Given the devastating economic toll the COVID-19 pandemic has had on women and girls, the imperative to mark International Women’s Day carries more weight than usual this year.
The idea of a day celebrating the accomplishments of the female gender in the U.S. reaches back to 1909. Throughout the subsequent decade, the concept was embraced by countries including Austria, Denmark, Germany, Russia and Switzerland, but it wasn’t until 1975 that the first International Women’s Day was celebrated and adopted by the United Nations.
As I began identifying leaders to include on this third annual list, I was inspired by the introduction to "All We Can Save," an essay and poem collection co-edited by marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson (who you can find on this year’s list) and Katharine Wilkinson (who we recognized on the first Badass Women list in 2019).
They celebrate a rise in climate leadership distinguished by four important characteristics: it is focused on "making change rather than being in charge"; it is committed to responding in ways "that heal systemic injustices rather than deepening them"; there is "an appreciation for heart-centered, not just head-centered, leadership"; and there is "a recognition that building community is a requisite foundation for building a better world."
By not including women at equal levels — in companies, in government, in NGOs and elsewhere — the climate movement is itself experiencing a crisis, they argue. "As the saying goes, to change everything, we need everyone … We need feminine and feminist climate leadership, which is wide open to people of any gender."
When it comes to those shaping the corporate climate movement — either from within companies or as part of NGOs and policy organizations that recognize the critical role businesses must play in addressing the climate emergency — I’m grateful to say it’s becoming easier to find women with a seat at the decision-making table. This list, selected subjectively, celebrates a diverse, intergenerational set of leaders.
Speaking of giving credit where credit is due, nominations are open for the seventh annual Women in Sustainability Leadership Awards, to be conferred by the Women in Sustainability Alumnae Group at a virtual ceremony May 19.
Nominees must have at least seven years of management and leadership experience, and have made a noteworthy contribution to the cause of corporate climate action. I can think of plenty of worthy candidates, how about you? You’ve got until March 24 to suggest them.
And now, I invite you to meet the 2021 class of Badass Women.
Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister, New Zealand
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wasted little time raising the stakes in her nation’s fight against climate change after handily winning re-election in October. Drawing on that mandate, Ardern declared a "climate emergency" and set the wheels in motion for New Zealand’s public sector to become carbon neutral by 2025.
"This declaration is an acknowledgment of the next generation," she told parliament early in December. "An acknowledgment of the burden they will carry if we do not get this right and do not take action now."
New Zealand, a nation of about 5 million people, in late January reported progress toward its goal to cut emissions by 30 percent over the next decade compared with 2005 levels — but recognized current measures won’t be enough to meet the Paris Agreement goals.
Ardern was praised for her government’s aggressive containment of the COVID-19 pandemic last year — her country reported just 25 deaths. She passed a Zero Carbon Bill during her first term that mandates net-zero emissions by 2050 and campaigned on tougher action this term.
Ardern is being watched closely: Her administration has been criticized for being lenient on reducing biogenic methane from agricultural production — notably dairy cattle and sheep — which accounts for almost half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions and roughly 6.6 percent of its GDP. Her idea is to phase in reductions. Farmers could face higher taxes or the elimination of irrigation subsidies as early as 2022 if they don’t act to reduce their impact.
Alyssa Auberger, CSO, Baker McKenzie
Over the past year, many professional services organizations that previously had little to say publicly about their climate change strategy — from law firms to management consultants to ad agencies — found themselves under closer scrutiny not just for their own footprint but for supporting some of the biggest climate deniers around. Amid that soul searching, one of the largest law partnerships in the world, Baker McKenzie, named its first chief sustainability officer, Alyssa Auberger.
A partner in the firm’s Paris office, with more than 20 years’ tenure, Auberger previously led Baker McKenzie’s consumer goods and retail practice. In that role, she was engaged in helping clients develop strategies for supply chain transparency disclosures and claim, emissions reporting and human rights.
"In terms of our partnership with our clients, this means being able to understand what sustainability means to their businesses across all industries and identifying how we can help them with their environment, social and governance needs," she said. "For our own people, it means a focus on nurturing a business that aligns with and respects our own unique values, cares about communities and gives us all a sense of purpose that goes beyond the billable hour."
