Reflecting their longtime commitment to both philanthropic endeavors and environmental concerns, our founders, Richard and Rhoda Goldman, envisioned the Goldman Environmental Prize as a way to demonstrate the international nature of environmental problems, draw public attention to global issues of critical importance, reward ordinary individuals for outstanding grassroots environmental achievement, and inspire others to emulate the examples set by the Prize recipients. Before the Prize was launched, Rhoda said, “We have no idea how important this prize program will turn out to be, but we hope it will be very important.”

The first Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony, timed to coincide with Earth Day, took place on April 16, 1990. Coincidentally, it was also Richard’s 70th birthday. The Goldmans sent out over 3,000 invitations, expecting only a small fraction to attend. Instead, 1,600 people sent RSVPs, and on the day of the event, a lively and supportive audience cheered the first six Goldman Environmental Prize winners. Of that first ceremony, one attendee wrote to the Goldmans, “We came without too much advance thought, mostly out of curiosity, and left an hour and a half later in awe.”