Heal the Bay's Amy Smart on Saving the Sea
by michael ventre
Amy Smart at a recent cleanup in Torrance.
Amy Smart not only has a lot on her plate, she needs an enormous, biodegradable serving platter to accommodate all the things she has going. When the 36-year-old, Topanga Canyon-bred actress is not shooting the Showtime series Shameless, the upcoming TBS laugher Men at Work, or a movie, she directs her indefatigable self toward more altruistic pursuits, such as saving the giant marble we're all living on. She's a longtime volunteer and board member of Santa Monica's Heal the Bay. In fact, Smart will be honored for her environmental leadership over 18 years of volunteering with the organization at its annual Bring Back the Beach awards gala at The Jonathan Club on May 17. She is also on the board of directors for the Environmental Media Association. From speaking out about plastic-bag use to cleaning up the beaches of Torrance, Smart is not shy about showing her unbridled passion for the planet.
What first inspired you to get involved in issues surrounding the environment?
Growing up in Topanga Canyon, being in the mountains and surrounded by nature inspired me. My parents always loved nature, and that inspired my brother and me. Growing up I was always aware of the environment [through] beach cleanups, hikes, and bike rides in the canyon. Right out of high school I wanted to get involved and saw Heal the Bay posters around. That was my first venture into environmental work when I was 18.
How did you go about volunteering?
I called Heal the Bay and asked if I could volunteer with people, not in an office stuffing envelopes. They told me about their Speakers Bureau, where I trained for a month back when [founder] Dorothy Green was still alive, touring sewage-treatment plants and learning about drainpipes and the history of how water gets polluted.
In the beginning, did you encounter more resistance or cooperation?
It was a real mix. I felt every time I went to a class or an assembly and talked about Heal the Bay, most of the kids were really excited—they had something to say, they wanted to make a difference, and they didn't want to pollute. I got more resistance from adults and friends of mine who didn't want to make any changes or take any responsibility for their actions.
Is there a moment that stands out in your 18 years with Heal the Bay?
For years I was volunteering, and I looked at [former HTB president] Mark Gold as my idol. He's an incredibly smart leader, a Heal the Bay scientist who made change happen. When my [acting] career started growing and I got more notoriety, he asked me to be on the board of directors. I was so honored. I did a press conference with him about the Beach Report Card rating.
What kind of support do you get from others in entertainment?
Again it's been mixed. Ultimately different people have different causes —there are so many. I feel I stand up for pretty much all of them, but you can spread yourself too thin, so I try to be discerning and effective.
How do you try to inspire the eco efforts of others?
I realized preaching can push people away; one of the best things you can do is lead by example. I started becoming more eco in my habits—some transferred over, some didn't. That's okay—people make changes when they're ready. At this point it's everybody's responsibility.
How have your outreach efforts changed someone's viewpoint on the environment?
When my friends have gotten pregnant, and it stopped being about them and became about the child, they were more receptive to green ideas. Some people don't care what they put on or in their body, but when it comes to a child, they're much more sensitive. I plan to have children, and all our actions will positively or negatively affect our future generations, so we should work to keep the planet healthy and sustainable.
How does it feel to be honored at this year's Bring Back the Beach event?
I'm extremely grateful and honored to be receiving [the Dorothy Green Award] this year. I highly respect and love Heal the Bay; their work is so effective, far-reaching, and impactful on the ocean.
What keeps you going?
Finally seeing changes and how they're affecting people. You can work so hard for so long and then see change—a law gets passed, a ban gets passed. There is change happening; it's not stagnant.
photography by michelle falsone/getty images (pier)amy dickerson (Smart)