Baker McKenzie established its climate change practice two decades ago, one of the first firms to do so, and it is one of the largest law organizations to belong to the United Nations Global Compact, which it joined in 2015. It uses the Sustainable Development Goals as a guidepost for many of its policies and has aligned its business with eight of them.
Boma Brown-West, Director of Consumer Health, EDF+Business
A mechanical engineer by training who spent the early part of her career in the private sector at Whirlpool, Boma Brown-West leads the Environmental Defense Fund’s work to eliminate toxic chemicals and other substances with questionable consequences for human health from consumer products and retailer store shelves — everything from paints to makeup to baby food.
As part of her role, Brown-West manages the NGO’s Five Pillars for Safer Chemicals Leadership program. She is at the center of the NGO’s working relationship with Walmart, among other retailers and consumer brands, helping it launch in 2017 an expansive strategy to reduce its chemical footprint for consumables by 10 percent by 2022.
Promoted to her current position in October, Brown-West — a prolific EDF author based in Washington, D.C. — last year drew attention to the disproportionate impact that cosmetics and beauty products have on women of color. Her team in August expanded its relationship with beauty retailer Sephora, which has committed to reducing certain high-priority chemicals in the products it sells by 50 percent in the next three years.
One other recent crusade is pushing e-commerce retailers such as Amazon, eBay and Walmart to disclose more about the climate effects and chemical compositions of the millions of products they sell, which EDF supported with a roadmap of suggestions in summer 2020. "We want to call attention to how the biggest environmental impacts and the biggest health impact of products is really due to the products themselves and the creation and the use of a product," Brown-West noted at the time.
Martina Cheung, President, S&P Global Market Intelligence; Head of ESG, S&P Global
When it comes to market intelligence, S&P Global — the New York-based parent company to Dow Jones, Trucost and soon-to-be IHS Markit — is a familiar, respected name in boardrooms. Martina Cheung is the executive driving the growth strategy across S&P's portfolio of ESG ratings, benchmarks and data products.
After a career as a consultant, Cheung joined S&P in 2010 and has led diverse strategic initiatives and titles including vice president of operations, chief strategy officer and head of risk services. Drawing on that perspective, she encourages sustainability leaders to spend more time with their counterparts in finance. As she observed during GreenBiz 21 in February: "I think the partnership with the CFO is incredibly important, the partnership with investor relations because sustainability goes to the heart of performance."
A new parent, Cheung has been outspoken about the need for more flexibility and support for women who choose to juggle careers and family responsibilities, a message she has amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, one of the "S" factors in ESG.
"As employees work from home, children and family members have become regular fixtures in the background of online meetings," she wrote in an editorial for NBC. "Their increased visibility can lead to better communication about the burden of family care, more expansive family-leave policies and reduced stigma around taking such leave."
Debra Haaland, Congresswoman; Secretary Nominee, Department of the Interior
As of this writing, New Mexico Congresswoman Debra Haaland has yet to be formally confirmed as Secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior, but she already has a long history of championing climate-related causes.
Raised in a military family, Haaland identifies as a 35th generation New Mexican and an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna. Before entering public service, she oversaw the second largest tribal gaming enterprise in the state, where she focused on the creation of earth-friendly business practices. There are many "firsts" on her resume: the first Native woman to lead a state party, the first to serve in Congress and, if successfully confirmed, the first Native person to hold a U.S. Cabinet position.
Those critical of her appointment point to Haaland’s support of the Standing Rock pipeline protests as extreme — she brought food to the tribes camped out to protect their territories’ natural resources and heritage. "When we’re thinking about our environment, you can destroy faster than you can rebuild," she said at the time. "You can cut down a 500-year-old tree. That tree is never going to grow back like that again. Climate change is real, and I’m going to fight to the bitter end to protect our environment because it’s the only one we have and our environment gives us everything."
Last year, Haaland led a coalition that proposed the 30 By 30 Resolution to Save Nature, aimed at creating a strategy for the U.S. to preserve at least 30 percent of the ocean and land by 2030. President Joe Biden announced his support for that philosophy just one week after taking office in January.
Celine Herweijer, Partner, Global Innovation and Sustainability Leader, PwC
The newly anointed group sustainability chief for one of Europe’s largest banks, HSBC — a role she will assume in July — London-based Celine Herweijer is a familiar feature in the continent’s corporate climate movement.
