Who Are The Top Ten “Sustainable” CEOs?

A Harvard Business Review article just listed 50 ‘best performing’ CEOs. Not surprisingly the authors based their evaluation on shareholder value creation. This group of execs are truly superstars having created on average almost a 1000% increase in shareholder value.

Steve Jobs was number one in this study’s list. Without a doubt, history will remember Jobs as a business genius based on his marketing acumen and his ability to create stockholder value. But I have also admired his performance at Apple based on his ability to move us from a carbon-centric music world, where our music was delivered at stores by trucks in the form of records and CDs in packaging of paper and plastic. The emergence of iPhone apps that can monitor and manage energy consumption offers a glimpse into the link between “smart” electronics and sustainability.

So this begs the question: what would a list of top ten CEOs be like if we judged them based upon their positive contribution toward both a sustainable economy and environment? And what should the selection criteria be for this envisioned top ten sustainable CEOs?

Many of my business friends, most especially CFOs, would be suspicious of this topic. The responsibility, per articles of incorporation, of a company’s officers is strictly fiduciary. At the same time, companies I profiled in The Secret Green Sauce are growing revenues even in this tough economy and realizing their fiduciary responsibilities while still aligning value with values. So, does having a focus upon fiduciary responsibility to the stockholder preclude, or enable, the adoption of sustainability?

Andy Price, a managing partner at the energy and technology executive search firm Schweichler Price & Partners, has thoughts on how CEOs, and the officers that report to CEOs, are viewing sustainability. His perspective is that corporations are adopting sustainability as a path toward increasing revenues and lowering costs.

The CEOs and senior officers I work with are gearing sustainability toward the realization of their profit goals,” Price explains. “I don’t see a role like Chief Sustainability Officer being so much a position within the C-suite, but rather [I see] existing officers like the COO and CFO incorporating sustainability as a good business practice that enables the realization of profit goals.”

Price’s observations align with market research that identifies the emergence of the “Sustainable CEO.” These CEOs have set emission reductions targets but they also require that these performance results be achieved within the financial disciplines of their company, such as return on investment and payback periods. The end result is the harvesting of actions that both reduce emissions and enhance profitability.

So who are your top ten Sustainable CEOs, who are achieving both superior shareholder value and leadership results in restoring our environment and addressing social ills? Make your suggestions by submitting a comment to this article with the name of the CEO, his or her company and why you think he or she is a top ten Sustainable CEO. On January 15, I will compile your replies into a follow-up posting that will be forwarded onto the Harvard Business Review.

Or… nominate via twitter with @triplepundit #topceo in the message!

Bill Roth is the founder of EARTH 2017 and author of The Secret Green Sauce.

Founder of Earth 2017. Author of The Boomer Generation Diet: Lose Weight. Have Fun. Live More that Jen Boynton, Editor in Chief of Triple Pundit , says is "Written in Bill Roth's lovable, relatable tone. A must read for any Boomer who is looking to jumpstart their health and have fun at the same time. I hope my parents read it. "

58 responses

  1. Dave, very insightful. So many CEOs are focused upon reducing CO2 emissions, which is great, but their customers are focused upon wellness defined by health, economics and the environment. Thanks for the input.

  2. Check out the changes at Sprint under the leadership of Dan Hesse: http://green.sprint.com. Under his leadership, Sprint has been ranked as the 15th largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy by the EPA and was the first telecom or wireless provider to join their climate leaders partner program in 2007. Our wireless recycling program is the strongest in the industry. Sprint was the first wireless provider to receive USGBC LEED certification for a retail store in 2009, and many of our stores now feature a green products section where customers can select products such as the Reclaim phone, Solio solar phone charger, and eco-friendly packaging.

  3. Here's a controversial one – Lee Scott of WalMart. Yeah, WalMart remains a behemoth that many love to hate, but let's be honest, he's almost singlehandedly introduced the concept of sustainability to millions of people – his employees, competitors, suppliers (just ask P&G) and so on…. there's a lot of work to be done by wal mart, but what he's managed to do is pretty impressive!

    1. Walmart touches one out of three dollars in our global economy either directly or through their supply chain. Lee Scott's commitment to sustainability is large, global and significant. A controversial but good nomination. Thanks!

