The 25 Hottest Sustainability Professionals

Marks & Spencer, Leon Kaye
Marks & Spencer’s Plan A is Hot

Hottest lists, are well, hot. So I thought I would start April with a list of the hottest 25 sustainability professionals. After all, sustainability is HOT–but the best way to comprise a list of sustainability stars is to focus on brains, compassion, dedication, impact and of course, more brains. We won’t wade into the spit-spat between Complex Magazine and Pando Daily, which recently issued some top 40 lists of the hottest tech professionals–again, this list is focused on intellect and results.

Full disclosure: this is actually a list of 26. I wanted gender balance. And this is not a ranking . . . we are going in alphabetical order, so please no disputes between perceived numbers 2, 12 and 22 on the list. Drum roll please . . . and remember, it’s all about brains – leadership and brains.

Elaine Cohen: Elaine’s knowledge and analysis of corporate social responsibility and sustainability reports ranks among the top leaders within this space. No one can articulate the complex nature of “materiality” like she can.

Mary Capozzi: Best Buy’s Senior Director of CSR has been instrumental in pushing other retailers and manufacturers to follow her company’s lead and improve the recycling of electronics.

Adam Elman: No retailer has an aggressive sustainability plan matching Marks & Spencer’s Plan A, and Mr. Elman is one reason why. The Head of Delivery has positioned M&S as a leader in the company’s ethical and ecological shift.

Peter Graf: Integrated reporting is taking a big step forward, due in part because of SAP and its CSO. If you still do not believe in the links between financial and non-financial performance, review SAP’s most recent annual report.

Jim Hanna: Starbucks’ Director of Environmental Impact and Global Responsiblity is pushing the world’s largest company into a more ecological direction. The challenges are many, but with Mr. Hanna’s insight, heightened energy efficiency, green building projects and, of course, a solution to those pesky paper cups will improve the company’s performance in the next few years.

Susan Arnot Heaney: Avon’s Executive Director of Corporate Responsibility is one reason Avon has emerged as a business leader when it comes to improving women’s rights across the globe.

Helena Helmersson: The Head of Sustainability for H&M has helped transform what was once the world leader in disposable clothing into the number one purchaser of organic cotton on Earth. The company has enormous challenges ahead, but Helmersson has this fashion giant on a more responsible path.

Jeffrey Hollender: Seventh Generation’s founder is a prolific writer and has a new project underway: sustainable condoms.

Steve Howard: Many dismiss IKEA as the H&M of the furniture and household goods world, but just as with the clothing company, the furniture company is changing its ways. IKEA’s CSO has partnered with the company’s CEO to scour the furniture giant’s supply chain.

Alice Korngold: The CEO of her eponymous consulting firm is a top thought leader on corporate governance, corporate strategy and corporate responsiblity.

Hannah Jones: The convergence between sustainability and innovation that Nike is currently experiencing is unfolding largely because of Ms. Jones at the helm.

Hunter Lovins: The founder of Natural Capital Solutions has pushed the cause of restoring natural and human capital long before the rest of us chattered about it. Ms. Lovins has also worked with some of the world’s largest companies in their quest to become more sustainable.

Adam Lowry and Eric Ryan: The Frick and Frack of the green cleaning supplies sector has transformed what was once a dowdy and dirty industry. Method’s bright bottles with plant-based ingredients put cool into clean. And now the company is sourcing ocean trash to turn into packaging.

Lucy Marcus: If you become bored with corporate boards’ shenanigans than you must read her writings on corporate governance, ethics and leadership. Ms. Marcus also works with venture capital and private equity funds to improve the long-term sustainable success for funding organizations.

Kim Marotta: The former attorney is now the Director of Sustainability at MillerCoors, which among beverage companies has achieved huge strikes in water stewardship.

Susan McPherson: Running the CSR practice for Fenton, Ms. McPherson can work a room or a conference call with her unrelenting passion; plus she’s a keen networker. Her weekly #CSRChats keep getting better and better, too.

Marcy Murninghan: Dr. Murninghan has been an advocate of environmental sustainability, transparency and for business to heed human rights long before any of these movements were “hot.”

Douglas Park: A leading expert on corporate governance, Mr. Park joined the Silicon Valley law firm Rimon, one of the first law firms in the U.S. to become a B Corp, as a partner and CSO. He shares his views on securities law, startups and strategy on Twitter.

Emily Pilloton: The founder and Executive Director of Studio H melds activism and architecture. A leader in the humanitarian design movement, her dedication to transforming communities and improving public education is incomparable.