In her current position as innovation and sustainability leader for consulting firm PwC, Herweijer has advised some of the world’s largest financial services organizations and asset management companies on climate risk strategy and sustainable finance initiatives. She has served on numerous committees for the World Economic Forum and the United Nations, among other groups, and is co-chair of the We Mean Business Coalition.
Like many other banks, HSBC has pledged to step away from its funding of fossil-fuels interests and other high-carbon industrial activities with a pledge to achieving net-zero financed emissions across its customer portfolio by 2050. (It aims to reach net-zero for its own operations and supply chain by 2030.) Skeptics have criticized its commitment for not going far enough.
Still, the company is stepping out as an innovator in sustainable finance — it was the first buyer into a new reef credits system in Australia, and Herweijer’s innovation lens and ongoing research into risks associated with nature and biodiversity loss no doubt helped land her new job.
"The cascading physical, regulatory and legal, market and reputation risks we see mean nature risk now needs to be a mainstream issue for corporate enterprise risk management," Weijer said last year. "We have an opportunity to extend the recent response of regulators, businesses and investors on climate change to nature; both are interrelated and both pose a systemic risk to the global economy."
Mellody Hobson, Co-CEO and President, Ariel Investments
Mellody Hobson joined Chicago-based Ariel Investments, one of the largest African American-owned mutual funds in the United States with more than $15 billion in assets under management, as an intern. Today, she is co-CEO, responsible for strategy and planning.
Ariel’s focus is on nurturing small and midsize capitalization stocks, and in mid-February, the firm announced a bold new initiative — Ariel Alternatives, aka "Project Black." The goal is to invest in businesses owned by Black or Latinx entrepreneurs, as well as middle-market companies that are not minority-owned, with the goal of helping them change their ownership model. Its partner is JPMorgan Chase, which has committed to co-investing $200 million.
One of Hobson’s convictions is that American’s must be "color brave," a phrase she coined in her 2014 TED Talk. She commented in a February interview: "I'm going to always take the hopeful route here and say we have become more brave, but we have to be much braver than we are." In "Civil Rights 3.0" corporations need to step up much more proactively, Hobson observed. We’ve had plenty of talk, and now we need elbow grease and accountability, she said.
An active outside director, Hobson chaired DreamWorks Animation up until its sale to NBCUniversal, and in March became chairperson of Starbucks. In October, her alma mater announced plans for a new residential college. The new facility, Hobson, the first to be named for a Black woman at Princeton, will appropriately be built on the former site of a building previously named for Woodrow Wilson, whose name was removed in June because of his racist views and policies.
Kara Hurst, Vice President, Head of Worldwide Sustainability, Amazon
Now in her seventh year with Amazon, Kara Hurst — the company’s first sustainability executive via previous gigs with The Sustainability Consortium and BSR — leads the team that helped orchestrate many ambitious commitments that the giant company has made in the past two years.
She was instrumental in designing Amazon’s signature program, The Climate Pledge, launched with Global Optimism in September 2019, which includes a commitment to earn net-zero carbon status by 2040 — 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement timeline. As of Feb. 17, there were 53 signatories representing 18 industries.
"The Climate Pledge is a call to urgent action," Hurst said in a February interview. "I think one of the things that also distinguishes the pledge is a commitment to sending these market signals, the demand for the products and services that companies need to help us decarbonize."
For Seattle-based Amazon, that includes a plan to invest $2 billion in climate tech and decarbonization services; a $100 million fund to support reforestation and urban greening projects; the purchase of 100,000 electric vehicles for the company’s delivery fleet; and the creation of the Climate Pledge Friendly labeling program, which makes is easier to research the sustainability attributes of products.
Hurst’s causes outside Amazon include board positions with Stolen Youth, an organization dedicated to eradicating sex trafficking; as well as with the roundtable for sustainability that’s part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
Ellen Jackowski, Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer, HP Inc.
For HP Inc., sustainability strategy isn’t just a source of operational or ESG differentiation, it’s a revenue driver — $1 billion in customer contracts for the past two fiscal years. Ellen Jackowski is the Palo Alto, California, company’s long-time sustainability innovation champion, who ascended to her current position in June.