  4. Here's a nomination for a woman-owned business – Working Wonders. CEO BethAnn Lederer (http://www.workingwondersus.com/shoppers/our-fo…) is very well educated in indoor air quality issues and is consistently trying to spread the word about use of sustainable products in the home. Each of her offerings on her website have been hand chosen based on their environmental qualities. Her Green Guide is pretty cool as well – website: http://www.workingwondersus.com.

    1. I'm a general contractor out of pikesville maryland and have nothing but good to say about working wonders owned by Ms.Lederer.I've worked with this co. for the last two years buying my high end sustainable kitchens and home furnishings.With Working Wonders you get great quality products good for the environment ordered right….., on time,…… the first time.That's why this company has my business .

  5. I want to nominate Jose Manuel Entrecanales of Acciona…. a spanish company that is quickly transforming itself into one of the leading wind power generation companies in the world, as well as many other businesses they are developing in the sustainability field. It's worth checking him and his company out.

    1. A recent California Energy Commission study concluded that wind power is now the least cost energy source compared to natural gas fired power plants and wind. This recent has been achieved thanks to pioneering wind companies like Acciona. Good nomination Jose. Thanks.

  6. Bill Bregman CEO of Deltapaper Corporation.

    He and his PaperNuts are really green and sustainable, because :

    PaperNuts® are the most environmentally responsible and customer-friendly material that can be used to fill the empty space in boxes. With PaperNuts® your product stays put in the center of the box and free from damage in shipment.

  7. I often wonder why on Earth “Harvard” is seen as some sort of business oracle. It produces a club of like minded “greed is good” parasites.

    Of top ten CEO's, none of them are Harvard graduates. Harvard produces conservative clones whose only goal in life is to preserve the status quo. That is to work indirectly for the cronies at the Federal Reserve and keep the money and power with the top 1% of the population.

    Great CEO's have nothing directly to do with Harvard or The FED but unfortunately as they progress they become involuntarily a part of the New World Order.

    Just take a look at the CEO's who run the largest companies: Ford, GM. Chrysler, they haven't a creative bone in their bodies but are put there by the Harvard system and have done nothing but assist in diminishing workers pension funds.
    The reason? There isn't enough money in the system. They have conned the average Joe for years but you can't do anything and they know it.

    Happy new year.

  8. I nominate Mark J. Woodward, CCGS who is CEO of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America and its philanthropic organization, the Environmental Institute for Golf. Under Woodward's leadership, GCSAA/EIFG is providing a roadmap for a sustainable approach to golf facility management. Thanks to advances in research, education, technology and innovation by organizations such as GCSAA (and others in golf), golf courses are now being recognized as community assets that provide a wealth of benefits (financial, environmental and recreational). A former golf course superintendent, Woodward has instituted many “green” policies at GCSAA headquarters (led by the Green Team) and programs to benefit members and the industry. Among the recent actions is the GCSAA Golf Course Environmental Profile, The project, which enlisted the services of the National Golf
    Foundation, involved a series of five surveys that were sent to
    GCSAA member and non-member golf course superintendents
    to collect data focusing on the following:

  9. My top 5:

    1. Ray Anderson, Chairman & Founder, Interface (Not “CEO,” but did reduce company's waste by a third and plans to make company fully sustainable by 2020. Though vision & leadership, has had HUGE impact on industry. If you've ever heard him speak, then you know his insights, strategic vision and commitment are unparalleled. Ray is number one on my list because he is a turnaround artist who demonstrates that “the impossible” can be done. You CAN take a petroleum-based, cradle-to-grave supply-chain and transform it into a profitable, equitable model of sustainability.)

    2. Jeff Hollender, former CEO, current President and Chief Inspired Protagonist, Seventh Generation (Jeff Built the non-toxic cleaning and personal care business from the ground up. Although Clorox Green Works may be considered the “number one green brand” by some folks today, Seventh Generation is without question the original, the bravest and the most influential company in this sector. The company's use of action campaigns [see: http://www.seventhgeneration.com], such as its current drive on toxic chemical reform, takes the level of effectiveness to new heights, and gives Hollender himself political as well as corporate clout. Here is a company with real pull — and the will to influence the masses).

