June 2, 2010

Leilani Munter: Life is Short. Race Hard. Live Green.

by Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff, www.EcoStiletto.com

Leilani Munter encapsulates the ecoista’s dilemma: It’s all well and good to want to live sustainably until you work in an industry that doesn’t share your views. What are you supposed to do, quit your job?

Leilani takes this concept to an extreme most of us can’t even imagine. That’s because she is—if you haven’t already guessed from the photos—a racecar driver. Not just any racecar driver, mind you, Leilani has serious on-track cred. She’s the fourth woman in history to race in the Indy Pro Series. She set the record for the highest finish for a female driver in the history of the Texas Motor Speedway when she finished fourth in 2006. Sports Illustrated named her one of the top 10 female racecar drivers in the world.

The girl really can’t drive 55. More like 200.

But all that speed takes a serious environmental toll—and Leilani knows it. When we asked her what her eco-sin was she answered, “That’s easy: My racecar.”

Leilani also sees her profession as an opportunity to inspire positive change in the 100 million fans that make racing the number-one spectator sport in America. “If I was just another vegetarian, tree hugging, biology graduate asking people to give up meat and stop using plastic bags, I don’t know how many people would be listening to me,” Leilani told us. “But because I drive a racecar, I have an ability to reach a new audience of people that most environmentalists are probably not talking to.”

In addition to talking the talk with 100 million people, Leilani walks it: The longtime vegetarian and self-proclaimed “Carbon Free Girl” adopts an acre of rainforest for every race she runs. She regularly races in alternative fuel vehicles, like the Ford hydrogen fuel cell car she drove in last year’s VS Viking Rally in Norway. After the BP spill, she went down to help clean up—and produced an amazingly compelling video statement about what she found. And she’s the first Ambassador of the National Wildlife Federation.

But according to Leilani, “We don’t move the needle at all by talking to a bunch of people who already agree with us. The way we create change is by starting a dialogue with those who don’t.” With that idea in mind, she created a very visible on-track “Eco Dream Team” to promote her activism to fans.  And she repeatedly heads to Capitol Hill to speak on behalf of clean energy and climate change legislation—no choir there.

For more on Leilani’s surprisingly ecolicious life–including her thoughts on vegetarianism and her favorite sustainable fashion and beauty picks–check out EcoStiletto.com‘s exclusive interview and sign up for the free newsletter for a chance to win $600+ in eco-swag this week!

Racecar photo by Douglas Murray; all others by Craig Davidson

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