Jackowski was at the center of HP’s ongoing project in Haiti to collect ocean-bound plastic waste and incorporate the material into the company’s printer cartridges and, as of May, into some of its personal computers. So far, that effort has diverted 1.7 million pounds of plastic, or 60 million bottles. Like many consumer products companies, the HP sustainability team is also focused on reducing the impact of its packaging — its goal is to eliminate 75 percent of single-use plastics by 2025.
She also leads the company’s work on fighting deforestation, through efforts such as a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund to restore and manage up to 20,000 acres in Brazil’s endangered Atlantic Forest, or through the HP Sustainable Forests Collaborative, which includes Chenming Paper, Domtar Paper and New Leap Paper.
One of Jackowski’s latest initiatives is a program, HP Amplify Impact, that calls upon HP’s expansive partner network — including the companies that resell its computers — to set sustainability goals. "Our team is not just tracking how partners select their suppliers — we’re measuring the carbon reductions across the value chain," she wrote in February. "We’re also tracking the overall impact on people and on communities, collectively with our partners. That’s where we will find real inspiration and momentum."
Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Co-founder, Urban Ocean Lab and Ocean Collectiv, All We Can Save
Marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson has lived at the intersection of practical environmental conservation strategy and social justice for years, through her consulting work with Ocean Collectiv, dedicated to addressing issues such as overfishing and habitat destruction. Her research on the role coastal communities can play in climate solutions — including policy work on offshore wind development and the Blue New Deal — is supported by her second venture, Urban Ocean Lab.
Last year, the New York-based scientist tapped into her experience and her friendship with climate solutions expert and author Katharine Wilkinson of Project Drawdown to co-launch a project dedicated to amplifying the work of women in the climate movement — scientists, policymakers, activists and, notably, BIPOC.
All We Can Save, the book they birthed in September, features 41 powerful voices. Johnson and Wilkinson have spun the dialogue into a nonprofit focused on supporting — financially, intellectually and otherwise — female climate leaders.
Johnson’s own voice has become far more familiar. In November, she began co-hosting a Gimlet Media podcast, "How to Save a Planet." Her passionate call for the climate movement to confront racism was prominently published in the Washington Post in June. "To the white people who care about maintaining a habitable planet, I need you to become actively anti-racist," she wrote. "I need you to understand that our racial inequality crisis is intertwined with our climate crisis. If we don’t work on both, we will succeed at neither."
Rose Stuckey Kirk, Senior Vice President, Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer, Verizon
Rose Stuckey Kirk, who spent much of her career as a journalist, has been more visible than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of her attention over the past year has been surfacing ways for Verizon to help support struggling small businesses.
Two notable efforts include a $1 million grant for the We Mean Business coalition, aimed at helping up to 1 million small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) with carbon footprinting tools; and its $10 million commitment in February aimed at supporting SMEs in historically underserved communities. Both fall under Citizen Verizon, the Basking Ridge, New Jersey, teleco’s initiative for economic, environmental and social advancement.
The pandemic didn’t stop Verizon from advancing its sustainability strategy significantly over the past 12 months, with a pledge to become carbon neutral by 2035 and the pricing of a second $1 billion green bond meant to support the construction of renewable energy resources for its telecommunications networks.
Raised in Arkansas with seven siblings, Kirk serves on the board of numerous organizations, including the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Leadership Council and the C-200 women’s leadership initiative. She was executive producer of the 2017 documentary "Without a Net: The Digital Divide in America."
"Whether in education, nonprofit, business, media, policy or another industry, the individuals who have influenced me the most are the innovators — the leaders and change-makers who are pulsing the world forward," Kirk said in a 2017 Forbes interview. "Those who don’t just talk — who act."
Jill Kolling, Vice President, Global Sustainability, Cargill
Jill Kolling, a former entrepreneur and management consultant who hails from Minneapolis, joined the agricultural giant in 2015. Over the past six years, she has been at the center of the strategy to build a global sustainable team focused on climate science, water and sustainable agriculture practices.
As one of the largest private companies in the U.S. — and a huge buyer of commodities such as soybeans, which have been linked to deforestation — Cargill’s work on climate action is highly scrutinized, and Kolling’s team has been pushed to set ambitious, transparent commitments.
Among the initiatives that have emerged under Kolling’s leadership include the company’s science-based climate commitments, which include a target to reduce operational GHG emissions by 10 percent by 2025 and those from the Cargill supply chain by 30 percent per ton of product by 2030.