    3. Yvon Chouinard, CEO, Patagonia (Yvon is a genius on an environmental crusade, and as a result Patagonia is one of the most inspiring and most sustainable corporate cultures in existence — producing products with minimal environmental impact, and promoting worthy environmental causes. A few years ago, Fortune Magazine's cover declared Patagonia: “The Coolest Company on the Planet.” That wasn't an oversell. See http://www.thecleanestline.com)

    4. Jeff Swartz, CEO, Timberland. (Fast Company recently called him the “Prophet CEO,” saying: “No one preaches social responsibility quite like Swartz.” The thing is, Swartz practices what he preaches better than most other CEO's you can find. He is always out there implementing new “3BL” ideas [see the Earthkeepers line], asking pertinent questions and proactively engaging with his stakeholder community [see the Earthkeepers campaign and @Timberland_Jeff's twitter page]. He takes risks, puts new ideas into the market, and opens himself up to criticism. I respect Jeff for his bravery and I love his company, which happens to be thriving financially. He belongs on this list).

    5. Bill Ford, Jr., former CEO, Ford Motor Company (Bill Ford, Jr. was an environmentalist at a time when it was unfashionable to be one, at least in the automotive industry. In 2000, he announced that Ford would achieve a 25% improvement in fuel efficiency in the company's light truck fleet, including SUVs, by mid-decade. He also oversaw the complete environmental renovation of the company's River Rouge facility. Not surprisingly, Ford Jr's plan was viewed with some skepticism. But Ford Jr. ultimately persevered because he took business personally. For instance, when Ford faced financial trouble, Ford Jr. made financial sacrifices. At one point he announced he would give up his pay, bonuses and stock grants until the auto maker’s core operations returned to profitability. In short, it was never business as usual for this automaker CEO. That's why he is a great example of what sustainable leadership truly means).

    1. Wow, this is a fantastic post! Thank you for taking this much time for such a well thought out set of nominations. I did realize Bill Ford had made such an early stage commitment. I just posted a tweet on Ford's goal for selling 1 cars equipment with SYNCH. And their Focus Hybrid is winning awards. Thanks agains.

  10. You can't forget George Siemon of Organic Valley – for more go to http://www.organicvalley.coop/our-story/sustain… George is setting up programs right now to ensure maximum sustainability throughout our whole process – from farm to table based on three areas: Social Responsibility, Ecological Integrity and Economic stability. It makes you very proud to work for a company like Organic Valley!

  11. Ed Lonergan of Johnson Diversey. Taking an industrial cleaning company to a place where you're even talking about this stuff is a big deal. Here's a quick YouTube –

    1. Hi Tony, thanks for the youtube link about Ed's vision of “Integrated Growth.” That is the exciting business new, that adopting sustainability created revenues and saves money. With companies like Johnson Diversey adopting this business model our country is on an encouraging path for restoring our jobs, economy and environment. Thanks for this nomination.

  12. Why not Eric Schmidt of Google? It may be relatively easy for a new company that doesn't manufacture anything to “go green” but Google has done wonders in the field of Data Center Efficiency as well as brining worldwide attention to social and environmental issues.

    Secondly – Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan of New Belgium Brewery. In addition to making great beer and being totally wind powered, they've singlehandedly resurrected downtown Ft Collins, invigorated bike culture around the country, and made their employees very happy!

    1. Brian, I too know of Herman Miller through my wife's interior design business and they have been a leader in sustainability way before most companies were aware of the issues and opportunities. Thanks for this nomination Brian Walker.

      1. Bill,

        This is a great list and it's very encouraging (and informative) to read about all of the great CEO's around. We're very glad to see that your reader Brian (not our Brian!) nominated our CEO, Brian Walker, as a top sustainable CEO. We certainly agree.

        If you or others are looking for more information please check out the December 09 HBR article featuring a conversation between Brian Walker and Josette Akresh-Gonzales RE: meeting Herman Miller's aggressive sustainability goals with the help of our customers. Also check out Brian's earlier blog post on HBR 'Green' regarding supply chains and the thoughtful exchange it fostered at http://www.hbrgreen.org/2008/02/you_are_only_as… And lastly, to learn more about Herman Miller's goals and specific progress toward sustainability, I encourage a look at our annual Better World Report at http://www.hermanmiller.com/MarketFacingTech/hm


        John Kim
        Herman Miller Inc.

