And The Top Ten Most “Sustainable” CEOs Are…

Thanks to everyone who voted and nominated during our Top Ten Sustainable CEOs Survey. The results are in and posted below. (You can see the entire list at the bottom of the original post, as well as the great conversations the nomination process produced).

Before we get too excited about the ranking, I want to emphasize that there was nothing scientific about this process and its real purpose was as much to provoke conversation as it was to give recognition to some of our most enlightened business leaders.

It was also about challenging readers and leaders alike to ask themselves what the definition of “sustainable leadership” really is. In some cases these leaders have helped create products and services with positive environmental or social impact, in others they have helped build a corporate culture that rewards and nourishes employees and stakeholders in new ways. Some are well known, others more humble. As you think about the “winners” keep in mind the very loose and changing definition of the word “sustainable” and leave some comments as to what it means to you.

Finally – we plan to do a lot of following up as much as possible in our upcoming leadership series including interviewing as many of these folks as we can. Please contact us if you, or your company, is interested in being profiled in the upcoming series.

Without further ado, the folks with the most votes were as follows:

Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia (Owner/Founder) (30%, 407 Votes)
Though not technically a CEO, Yvon Chouinard ran away with the top spot according to readers. Patagonia’s “Let my people go surfing” philosophy has enamored the company among those who strive to create an ideal working environment where employees thrive and get more productive at the same time. Patagonia’s environmental ethic is second to none, having helped found 1% for the planet and revolutionizing supply chain transparency with their Footprint Chronicles, among many other things.

George Siemon, Organic Valley Company (21%, 281 Votes)
Organic Valley is not a company we’ve had closely on our radar, but evidently a lot of readers did. The company formed out of a farmers coop in 1988 and has grown since then to encompass over 1,300 farms of varying types and half a billion dollars in sales. Siemon himself was one of the founding farmers in the cooperative.

Mick Bremans, Ecover (20%, 271 Votes)
Recognized by Time Magazine as one of 2008’s heroes of the planet, Mick Bremans has been running Belgium’s Ecover company since 1993. 3p’s Jen Boynton and I had the privilege of visiting Ecover’s headquarters last summer and can vouch for an impressively sustainable operation as well as a refreshing and open philosophy on work and life.

Jeffrey Hollender (Former CEO), Seventh Generation (16%, 225 Votes)
Another legend in the cleaning products space is Jeffrey Hollender, whose excellent personal blog, Inspired Protagonist, reveals as much about him as the philosophy and culture that makes up the company. Like Ecover, Seventh Generation was built from day one on the principals of environmental sustainability and on revolutionizing the toxic cleaning products industry to great success.

Jan Blittersdorf, NRG Systems (15%, 198 Votes)
Another Vermont company, NRG Systems has been making measurement systems for the wind energy industry since 1982. The company’s headquarters runs entirely on solar power, wind and wood pellets.

BethAnn Lederer, Working Wonders (13%, 182 Votes)
BethAnn Lederer has built Working Wonders into one of the larger resources for green interior design material and products for the home and workplace. Her company was another nomination that came from under the radar for us and we’ll look forward to learning more about her.

John Mackey, Whole Foods (9%, 129 Votes)
Despite recent conflicts about Mackey’s stance on health care and other issues, he remains a household name in the world of sustainable business. You have to have built an empire to earn his level of controversy, but there’s no question that Whole Foods’ ascent has pushed other retailers and the mainstream public toward more organic, more healthy eating.

Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan, New Belgium Brewery (8%, 111 Votes)
Mmm beer. In addition to producing excellent brews, New Belgium Brewery has almost single handedly brought downtown Ft. Collins, Colorado to life – a tall order in the suburban sprawl of the front range. With a wind powered brewery, most employees biking to work, and a corporate structure that includes the Four Principals of Sustainability, New Belgium bleeds green. Also, the Tour de Fat bicycle event is as fun as a company sponsored party can be.

Eric Schmidt, Google (7%, 101 Votes)
Google’s slogan, “Don’t Be Evil”, has more or less been followed even if it’s meant to be tongue in cheek. From green buildings & data centers, to donating millions to worthy causes, to standing up to the Chinese government, Google earns a prominent position on this list. Not manufacturing anything physical might make embracing sustainability an easier task, but Google’s inclusion on the top ten is still well earned.

Ray Anderson (Former CEO), Interface Carpet (7%, 90 Votes)
Ray Anderson is so well known among sustainable business types, we often speak of a “Ray Anderson moment” as being the moment when a CEO has an epiphany about his or her company’s impact on the world and the fact that, most likely, there are a lot of negative externalities wrapped up in it. Some might wonder how he didn’t earn the number one spot, but perhaps the fact that he’s number 10 speaks volumes about how much progress others have made.

I’ll leave you with a classic Ray Anderson clip from the movie “The Corporation” which sums up his experience and is something to which all corporate leaders should relate.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

15 responses

  1. I'm kind of surprised to see John Mackey and Whole Foods included here. Sure he and the company have built a successful business catering to individuals who prize sustainability but it's not particularly clear that Mackey and the company does nearly as much. A recent Ceres study ( ranking of the industry players shows that Whole Foods trails many other grocery chains in efforts to run a sustainable business.

  2. While I am not a big fan of Whole Foods generally or Mackey specifically, the company is one of the first to provide sustainable food to a wide group of consumers. Unfortunately, the prices are such that those who would benefit the most from organic food and the like (namely, those in lower socio-economic brackets) do not receive the benefits of the company. However, that is probably the reason whole foods is pretty far down the list.

  3. I think Yvon Chouinard as the top sustainable CEO is SOLID….the stories I hear from people who work for the company about their boss and his practices are inspirational to say the least. The whole Patagonia Company is admirable in their contributions to conservation and it’s no surprise that the ideology comes from the top (check out the new wetsuits they put out made with wool, wool in water, I love the concept). The Organic Valley Company spot as number two made me immediately want to learn more about the company which has a very nice website and company history; it’ll make me look for the brand when I’m out shopping…. Ahhh, Whole Foods, Whole Foods, Whole Foods, what are you going to do? I realize Mackey’s recent ideals on health care have people up in arms and I’m not a giant fan of the chain (or Mackey’s ramblings of late) but what do you do if you live in a town that has no alternative to Whole Foods? Boycott and buy less sustainable products? When I lived in Santa Clarita Whole Foods was your option for sustainable products, do you DRIVE the 30 miles to LA to choose a non-chain sustainable supermarket or go with the slightly greedy yet more sustainable than Ralphs/Vons choice….

  4. May not be fair to just list the most well known brands and do a simple survey about them, and claim that these are THE Top Ten Most “Sustainable” CEOs …
    perhaps they are the most Popular CEO’s for Sustainability amongst a list of yours.. There are tons of companies whose business models are much more oriented towards creating social benefit in tandem with generating profit – but their Missions are a much larger part of their operation than what a lot of bigger companies are able to do. Many great examples can be found in the B-Corporation list (1,203 companies and counting), and companies such as Tropical Traders Honey that deals in organize honey and manages fair wages, Grosche that has a safe water project to install safe water supplies in Africa and Asia for every product they sell ( , and even public utilities like Green Mountain power and many credit unions throughout North America. Tks, SK.

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