Her team also last year set context-based water targets that aim to restore 158 billion gallons of water and reduce about 5,500 tons of water pollutants in priority watersheds. And like many agricultural companies, Cargill is investing in regenerative agriculture, with the goal of advancing practices such as planting cover crops or rotational grazing on 10 million acres.
"I think farmers are starting to realize that it's ultimately the consumer who's starting to care more and more about this," Kolling told GreenBiz last summer. "Over the coming years, those pressures and those desires from consumers to want to know more about how their food was produced and having greater expectations, we believe it's going to grow and will continue to trickle back to the farmer.”
Yuko Koshiishi, General Manager, Corporate Sustainability, Suntory
With more than $21 billion in revenue as of 2019, Japan’s Suntory is parent to well-known water, tea, soft drink and spirits brands, including American bourbons Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark. Company veteran Yuko Koshiishi, who has held multiple communications and business development assignments over the past two decades, is the woman behind its sustainability strategy.
The hallmarks of Suntory’s climate action plan include a high-level commitment to eliminate "petrol-based materials" from its PET bottles by 2030, a pledge it is supporting with a mechanical recycling process called Flake-to-Preform; it’s also developing chemical recycling approaches.
To address and decrease its heavy dependence on water, Suntory created a concept back in 2003 called Natural Water Sanctuary, which it uses to protect the watersheds near its production facilities in places such as Japan, India, Mexico, the United States and Spain. The goal: to cultivate more water — and habitat in those watersheds — than it uses in its plants by 2050. "Water is a very localized issue, which means we need a tailored approach for each site," Koshiishi said late last year.
Suntory also has embedded sustainability considerations into its procurement policies: All new suppliers are screened on criteria including environmental considerations such as emissions, as well as broader factors such as ethics, security and human rights.
"We have maintained the momentum behind our sustainability strategy during the pandemic," Koshiishi said in October. "This includes working closely with our supply chain to make sure that we are promoting sustainability in the sourcing of raw materials, transportation and production processes."
Ellen MacArthur, Founder and Chair, Ellen MacArthur Foundation
It’s the rare corporate sustainability professional who doesn’t recognize the name Dame Ellen MacArthur.
The British sailor-turned-circular economy strategist’s eponymous foundation has been instrumental in getting some of the world’s best-known, biggest brands to commit to moving away from linear models of economy production to processes that prioritize the recirculation and regeneration of materials and products. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) was created in 2010 to inspire next-generation business leaders to rethink and redesign their approaches. The idea was born during MacArthur’s three-year-long "journey of discovery" around the world from 2006 to 2009.
"If we create a circular economy, if we use things rather than using things up, then why can’t we build a future that works," MacArthur said at the EMF launch.
Since that time, EMF, based in Cowes, U.K., has orchestrated collaborative initiatives targeting everything from plastics to food waste and bringing together large companies, NGOs and policymakers. In 2018, it raised the stakes further, joining the World Economic Forum, World Resources Institute, the United Nations Environment Program and several dozen other organizations to create the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy. And last summer, it convinced 50 CEOs in food, fashion, finance and plastics — including the leaders of Danone, H&M, L’Oreal, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever — to commit to making circular principles a fundamental part of their post-COVID economic recovery plans. Essentially, to push reset.
"This is something that’s moved phenomenally quickly in the last five years, and I think that’s because it has to," MacArthur said during a presentation at Circularity 20. "The brands know it has to."
Roma McCaig, Vice President, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, Campbell Soup
With much of her early career focused on operational efficiency, change initiatives and stakeholder engagement, Roma McCaig brings a relatively unique point of view to her work on ESG strategy for food company Campbell Soup.
She’s been influencing the Camden, New Jersey, company’s sustainability strategy for the past three years, first as head of responsible sourcing in the procurement function and for just under two years in her current role. Under McCaig’s leadership, Campbell is working to improve its transparency about progress — it hasn’t reached its renewable goal, for example, and that work continues. The company also identified 14 areas of ESG focus ranging from climate to human rights to board diversity — issues that are material to its business in the future. And it’s committed to reporting against those risks.
Among the new commitments McCaig has cultivated over the 12 months include a pledge to halve food waste and loss by 2030 as part of the 10x20x30 initiative; a vision to transition 100 percent of its packaging to recyclable or industrial compostable materials by the same time frame; and a push to set science-based targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the company’s supply chain. As part of its COVID-19 response, it donated more than $8 million in cash and food to organizations across North America.
