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Celebrating 10 female leaders in sustainability

WSLA awards

"Lift while you climb."

That was just one powerful message delivered last week by keynote speaker Kaye Husbands Fealing, dean of the Ivan Allen College College of Liberal Arts at Georgia Institute of Technology, during a virtual ceremony celebrating diverse, female leadership in the sustainability profession.

Fealing spoke about the important role all leaders play in helping "invisible" individuals become visible within their professions, and how this approach can help companies strengthen the diversity of their workforce and ideas. "Be the person whom others can rely on to advise, guide and confide in as they make their way to their own excellence," she observed.

Her comments came during an event organized by the WSLA Alumnae Group to recognize 10 "accomplished, audacious and courageous" women — in the words of president Rochelle Routman — as part of the 2021 Women in Sustainability Leadership Awards. These individuals join 85 previous honorees, some of the most powerful female leaders in sustainable business heading up initiatives at startups, nonprofits, industry associations and beyond.

"With each new woman that is recognized for her work in sustainability, all our voices are raised, and the world benefits as a result," said Routman, a previous honoree and CSO and quality officer at HMTX Industries. "We are a diverse organization of women with a strong track record of meaningful and lasting change." 

Routman reflected on the first awards, convened several years ago in a crowded, dark San Francisco bar. Originally focused on leaders in the green building industry, the WSLA Alumnae Group last year became an independent organization. This year’s awards were the first to be held since that development. 

This year’s honorees (listed alphabetically) are:

  • Jessica Aldridge, director of sustainability and zero waste programs, Athens Services
  • Mona Benisi, executive director and global head of sustainability, real assets, Morgan Stanley
  • Marilyn Black, vice president and senior technical and strategic adviser, Underwriters Laboratories 
  • Sonja Bochart, regenerative design, Sustainability and Biophilia Consulting, Sonja Bochart Wellbeing+Design
  • Christine Brunel-Ligneau, head of sustainable agriculture strategy, Bayer AG CropScience Division
  • Gina Ciganik, CEO, Healthy Building Network
  • Robyn Eason, senior sustainability planner, city of West Hollywood
  • Rachel Hodgdon, president and CEO, International WELL Building Institute
  • Jennifer Holmgren, CEO, LanzaTech; director and chair, LanzaJet
  • Elaine Hsieh, co-founder, head of corporate partnerships and marketing, Third Derivative

Before the formal inductions, attendees were also treated to a performance by Awa Ndiaye, a spoken word poet and 2019 GreenBiz Emerging Leader who is building a career in environmental management. At that time, she reflected: "I learned that the first step towards helping others develop motivation to embrace sustainability is to question our own vision and motivation and identify how and why sustainability aligns with our core values."

During this week’s ceremony, she read from two of her powerful poems, which touched on issues of social justice and climate change. Despite her dystopian themes, she remains "obnoxiously optimistic, defiantly hopeful" that everyone — "all shades of human" — has a role to play in addressing climate change. 

Keep your eyes (and ears) open for more coverage of these inspiring women in the coming months here on GreenBiz.com and on the GreenBiz 350 podcast. 

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