on this planet, we’re going to be the ones who are gone. The planet doesn’t need us to survive—we need the planet. As humans, we need to be awakened to that.
Leaving the world in a better place
Having my own children has made my environmental work a lot more urgent. We take nothing with us, so what truly matters is what we leave behind. I want to make the world better for all children, and leave them equipped with the right tools so they can continue to enjoy all of Earth’s treasures and have a positive impact in our world.
With kids, the most important thing is to lead by example. We have a garden at home, where the kids get to see and understand how long it takes for life to grow. They learn about eating seasonally. They’ve learned that I won’t buy strawberries when they’re out of season. They know plastic is a big issue: they see it on the beach; I have shown them videos of whales being found in the ocean with plastic inside their bellies. Like me, they’ve become sensitive to these things. It’s important they understand how nature works. Once they feel the magic of nature, they’re going to love it and as a result, they’ll protect it.
Everything that I choose to do in my life and with my work ultimately has one purpose: ‘How can I leave the world a little bit better than when I arrived in it?’ I can sit here and complain about everything that’s wrong with the world, but that’s not going to change anything. If we want to change the world, we first must change ourselves.
We can all be part of the solution
On my 40th birthday in July, I decided to plant 40,000 trees and invited everyone to join in. Imagine if the seven-and-a-half billion people living on this planet planted one tiny tree in honor of their lives. Truly, we would then have seven-and-a-half billion new trees every year. In very little time, we would regenerate Earth.
This idea of regenerating Earth is also why I am involved with and executive-produced the Netflix documentary Kiss The Ground. It’s about regenerative agriculture: how do we grow food in ways that feed the soil, not just take from the soil? How can we produce food in ways that are sustainable? The idea is so inspiring and solution-driven, the movie leaves viewers feeling hopeful. It left me feeling that way.
Over the past decade, I’ve been a global goodwill ambassador to the UN’s Environment Program. During this time, I’ve learned wonderful things from wide varieties of human beings, all around the globe. It’s remarkable how these cultures overcome their challenges related to food and water, and how they innovate to arrive at sustainable solutions. It’s inspiring. I am grateful. I get to use my platform to disseminate this information and make more people aware of these issues.
I hope everyone can become aware that we can’t take Mother Earth for granted. This beautiful planet is not only our home, it’s our source of life. Each of us can do something to contribute to her wholeness. We can ask ourselves: ‘What role can I play in creating a positive impact in the world?’ Every action and every choice we make has an impact. Do you want to be part of the solution or part of the problem? That’s a decision that each of us must make. My hope is that we all begin to serve life.
My ultimate goal is to protect our beautiful planet for my children, for all children, and for many, many generations to come.
As told to Emily Chan.
Kiss The Ground is available on Netflix now.