“During these challenging times, it is more important than ever that we continue to build a sustainable and resilient supply chain, while giving back to the communities that we call home,” McCaig told a consumer goods trade publication in May.
Maria Mendiluce, CEO, We Mean Business
With more than two decades of experience in policy and sustainable development, energy economics expert Maria Mendiluce brings both private and public perspectives to her relatively new role as CEO of the We Mean Business coalition, with positions with the Spanish prime minister’s economic team and Iberdrola’s CEO office among her career highlights.
The initiative, which focuses on coordinating corporate climate action, is a collaboration among BSR, B-team, CDP, Ceres, CLG Europe, The Climate Group and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). It's Mendiluce’s mission to orchestrate coordinated responses on key issues, including amplifying the voices of businesses that want national governments to deliver zero-carbon economic stimulus packages as part of the response to COVID-19.
"Governments need to take confidence from the growing call from businesses for policies that will boost the economy and get us on track to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030," she said in May. "By doing so, they will enable companies to invest now and innovate at the scale and pace that is necessary to build back better and create the future we all want."
A champion of women’s leadership in sustainability, prior to joining the coalition Mendiluce was with WBCSD. There she played a pivotal role in establishing the Alliance to End Plastic Waste; the Transforming Urban Mobility Project; and the Low Carbon Technology Initiative. Mendiluce also serves on the boards for organizations including the Science Based Targets initiative and the Energy Transition Commission.
Rebekah Moses, Head of Impact Strategy, Impossible Foods
Just five years ago, Impossible Foods launched its plant-based (aka "fake meat") burgers in a handful of specialty restaurants. Today, while the category it represents is still tiny — just 1 percent of the meat market — the company’s consumer brand recognition and its presence in mainstream supermarkets have grown by leaps and bounds.
One of its first hires was Rebekah Moses, an agricultural and international development scientist who previously worked on numerous field projects domestically and in the Middle East. She’s head of impact strategy for the San Francisco-based company, valued at $4 billion in August. It’s her job to calculate the potential environmental outcomes associated with eating an Impossible Foods product versus the ones associated with meat cultivated from farmed animals. That’s not necessarily to "demonize behavior" but to raise awareness of habitat loss and other side effects of eating animal meat, and to keep that philosophy central within the company’s innovation process.
While the health and agricultural impacts of the Impossible Burger have been criticized — after all, one of the main ingredients, soy, is closely linked with deforestation — Moses says it requires less land and water to produce, and the production process emits fewer GHG emissions than raising animals for meat.
Cultivating a variety of plant protein sources will be crucial for the future of food systems, Moses said in a recent interview. She noted: "One of the really interesting questions for our industry is how do you actually biodiversify your protein and fat ingredient streams so that you support agricultural diversity within the system itself?"
Sunita Narain, Director General, Center for Science and the Environment
Indian environmental researcher Sunita Narain has been associated with the country’s Center for Science and Environment for close to 30 years, starting as an assistant and assuming the director general role in 2011. She’s also a prolific writer and the editor of a fortnightly magazine on politics and environment, Down to Earth, published in New Delhi.
Narain’s work and recommendations have directly informed India’s policies including around air pollution, with a focus on how to learn from strategies used by the Western world and leapfrog them. One example is the adoption of buses that run on compressed natural gas (CNG) in India’s capital city.
Water is one of the issues about which Narain is most passionate; one of India’s largest rural economic development programs focuses on the ecological restoration of more than 1 million bodies of water. She has been recognized for her research on rainwater harvesting and local water management policies, and co-authored two books on the topic: “Dying Wisdom” and “Making Water Everybody’s Business.”
In November, Narain was recognized with the Edinburgh Medal, rewarded annually to scientists who have made significant contributions to the wellbeing of humankind. "We need cooperation, we need equity, and we need climate justice," Narain said in her acceptance speech, pointing to the disproportionate burden that the world’s poor carry when it comes to the effects of climate change.
Malin Nordin, Head of Circular Development, Inter IKEA Group
Sweden’s IKEA is at the leading edge of circular economy principles among retailers, through initiatives such as the furniture buyback program it tested last year on Black Friday in countries including Australia, Canada and Russia. The idea — to resell what’s still usable and recycle what’s not — was spearheaded by the team led by IKEA’s head of circular development, Malin Nordin.
