Goldman Environmental Foundation Founders–Richard & Rhoda, 2022 Goldman Prizewinner–Niwat Roykaew, Ekilstuna—Sweden’s World Capital of Recycling!

by | Jun 2, 2022 | Podcasts, The Climate Daily

Meet Goldman Environmental Foundation founders–Richard & Rhoda, plus 2022 Goldman Prize winner–Niwat Roykaew.  Ekilstuna—Sweden’s world capital of recycling!



The Goldman Environmental Foundation established by The Goldman Environmental Prize was created in 1989 by civic leaders and philanthropists Richard N. Goldman and Rhoda H. Goldman to honor and inspire grassroots environmental activists around the world. 

Richard N. Goldman (April 16, 1920 – November 29, 2010) was an American billionaire philanthropist. He founded the insurance company Goldman Insurance and Risk Management, and with his wife he established the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund in 1951. Co-founder Rhoda Haas Goldman (1924 – February 17, 1996) was a major supporter of environmental causes and San Francisco arts organizations. 

The Foundation administers the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s largest prize for grassroots environmental leaders. The Prize is awarded each year to environmental heroes from six geographic regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands & Island Nations, North America, and South & Central America. The Prize is presented at ceremonies each April in San Francisco and Washington, DC. 

In addition to his work with the Goldman Environmental Prize, Goldman supported beautification projects in San Francisco, and co-founded the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund.

Through the foundation, which is worth more than one billion dollars, the Goldmans funded projects throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, including the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and the Rhoda Goldman Plaza. Among their other California projects were investments in solar power, and protection of redwood forests and sea life. In 2004, Richard was awarded the Chairman’s Medal in the 11th Annual Heinz Award.

Why does the enduring work of Rhonda and Richard Goldman matter to us? Precisely because their work lives on long after their deaths, they’ve answered the question of “What kind of ancestor do you want to be?” resoundingly. The kind that tried.

DEEPER DIVE: Idealist, Wikipedia, Goldman Prize, YouTube



Flowing 3,000 miles from the mountains of Tibet before draining to the South China Sea, the biodiversity-rich Mekong River’s fisheries, tributaries, wetlands, and floodplains are a vital lifeline for more than 65 million people. In the early 2000s, China announced joint plans with Thailand to blast rocky sections of the Mekong River near the Thai-Laotian border to make way for 500-ton Chinese cargo ships. These ships travel downstream from China, through Laos, and on to Thailand. 

The plan for the Mekong blasting project (officially called the Lancang-Mekong Navigation Channel Improvement Project) proposed converting the river into a Panama Canal-like industrial navigation channel and destroying a 248-mile stretch of the Mekong near Chiang Kong. Locals saw it as transforming their river into a “giant highway.”

Niwat Roykaew, 61, is a longtime teacher and well-regarded throughout his community. Upon learning of the Mekong rapids blasting project, he began to organize against the project. He drew on his large network of civil society groups, local communities, NGOs, and media in order to gain the attention of the developers and government. He gave interviews and generated extensive media coverage, emphasizing biodiversity loss and ecosystem failure if the project were to continue.

Roykaew led boat demonstrations on the Mekong to protest the blasting and he met with fishermen in both Thailand and Laos and encouraged villagers to sign a petition that was delivered to the Chinese embassy in Bangkok. In December 2017, thanks to his amazing groundswell efforts, Thailand’s foreign minister announced that China had suspended the project. However, construction began on an upstream section of the river—and approximately 124 miles were blasted.

In February 2020, Niwat Roykaew and the Mekong community’s advocacy resulted in the termination of the China-led Upper Mekong River rapids blasting project, which would have destroyed 248 miles of the Mekong to deepen navigation channels for Chinese cargo ships traveling downstream. This is the first time the Thai government has canceled a transboundary project because of the environmental destruction it would cause. And that’s why Niwat Roykaew is the 2022 Goldman Environmental Prizewinner representing Asia.

DEEPER DIVE: Goldman Prize, YouTube



Anna Bergstrom initially moved to Ekilstuna—about 60 minutes by train from Stockholm–in 2012 to escape the disillusionment she felt from all the waste she’d witnessed in her previous career in fashion. As reported here on The Climate Daily, the fashion industry heaps about one dump truck’s worth of wasted material into landfills around the globe, every second.

Bergstrom decided to rehab a mall and re-open its shops with a simple concept: the townspeople would donate their goods which would then be resold to other Ekilstunians. It made sense. After all, Once a steel-producing powerhouse, the town had become depressed thanks to the rapid decline in the steel industry. It now has an unemployment rate that is almost 16%.

The mall is situated in an unassuming warehouse building in the middle of a field, next to one of the town’s two recycling centers. Residents sort their waste into seven multicolored categories at home – green for food, pink for textiles, grey for metal, yellow for paper, blue for newspaper, orange for plastic and black for mixed.

With the advent of her mall, folks can now also drop off their unwanted goods for recycling at Bergström’s secondhand mall. Those goods are then sorted by the 12 staff on hand in the cavernous warehouse beneath the shop floors.

Her recycled mall concept is in total alignment with the slate of green projects Ekilstuna launched in 2012, in a bid to make it the most environmentally friendly city in Sweden – and perhaps the world. Those projects including public buses and cars that run on biogas and electricity; low-carbon combined heat and power plants, which use the thermal energy from electricity production to heat water for businesses and homes.

Bergström says of her new hometown, “In a town like this, which has suffered, people are suspicious of change.” Now her mall averages 700 visitors a day and 300 tour groups a year.

Why does Ekilstuna and Anna Bergstrom’s mall matter to us? The town is a prime example of a municipality embracing the circular economy as a way to revitalize itself, and for Bergstrom, a great example of buying into the town’s new identity to create new jobs in the repurposing industry.

DEEPER DIVE: The Guardian, Wikipedia, Up to Us