Paul Polman: Unilever’s CEO has presided over one of the world’s biggest corporate makeovers. The consumer product company’s Sustainable Living Plan has already made impressive achievements on social and environmental sustainability. Plus the company’s stock has surged the past two years–curiously, while this sustainability plan has scaled up.

Dave Stangis: Campbell Soup Company’s Vice President of Public Affairs and Corporate Responsibility. Long a CSR leader, under his watch, his company has increased its work on issues including water and nutrition.

John Viera: Ford Motor’s Global Director of Sustainability and Vehicle Environmental Matters is not only a great speaker, he has been key to Ford’s increased partnerships with NGOs while the company has experimented with alternative products in its cars and took the lead on human rights initiatives.

Julie Urlaub: Founder of Taiga Company, Ms. Urlaub is a leading sustainability business consultant and an expert at leveraging social media for sustainability and CSR communications.

Adam Werbach: The former head of the Sierra Club and former leader of Saatchi & Saatchi’s global sustainability efforts recently founded the sharing site yerdle.

Andrew Winston: Consultant, speaker and writer, Mr. Winston has been unstoppable in his push for a greener business world.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. He will speak at San Francisco State University on climate change, the media and business on Wednesday, April 3. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

[Image credit: Leon Kaye]

Leon Kaye

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He is currently Executive Editor of 3p, and is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media. His previous work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). He's traveled worldwide and has lived in Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

29 responses

  1. Most of them are in big business organisations. What about the people in NGOs, local government, central government, international organisations, the ones who don’t blow their own trumpet in corporate annual reports?

    1. That’s a fair point! but then again, I see these lists as mostly for fun. Perhaps more lists await?

    1. I respectfully disagree, John. Sustainability is a decision-making framework for individuals, businesses, non-profits, governments, higher education institutions, and so forth. So, I tend to agree with Payteer – this is a really neat list and I think it is wonderful to share the great work these men and women are doing, but there are a WIDE variety of other institutional heroes that could have been mentioned. So maybe Leon might calls this the “Sustainable business champions” list and expand this noble effort in a future posting to other noteworthy names outside the business world as well?

      1. With all due respect, my suggestion is to stick to your job and I’ll stick to mine: which is calling out people in business who are making a difference and put in many many hours doing so. Remember, this is “professionals,” as in BUSINESS. The smartest people on the planet in general work for or with business. And they are the ones getting us out of this mess.

        1. Wow. Easy boy. Settle. If you did your job well you wouldn’t get blowback. That you would suggest that business is where the the smartest people on the planet work, well, I guess you never went to college. And that there are no sustainability professionals from higher education on your list confirms you must have gone straight from high school to whatever it is that you do. Open your eyes and look around. Count the degrees on the walls of all the fine folks you venerated. They learned this stuff from smart people in college. Likewise, there are some very fine folks working on sustainability-related curriculum, operations, student engagement, and community relations across the ca 4,000 campuses in the US. BTW: those campuses aggregate into a force bigger than a lot of Fortune 500s. And they are graduating millions of students into the workforce where, if they learned from the smart people in college, they help change society for the better. It’s called multiplier effect. Higher education’s multiplier effect is arguably as high as any business. Now, Leon, take off you blinders and look around. There’s a whole world out there not dressed in pinstripes. We call them people. You should join em.

        2. You wouldn’t know that because you obviously didn’t go to college…or was drunk the whole time.

        3. You wouldn’t know that because you obviously didn’t go to college…or was drunk the whole time.

  2. This is great, Leon. I’m imagining you had trouble even getting it down to 25. Today’s sustainability pros, communicators and influencers (these 25 and more) are such a smart and passionate group. And, with so many of them using social media so well, the movement is in good hands. Very exciting!

  3. Lots of good folks left off. I would include Gil Friend, a practical visionary who provides thought leadership, hardcore expertise, and inspiration to major corporations, and KoAnn Skrzyniarz, who has catalyzed one of the most important continuous and high-impact conversations on corporate sustainability in the U.S. and, increasingly, the world.

  4. What a great post showing the “hottest” sustainability professionals. To me, a soon-to-be college graduate wanting to get into this career field, I find it very valuable to view this list. Seeing that these individuals are successful on social media platforms is also great to see because social media platforms are the new and now form of two-way communication.

    Thanks for compiling this list. Definitely will be looking into the works and achievements of these individuals. Many of these individuals have very successful campaigns that I am currently looking into for my undergraduate thesis research.

  5. Your list is missing some giants of corporate sustainability: Joyce Dickerson at Google, Bill Weihl at Facebook, Christina Page at Yahoo, Melissa Gray at Rackspace, Michele Blazek at AT&T, and Katie Fehrenbacher at GigaOm, to name a few.

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