A chemical scientist by background, Nordin said the company’s vision to be 100 percent circular by 2030 starts with the design process. Through research in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund, it has identified 32 priority materials in woods, plastics, papers, metals and textiles that have the most potential to stand up in a circular model, Nordin has noted.
"One aim of circular design is to develop products that can be useful throughout the changing lives of our customers,” she said, pointing to examples such as baby cots that can be transformed into toddler beds or modular storage systems.
One principle central to Nordin’s mission is upholding the company’s vision of creating products that are affordable, a principle it calls "democratic design." "When you add the idea of circular design to the idea around democratic design, it makes the problem even better, even more valuable," she said in a November interview with EMF.
Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO, Sustainable Energy for All; Co-Chair, UN-Energy
After years of focusing on energy access in Nigeria — where she was the first female managing director of the country’s rural electrification agency — Damilola Ogunbiyi stepped into her current position in early 2020. She’s also a commissioner for the Global Commission to End Energy Poverty.
As CEO of Sustainable Energy for All in Vienna, Ogunbiyi is responsible for promoting the development of reliable, affordable and sustainable energy not just in Africa but globally by 2030, the mandate set out by U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 7. She has extensive experience in shaping policy to that end. In Nigeria, Ogunbiyi was instrumental in supporting the construction of solar mini-grids and home systems across the country, where her work was particularly focused on energizing universities and healthcare facilities.
At Sustainable Energy for All, she’s prioritizing the "smart use of data, next partnerships and scaled involvement of the private sector." Two core programs: the electrification of healthcare facilities and a focus on clean cooling, for which the organization estimates that more than 2.2 billion people globally lack access to clean, efficient options.
"To truly deliver the vision of SDG7 and universal energy access in a sustainable way, decentralized solutions must be our focus to reach the most vulnerable and remote populations," Ogunbiyi said in a July 2020 interview. "We also need to build a bigger market for clean cooking fuels, so women don’t have to use dirty fuels to cook dinner for their family."
Sanda Ojiambo, CEO and Executive Director, United Nations Global Compact
Sanda Ojiambo has made a career out of cultivating effective partnerships between businesses and civil society.
Before she ascended to the CEO and executive director positions at the United Nations Global Compact last summer, she was head of sustainable business and social impact for Safaricom, the largest telecommunications service provider in Kenya. There, she managed multiple relationships between Safaricom and U.N. organizations.
During her initial months at the UN Global Compact, which now includes more than 12,000 companies and 3,000 other signatories, Ojiambo has urged business leaders to confront the issues of racial injustice that have surfaced more visible during the COVID-19 pandemic and to do their "due diligence" when it comes to establishing and enforcing human rights throughout their entire value chain.
One initiative designed to speed the response is the new SDG Ambition Accelerator, a six-month-long executive training program meant to help leaders more holistically incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals into business strategy — no matter their industry. "There has to be an ‘all of’ sector, a multi-sectoral approach to driving this [social] change," Ojiambo said during a GreenBiz 21 keynote interview. "Each time I’m in a different sector, there’s different views, different challenges and certainly different opportunities."
Raised in Nairobi, Ojiambo earned international development and public policy degrees in the U.S. and Canada. She worked in Somalia before her Safaricom career, shaping programs for CARE International and the U.N. Development Program focused on issues including education, safe motherhood, environmental conservation and dismantling land mines.
Maria Outters, Group Senior Vice President, Sustainability/Corporate Responsibility, Sodexo
Born in Africa and fluent in four languages, Maria Outters joined French food services company Sodexo 12 years ago and held positions in human resources, marketing and group strategic planning before becoming its sustainability and CSR lead in January 2020. She’s also part of the investment committee for Sodexo Ventures.
It was an eventful year for many reasons, but Outters’ team used the economic, social and health crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic to "reaffirm" its sustainability commitments, including a commitment to reducing food waste by 50 percent at more than 1,500 sites. The program will continue as sites reopen: As of June, the company had saved the equivalent of 4.8 million meals.
Sodexo is also prioritizing the adoption of alternatives to single-use plastics and a plan to raise the mix of plant-based foods on its menus to more than 30 percent globally. The company renewed a longstanding relationship with WWF centered, in part, on responsible sourcing of land commodities and seafood.
