Before a star-studded crowd at the Warner Bros. backlot, the 23rd annual Environmental Media Association Awards honored green-minded celebrities and the media for raising awareness about the most pressing issues facing our planet. 

Matt Damon, co-founder of Water.org, was a double winner: the recipient of the Ongoing Commitment Award, he co-wrote and starred in the Feature Film Award winner, “Promised Land.” “Every 20 seconds a child under the age of 5 dies because they lack access to clean water and sanitation,” Damon said in his acceptance speech, talking about the difference wells make in the lives of people in poor villages. “It’s not just about saving lives, it’s about dignity and hope.” So far, “We’ve reached 1.6 million people with clean water, and we’ll hit 2 million by the middle of next year.”

“Nashville” star Hayden Panettiere received the EMA Futures Award for her work on behalf of the Whaleman Foundation and the welfare of sea creatures and the oceans. “We all live on the same planet and we all have a responsibility to protect it and inspire others to do likewise,” she said. “We have to do whatever we can about the essential issues of our time. My parents instilled in me at a very young age the importance of giving back, and if you’re given a platform to stand on you’d better get up there and use it.” Her brother Jansen, a scuba diver who also supports Whaleman and other cetacean causes, cheered his approval. “I’m so proud of her,” he said.

Hayden Panettierre and Jansen Panettierre and Josh Henderson

Actress Hayden Panettiere (in left photo) and her brother Jansen; Actor Josh Henderson. (Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

The biggest theme of the night, however, proved to be the fracking issue. Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas extraction and its toxic byproducts were the subject of several award winners. Besides “Promised Land,” they included Television Comedy recipient “Last Man Standing” for its “Mother Fracker” episode, Children’s Television Award winner “Nick News with Linda Ellerbee: What’s the Deal with Fracking?” and “Gasland II”—the sequel to “Gasland,” which won three years ago for best Documentary Film. 

Writer-director Josh Fox, noting that the ceremony fittingly coincided with Global Frackdown Day and international anti-fracking events, “so it’s especially amazing to win this today.” He was encouraged by fracking bans adopted in Europe, Vermont, and New York and hoped there would be the same result in California. “Fracking and drilling is going on right now in Los Angeles in Baldwin Hills on the Newport-Inglewood fault line, and as we know that can induce earthquakes,” he pointed out. “We can have five more decades of fossil fuel expansion or move in the direction of renewable energy. The choice is clear, and California can be a leader.”

EMA President Debbie Levin said later that it was “coincidental, not intentional” that so many winners had a fracking theme. “Obviously it’s top of mind right now. People are worried because the regulations aren’t tight enough and they are nervous. But it was not our agenda.”

In her welcome remarks, Levin cited environmental improvements including an increase in recycling and reduction in polluted bodies of water, “but unless we change the way we produce our energy, we will reach a tipping point in 25 years. We have the will and technology to rise to this challenge,” she said.

Levin also announced a new partnership between EMA and the Nature Conservancy and its Nature Works Everywhere garden program. “We’ll be building gardens in schools across the country.”

She lauded the accomplishments of the evening’s honorees, who also included activist and author Bill McKibben (EMA Lifetime Achievement Award) and Green Parent Award recipient Anna Getty, founder of Pregnancy Awareness Month and an anti-toxin and anti-GMO advocate. “I always felt a deep connection to nature and animals, but when I was pregnant with my daughter, now 9, I became so more aware that my actions on this planet weren’t just about me,” said Getty. “I believe women can be the catalyst for change in this world. We need this planet to be healthy for everyone’s benefit. Everyone can do something to make a difference.”

Other winners included “House of Cards” for TV Drama, “Vice: Gangs and Oil” for Reality TV, “Overview,” about Earth seen from astronauts’ perspectives, for the Digital Content Award, and The Screen Actors Guild, which won the Green Production award for its sustainable initiatives. For five years in a row, the SAG Awards have won the EMA Green Seal, which was awarded to 28 movies and 21 TV series, including recent releases “Baggage Claim,” “Enough Said,” and “The Wolverine,” and popular programs “Breaking Bad,” “Bates Motel,” “Parenthood,” “Grimm” and “Masters of Sex.”

The event, which featured a performance of “What a Wonderful World” from “Glee” star Darren Criss, was sponsored for the 13th year by Toyota, which had several Prius and Lexus hybrid and plug-in models on display. The company also partnered with EMA for an emissions-saving PSA starring Rachelle Lefevre (“Under the Dome”) as a woman who won’t date men who idle their car engines.

At the after-party, where sustainable and repurposed was the theme of the décor, 13 restaurant stations served local, seasonal and organic food on compostable dinnerware, donating leftovers to the homeless via the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition. Guests could bid on silent auction items and take home green goodies from Burt’s Bees, the Nature Conservancy, Repax, Naturpedic, Glad, Green Works, LA Car Guy, and Kellogg Garden Company.

Actress Amy Smart, EMA board member and chair of its Young Hollywood Board, agreed with the night’s theme that fracking was the most pressing environmental issue at the moment. “It has really detrimental, devastating effects — so much pollution, so many chemicals released. Colorado Public Health did a study that shows people who live within half a mile of fracking have much greater risk of cancer. It’s time to start switching to renewable clean energy,” she said, also glad that Los Angeles will ban-single use plastic grocery bags starting on Jan. 1. “People bring their own bags all over the world. It’s about time we caught up.” Smart will be seen in the fifth season of FX’s “Justified,” premiering in January.

Josh Henderson, attending his first EMAs, was on hand to represent TV drama nominee ”Dallas,” which was recognized for its oil drilling vs. methane fuel storyline. “Anything we can do to educate,” said Henderson, looking forward to the series’ return to TNT in February. “We have ramped it up. It is definitely more intense, racier than it has been,” he promised, noting that there will be several new regulars including AnnaLynne McCord as a new ranch hand. “She will be involved with somebody.” Besides traveling, Henderson shot a movie on his hiatus, an action thriller about a casino heist called “Swelter” with Lennie James, Alfred Molina, Grant Bowler, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Caterina Sandino, due for release next summer.

Actress Amy Smart (left) and Green Parent Award recipient Anna Getty.

Actress Amy Smart (left) and Green Parent Award recipient Anna Getty. (Photo: Jonathan Liebson/Getty Images)

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