  13. You may need to consider the criteria that will lead you to a nomination. Is it sheer result or is intention behind corporate strategy and action? If the first I would understand your initial thoughts about Steve Jobs. However I would not assume that he intended to reduce carbon emissions with all the great products Apple brought top market. He mist probably would not apply the label “green CEO” for himself.
    I think it is intention that leads to results and it is intention that let a CEO get his message out to the stakeholders. Following that understanding I think Timberland's Jeff Swartz would be a great choice. The way he thinks, the way he acts. He combines the decision making qualities of a business leader with the intellectual power of an opinion leader. Both together makes him and Timberland change consumers and competitors. This is the spot where intention and result are coming together. Cudos!

  14. For some of the first movers in the reduced carbon footprint transportation space, Fuji Cho (chairman) and Katsuaki Watanabe (President) of Toyota (read their annual report on Zeroize and Maximize), Steve Fambro (founder) and Paul Weber (Pres & CEO) of Aptera Motors, Forrest North (founder and CEO) of Mission Motors. Cheers!

    1. Where would we be without the Prius as a landmark product in the maturation of cleantech? Yes, Toyota's commitment to introducing products that advance consumer adoption of more sustainable behavior warrants the nominations of Fuji Cho and Katsuaki Watanabe.

      And I had the opportunity to hear Paul present his visionary car at a recent conference. I can't wait to test drive one to experience a future where sustainability is so much fun!

      And thank you for introducing me to Mission Motors. I can only imagine the torque thrill that an electric motocycle can great. WOW.

      Thanks Mike for these nominations.

  15. When it comes to sustainability, the use of recycled material comes to mind and when it comes to some one consuming recycled material no company in the world is doing more than Nucor Corporation under the leadership of Dan DiMicco. In the United States alone, Nucor consumes over 20 million tons of old steel in its manufacturing process to make new steel, and under Mr. DiMicco's leadership, this number has risen by 33% in the last ten years. For every ton of steel that Nucor consumes, almost 4700 kW hours of electricity are saved, and thus carbon. You can do the math, but as you can see, Nucor is leading the way when it comes to reducing mankind's carbon footprint.

  16. William R. Johnson, Chairman, President and CEO of the H.J. Heinz Company, deserves special recognition for his commitment to sustainability. Under his leadership, Heinz launched a global sustainability initiative in May 2008 to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste, energy use and water consumption by at least 20% (in each category) by 2015. Heinz announced in November 2009 that it is on track to meet or exceed these sustainability goals. You can find more details at http://heinz.com/csr2009/.

  17. Hi Michael, thank you for making me aware of the H.J. Heinz Company's commitment to sustainability and the leadership of Mr. Johnson. I had the pleasure of visiting the H.J. Heinz Company's Pittsburg HQ early in my career. I found these work associates to be a highly dedicated and talent group working hard for their company and country, and now, the environment.

  18. I nominate Jan Blittersdorf, CEO/President of NRG Systems, Inc. (http://www.nrgsystems.com), manufacturer of wind measurement equipment for the wind energy industry. Green products and buildings: The company produces its products from two LEED gold-certified manufacturing facilities on its Vermont campus, generating most (soon to be all) of its electricity from on-site renewables. Green benefits: Jan was instrumental in creating the company's progressive benefits package, which includes yearly cash incentives to employees to buy hybrid vehicles, install renewable energy systems, make energy efficiency improvements and help them live lightly on the planet. Growth: NRG Systems consisently tops Vermont's charts in sales growth, having gone from sales of $5.8 million in 1999 to $43 million in 2009. A privately-held company, but delivering great value to all of its stakeholders (employees, customers and the planet).

    1. Wow Sally, I love the innovations you described taking place at NRG Systems, Inc. Let me make sure I have captured them all 1)made in the USA, 2)LEED gold-certified manufacturing, soon to be 100% supplied with on site renewable energy, 3)a green benefit package for associates offering financial support for their purchase of renewable energy systems and hybrid vehicles. AND, it has grown revenues 10 fold. Sounds like a best practices example of how our country can begin to restore jobs, the economy and our environment! Thanks for this nomination.