"Underlying economic and social challenges ahead will magnify the need for economic models built on sustainable consumption patterns and solutions preserving natural resources," Otters said in June. "These priority actions in the current environment are part of our pragmatic approach to work with our clients, suppliers and employees to bring back confidence and seize the window of opportunity to make the recovery a turning point when it comes to sustainability."
Katrina Shum, Sustainability Officer, North America, Lush Cosmetics
Katrina Shum is challenging the personal care industry to get naked.
As North American sustainability manager for 25-year-old U.K. company Lush Cosmetics, she leads a program working to doff single-use, plastic packaging across five manufacturing facilities, two distribution centers and 250 retail shops. Lush’s approach: Create solid versions of its products — from shampoo to toothpaste and more — that reach back to its roots more than 20 years ago, when the company’s founders "packaged" their soap in old pipes and other discarded containers.
Its strategy is unique for an industry that creates an estimated 120 billion package a year, many of them impossible to recycle, if consumers remember to even try. Lush’s approach also conserves water. Plus, why not devote the millions if not billions of dollars consumer brands spend on packaging into true product innovation, Shum asked in an essay last year.
What about labels with instructions and ingredients? "Leveraging technology, we have developed the Lush Lens App, which allows customers to use their phones to scan products and get the typical information they would find on a physical label, along with engaging and interactive content about the ingredients and stories behind them," Shum wrote.
For products that still require plastic or paper packaging, Lush has been sourcing post-consumer recycled content for more than a decade. The reverse logistics haven’t been easy, but Lush’s vertically integrated production model has helped, she wrote.
One of Shum’s "pet peeves" is food waste, she revealed in an October interview, and she keeps close tabs on her habits at home in the Vancouver area. The focus isn’t surprising: Prior to Lush, Shum worked on a sustainability strategy for food service giant Aramark.
Dawn Wright, Chief Scientist, Esri
Much of the ocean’s potential role in reversing climate change is unfathomable, literally — with just one-fifth of the its floor cataloged in maps. Dawn Wright, the first Black American woman to deep-sea dive in an Alvin submersible, is leading geographic information systems (GIS) company Esri’s quest to map the rest by 2030.
"How can we take care of this planet, how can we understand this planet, how can we protect it if we don’t know the totality of it?" Wright said in a 2019 interview. "We have better maps of the moon, better maps of Venus and even Mars than we have of the oceans of the Earth, because the Earth is an ocean planet."
As chief scientist for the software company, Wright spearheads Esri’s work in the scientific and research communities, where she champions the use of GIS imagery and data in applications ranging from flood risk planning to fighting deforestation. The company’s partnership network is expansive: last year, it teamed with Microsoft on its "Planetary Computer" initiative, aimed at helping protect biodiversity.
A marine geologist and oceanographer by training, Wright was a full professor at Oregon State University for more than 25 years (she’s still on the faculty there) before joining Esri in 2011.
Tae Yoo, Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability, Cisco
One of Cisco’s earliest employees — she joined more than 30 years ago before the technology company went public — Tae Yoo has placed the concept of inclusion at the center of its CSR and sustainability initiatives with a goal to "positively impact 1 billion people by 2025." She has also helped elevate this strategy to the company’s board of directors.
Reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic in the San Jose, California, company’s 2020 CSR report, Yoo noted: "To avoid reinforcing prior inequities and vulnerabilities, it is critical that we apply significant effort on rebuilding … Living our purpose means continuing to get everyone involved, and that’s exactly what we intend to do."
For Cisco, making an impact takes many forms, such as the Cisco Networking Academy, a program Yoo established in 1997 that has helped more than 2.7 million people find jobs since 2005. She also leads Cisco’s work on other educational programs, such as the 21st Century Schools Initiative.
The networking hardware giant first set a GHG reduction target in 2006, and as of its 2020 fiscal year, it had cut Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 55 percent, just shy of its upcoming goal in FY 2022. Elsewhere, Yoo’s experience as the co-founder of Cisco’s business development organization has doubtless helped inform her strategy about tough strategic decisions.
One of her team's top priorities is embracing circular economy business models (it’s an EMF founding partner), which calls for all of its new products to incorporate core principles such as reusability, recyclability and repairability by 2025. This, too, will require collaboration with the company’s expansive network of technology and service partners.