Subscribe to Our Blog

Inspiring Leaders in Sustainability

Several years ago, during a Ted Talkabout corporate responsibility, Ray Anderson read a moving poem entitled “Tomorrow’s Child.” The poem was about the author’s sense of responsibility to his child’s future:

“I saw a day that you would see;
a day for you, but not for me.
Begin I will to weigh the cost
of what I squander; what is lost
If ever I forget that you
will someday come to live here too.“

Sometimes it seems as though we’ve forgotten our children’s future. Science backed projections show that by 2030 it will take two earths to absorb our greenhouse gas emissions. To avoid this, we have a global deadline: zero greenhouse gas emissions between 2030-2050. Failing this, popular US cities like Miami and New York could be washed away under a 14 foot sea level rise. Every time I hear that projection, I catch my breath.

The solutions to our global problems are as challenging as the problems.  We need to adopt sustainable models of development across all businesses, on all scales. The only way to achieve this is through a lot of great leadership. So where do we find inspiring leaders today? In search of inspiration, I asked my colleagues at Sustrana to share with me their top choices for global sustainability leaders.

Janet Williams
Corporate Sustainability Superwoman: Mindy Lubber, President of the nonprofit Ceres

“Mindy’s vision,” said Janet, “is to harness the economic and creative power of business to help solve urgent problems.  She has always understood that finding a way forward in creating a sustainable world will require the active participation of business.” Rather than seeing business as an obstacle, Mindy has engaged the business community. Thanks to Mindy, sustainability concepts have become part of mainstream American business.

Marissa Rosen
Consummate Communicator: Nick Aster, Founder of TriplePundit

Nick Aster inspires Marissa with his dedication to disseminating sustainability information on a global scale. Nick founded TriplePundit, a certified B Corp that is one of the world’s most wide-read publications on sustainable business.  “Nick’s success rests on his ability to incorporate video interviews, Twitter Chats, Google Hangouts, and other interactive media into TriplePundit,” said Marissa.  This has made sustainability appealing to a wide audience.

Kim Quick
Visionary Leader: Luiz Seabra, founder of the Brazilian cosmetics company Natura.

Another essential ingredient for triple bottom line change is a solid mission statement based on unwavering principals.   Seabra founded Natura around four guiding principles: Humanism, Balance, Transparency and Creativity.  Thirty-seven years later, these principles still serve Natura’s, employees, customers, and the natural environment.  In 2011, Forbes chose Natura as the eighth most innovative company in the world (among leaders like Apple and Google). In 2014, Natura became the largest certified B Corp, proving a company can both do good and be good.

Kylie Ford
Conscious Consumer:  Michael Pollan

None of us can control global CO2 emissions on our own, but we can control what we put in our bodies.  The connection to what we can do as individuals underlies Kylie’s choice.  “Michael Pollan is one of the most inspirational voices in sustainability. What resonates most is Pollan’s ability to point out important ecological relationships and our own connection to nature.”  Pollan has made issues of modern agribusiness accessible to all.  After all, his motto “Eat food. Not too much.  Mostly plants.” is something we can all understand and aspire to.

Nancy Cleveland
Relentless Adventurer:  Dame Ellen MacArthur

Let’s not forget the importance of raw passion.  If anyone has a track record for succeeding in the face of adversity it’s Ellen MacArthur. She set a world record for solo circumnavigating the globe and then turned her attention to sustainability. Nancy said, “Sailing a boat around the planet by yourself requires excellent problem solving skills.  When she retired from sailing, Ellen launched the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which is dedicated to transforming our take-make-dispose economy into a sustainable economy.” The new model is called the circular economy. The focus is on reframing how we think about the things we manufacture and consume. The result of that passion?  Corporate giants like BT, H&M, Cisco and Google have partnered with the foundation to advance its work.

Jennifer Anderson
Responsible Steward: Hal Taussig

Jennifer found the unique quality of congruent leadership most appealing about Hal Taussig.  He passed away last month, but his inspiration lives on.  He was the spirit behind B Lab, and founder of Untours and Untours Foundation.  Jennifer describes Hal’s legacy as being “much more than what he accomplished during his inspiring life.  He was one of those rare individuals who lived completely in alignment with what he advocated for.”  For Jen, it was Hal’s ability to live his message and inspire others to carry that torch that elevates him to one of sustainability’s greats.

My Take
It Takes a Village

We need visionary leadership, effective communication, a clear roadmap, and copious amounts of passion to reach our sustainability goals.  But even with those larger pieces in place, the goals can’t be reached without you.  So, you – yes you, reader – are my pick for inspiring sustainability leader.  You are interested.  You are engaged.  You are trying.  Individual actions add up to deliver great collective results.  It is the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, working in a million different ways, who will make the world a better place for tomorrow’s children.