  19. Nominating Irene Rosenfeld of Kraft Foods for her leadership building sustainability into the company’s business strategy and business decisions. The company set aggressive sustainability goals that are now part of how all its business units are evaluated, so it’s on leaders’ minds, and they apply to manufacturing as they’re part of the business units.

    Globally, since 2005, the company’s eliminated more than 116 million pounds of packaging material; made a 21% reduction in plant water consumption; a 12% reduction in plant energy usage; a 14% reduction in plant energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and a 14% reduction in plant waste. And Kraft Foods is the world’s largest buyer of coffee and cocoa from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms – with nearly 30,000 metric tons of coffee and 3,300 metric tons of cocoa in 2008. Most importantly, sustainability ideas need to make business sense before they’re set in motion – otherwise they wouldn’t be sustainable! One of the best examples is the Kenco coffee brand in the U.K. (http://www.kenco.co.uk) — the marketing strategy is based on ethical sourcing, packaging, and energy reduction/efficient resource use. (For more information, check out http://www.kraftfoodsbetterworld.com).

  20. Richard, thanks for nominating Irene Rosenfeld of Kraft Foods. I have had the honor to work with the Rainforest Alliance and I commend Kraft's use of Rainforest Alliance Certified farms.

    Sparky, your comment touches upon a key point businesses are confronting regarding Greenwashing's Two Edged Sword that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago in Triple Pundit. Companies like Kraft are making “admirable accomplishments.” They also have more to accomplish. There is a fine line between recognizing what they have accomplished and maintaining awareness on what they have still to accomplish. Sparky, we need folks like you to keep the world's focus upon how much more there is still to be accomplished. But, let's also recognize folks like Irene Rosenfeld of Kraft who are making “admirable accomplishments” with the expectations that the efforts by these CEOs represent a start down a longer road we all are walking toward achieving sustainability.

  21. From Downunder, the Australian landscape has seen the emergence of some impressive CEOs with a strong sustainability edge and I would have to nominate Ross Taylor, CEO of Tenix as a sustainable practitioner. For more than a decade, he has been at the forefront of green energy efficiencies across the property sector global roles with the likes of Lend Lease to initiate change internationally. He drives sustainable practice internally and is focused on delivering sustainable solutions extrenally for the Tenix client portfolio including driving the sustainable footprint for the Australian Defence sector. An innovative and sustainable leader who can drive shareholder returns underpinned by environmental concern to embrace sustainable strategies.

  22. I would add two women to the list:

    Gail Kelly of Westpac Bank, who is continuing to lead the bank to very impressive sustainability performance and

    Indra Nooyi of Pepsico who I feel is bringing a new breath of sustainability oriented moves into the organization, including the diversion of marketing funds from the Superbowl to people who need them.

    FInally, If i could I would nominate Anita Roddick for being, in my view, the first and most sustainability minded CEO of all!

    1. Elaine, I agree Anita Roddick was instrumental in the infancy of environmental concern and she continues to be a huge advocate and sponsor of sustainability internationally! On the other hand while Gail Kelly was and is a sustainable practitioner, she used to be one of the top 20 most powerful women in the world ahead of the first lady and Hilary Clinton. Used to be! She had a huge blunder a few weeks back in the local Australian banking market trying to convice the mortgage consumers above a marketing ploy that went terribly wrong and this will significantly dent her reputation. I just hope she can recreate her stance on sustainability to get ahead again because she has been a core contributor to our sustainable footprint here in Oz.

    1. Elaine, wonderful additions! The chapter of The Secret Green Sauce on Increasing Stock Valuation identifies the emerging data that companies with more diversity on their board of directors out achieve companies with less diversity. A key link on why is that Concerned Caregivers (moms) with $8.5 billion of annual buying power are embracing wellness/sustainability as a procurement criteria. Your nominations hit home on the hugely important leadership role women are playing in advancing the implementation of a sustainable economy and environment. Thanks for your nominations.

