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The 25 Hottest Sustainability Professionals

Words by Leon Kaye

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 GreenGoPost.com 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 headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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