The 5 biggest green business career moves of 2015

Names in the News

The 5 biggest green business career moves of 2015

career moves in sustainable business
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Career paths in sustainable business have taken several interesting detours in recent months.

Welcome to a special year-end edition of Names in the News, the regular GreenBiz column chronicling comings and goings in the world of sustainable business.

With milestone events such as the United Nations COP21 climate talks in play during 2015, perhaps it comes as no surprise that there has been no shortage of big hires, promotions, high-profile resignations and even some talent poaching over the past year.

Got a tip on a career move in the works for early 2016? As always, drop us a line at [email protected].

From the energy industry to high tech to the biggest of the big retail and food companies, here's a rundown of five of the most notable career moves of the past year.

1. Google nabs a CSO from the White House

Even within the field of notoriously climate-conscious Silicon Valley tech magnates, Google has established quite a reputation for big-money investments in clean energy and aggressive emissions reduction goals.

It may come as a surprise, then, that the company didn't officially have a sustainability chief in place until earlier this year. This summer, the company hired Kate Brandt, who formerly served as the White House chief sustainability officer — a position appointed by President Barack Obama himself.

At the time of the move, a Greenpeace spokesman speculated that Brandt's hiring could be indicative of a need for more energy policy expertise as Google looks to ramp up its renewable energy portfolio.

2. Apple fuses social, environmental efforts

Speaking of Beltway alums making their way to Silicon Valley, one originator of the trend, former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, also had a big year at Apple.

In June, she was promoted to vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives, putting her in charge of the company's increasingly robust global government affairs and public policy efforts. That's on top of a sustainability executive role that also included orchestrating an $848 million solar buy earlier this year.

Apple CEO Tim Cook framed the promotion as a chance to extend Jackson's efforts to "other issues we value, such as human rights, education and accessibility of our products" — one example of increasingly visible efforts at many companies to better integrate social and environmental sustainability efforts.

3. NRG's green energy guru ousted

With the COP21 global climate accord and the extension of the much-discussed U.S. renewable energy Investment Tax Credit, analysts are champing at the bit about the financial prospects for clean energy.

But where does that leave executives already caught in the crosshairs of shareholders demanding immediate profits over long-term returns?

Case in point: former NRG Energy CEO David Crane, who resigned from his post at the independent power producer in early December after a steep slide in share prices.

4. McDonald's orders a new supply chain focus

In early 2015, longtime McDonald's Chief Sustainability Officer Bob Langert (who now pens his own GreenBiz column) retired from his role at the helm of the fast food giant's environmental operations. 

It turns out that was just the first of many moves to follow at the company quickly trying to re-position itself in a marketplace where food sourcing, quality and nutrition are increasingly important to consumers. For McDonald's, like many other large food and consumer products companies, that has meant increased emphasis on supply chain sustainability — a shift evident in both staffing choices and policy changes related to sourcing animal products.

Following another departure by Senior Director of Global CSR Jeffrey Hogue, who left for a post with European retailer C&A, McDonald's named Langert's successor as Francesca DeBiase. In an expanded role, she was promoted to senior vice president, worldwide supply chain and sustainability. Former global CSR manager Jenny McColloch also was promoted to fill the senior director role left vacant by Hogue.

5. Volkswagen CEO goes down over emissions scandal

Not so long ago, an environmental snafu wasn't necessarily a career-killer for the chief executive of a large corporation. But times have changed, as former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn found out this fall.

Winterkorn's job at the helm of the world's largest automaker lasted only a matter of days after the fallout from the company's emissions cheating scandal began to come into focus.

Although Winterkorn maintained that he was "not aware of any wrongdoing" on his part, the total bill for penalties, buybacks and other costs that the company could incur for the misconduct continues to balloon.