      1. Thanks Bill. You can always count on me for the women's vote :) And whilst I am on a roll, four more female stars of womenomics from my local market:

        Sybil Goldfiner: Founder and CEO of an ethical values driven fashion business, http://www.comme-il-faut.com, the only fashion company to have issued a sustainability report and a Global Compact member, leading the slow fashion movement and conscious consumerism. The Company recycles in very creative ways, uses organic fabrics, and leads many innovative social campaigns promoting socjal justice for women.

        Ofra Strauss. Founder and Chairwoman Strauss Group, of global foods business, http://www.strauss-group.com who is leading the Israeli food industry in making bold sustainable moves. Strauss won the Transparency Shield by local Transparency International, and is the only food company to have produced a sustainability report (their second). A leading coffee manufacturer, they are now moving towards sustainable coffee purchase. Ofra is on Forbes global influential womens list.Oops, she is not a CEO, but i think she used to be the CEO begore she became Chairwoman.

        Yehudit Bronicki, CEO of Ormat Industries http://www.ormat.com, leading geothermal and recovered energy generation Company serving global clients. Amazing sustainable industry delivering good performance and growth year on year. First sustainability report written in 2009.

        Maxine Fassberg, the CEO of Intel Israel, who adopts the very bold sustainability advances led by Intel globally. Israel is a prime R&D and manufacturing site for Intel, and building major new Fab operation in last couple of years was completed with strong emphasis on sustainable principles. Intel is a major responsible employer in Israel and is involved in many social advancement activities.

  23. Andy Ball, CEO of Webcor Builders should be on this list. The construction industry is second only to food production and electricity generation as a contributor to greenhouse gases when the full supply chain is considered. Webcor is already known for green building innovation (California Academy of Sciences), and has embarked on the most comprehensive review of its carbon impact of in the building industry. They are committed to rigorous science and use Climate Earth, the carbon accounting company, to assess their full supply chain emissions (scopes 1, 2 and 3), enable the design of low-carbon structures and engage with their supplier networks to change business as usual. Like Ray Anderson, Andy Ball and Phil Williams (VP) are visionaries with the courage to act.

  24. Hi Frankie, thanks for introducing us to Andy Ball and Webcor Builders. The explosion in clean tech construction material and builders like Webcor is amazing. Two of the companies I profile in The Secret Green Sauce are green construction companies that are still growing revenues even in this “soft landing” economy. And this summer I began seeing price-competitive, green alternatives to sheet rock, concrete blocks and roofing tiles. I applaud Andy Ball, Webcor Builders and others in the construction industry who are bringing to market “cost less, mean more” solutions.

  25. I work for A&R Edelman Public Relations firm and Adobe is a client. Consider Adobe’s CEO Shantanu Narayen for his continued support of Adobe’s green efforts. Since 2001, Adobe has implemented more than 85 conservation projects and has saved approximately $6.7 million as a result. Projects range from energy-efficient lighting to an intelligent control system to help monitor building efficiencies. Its latest endeavor: wind power. It just installed 20 Windspires, a type of wind turbine, at its downtown San Jose, Calif. headquarters. You can see a recent broadcast piece about the installation here on YouTube:

    Adobe is also the first commercial enterprise to achieve a total of four Platinum certifications under the USGBC’s LEED-EB certification program (each of its three towers in San Jose received LEED-EB Platinum certification and Adobe’s historic 601 Townsend Street building in San Francisco is also USGBC LEED-EB Platinum certified).

  26. The combination of Bill's 3P article, all these terrific responses, and Bill's very down-to-earth The Secret Green Sauce is powerful and hopeful. It makes me realize that while there are many brutal things going on in the world, there are also some wonderful, compassionate, visionary, and sharply focused leaders out there who deserve our support and appreciation.

  27. I’d nominate Johnson Controls' CEO, Steve Roell – and not just because I work for him. Take a look at this article on GreenBiz.com that talks about all the sustainable efforts Johnson Controls is doing: http://www.greenerbuildings.com/blog/2009/11/05…. Steve is an incredibly active leader, spearheading the company’s sustainability projects from China to Chicago.

    I’d also recommend Lee Scott of Walmart and Ed Lonergan of Johnson Diversey.

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