Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard talks to American Forests about his concern for the environment and his eco-friendly efforts.

Interview by Margo Dawley

Stone Gossard rocks out at the Dig It concert events. (Credit: Diane Bondaroff)

Stone Gossard, guitarist of the famous rock band Pearl Jam, has spent years advocating for the environment. Most recently, he participated in American Forests’ and Timberland’s Dig It events, described in this issue’s feature. He pushed for Pearl Jam’s carbon-neutral policy, which includes running the tour bus on biofuels, and donating proceeds to conservation organizations. In addition, Stone serves on the board of the conservation group The Wild Salmon Center.

Q: When did you become interested in the environment and protecting it?

A: I’m not sure exactly when it was. I think it has been building over the last 20 years. I remember that back in 1992, a good friend of Sound Garden – another band here in Seattle, good friends of ours – lived up by North Bay. There was this gigantic piece of property there with hot springs on it, and some old-growth forests, and a lot of natural beauty. It was being sold, and mining rights were involved. So we decided to buy this high-elevation old-growth forest in the Cascades. We did it with the Cascade Lands Conservancy, which basically said that this area couldn’t be mined. It was a cool process to go through, and to know that we’d done something together to protect a couple hundred acres of high-mountain old-growth forest.

Over the last 15 years I’ve been inundated by information about the environment, everything from global warming to deforestation to water and even the state of the earth’s fundamental natural systems. I’ve just been trying to make an impact by raising people’s awareness of that kind of information as much as I can.

Q: Was your interest in the environment influenced by living in Seattle?

A: Oh, without a doubt. I mean, when you fly into Seattle you just immediately notice how many trees it has, and how green it really is here.

I travel a lot, and each time I come back I realize how incredible it is, particularly Seattle’s urban forest. We have a series of greenbelts, and a lot of that is being restored right now. A lot of work is being done on creeks these days, pulling out invasive species, and rehabbing the greenbelts by planting native species. Conservation groups are doing a ton of work that is really exciting.

I think that reforestation and restoration are going to be an enormous part of the future – there are so many opportunities to take degraded lands and enhance it to get its systems functioning again in terms of ecosystems and habitat. Water, soil, forests – all those things fit together like a puzzle.

There is a real need for scientific study on how best to evaluate and restore our damaged ecosystems. Seattle has a lot of people very involved in studying the environment. My wife was involved in the “green building” community in Portland over the last 15 years, and I think a lot of my involvement has come from speaking with her about how building in general and how it interacts with the environment is evolving. I guess what I’m saying is that I am interested in the “design science” side of the green revolution.

Gossard helps plant a tree at the Dig It event in San Francisco. (Credit: George Niktin)

Q: How did you get involved in the Dig It events?

A: They called and asked if I wanted to do something. And lately I’ve been hanging out with some guys, playing some Hank Williams songs and shaking a little bit. They said they wanted music, and I said well I want to play music. They said well we’ve got this event, let’s join forces. And it was sort of a perfect fit.

The Timberland company is doing a lot of pretty progressive stuff. They pay their employees for at least 40 hours of community service every year; they’ve started putting more recycled materials in their products. They’ve put out a new line of clothing out that has a lot of recycled material, and they’re putting such material in their boots, too. Their products now have tags that show all the ingredients that were used in their creation. Some of them are not necessarily great, but the company is at least creating an environmentally friendly market here. I think such clarity and openness are a good step for a corporate community.

Q: In both New York and San Francisco, I was really impressed by how you just jumped in and started planting trees. How many trees did you plant in the four Dig It events?

A: I’m not sure. We averaged about eight or nine trees per event, or something like that – probably a total of 50 or so. It was really fun. I like that. I just want to get in. If I’m a volunteer, I want to work, not just stand around.

Q: How do you think the events went?

A: Pretty well, I think. All the volunteer events were fantastic. Each one had at least 200 volunteers working. I think they planted probably 1,500 trees to 2,000 trees over the course of the four shows. And there was great, great interplay and interaction. American Forests did a great job of being the national partner, and all the partners that they picked on the ground were excellent.

Each of the shows was about the right size in terms of what the planners were hoping for, but I believe they can be so much bigger. I think we can go to the next level and create events that generate even more involvement.

I had a blast on the volunteer side of it. Getting out and meeting people and doing something valuable is just a great reminder of how important volunteerism is; it’s a cool thing that can create all sorts of good outcomes.

Margo Dawley is a program director in American Forests’ Global ReLeaf Center.

This article was published in the Winter 2009 issue of American Forests magazine.