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I Spy Today's Sustainability Leaders

<p>The annual summit of the Women's Network for a Sustainable Future offered some hope that the next generation of business leaders are primed and prepared to address the world's environmental challenges.</p>

Do you remember those "Where's Waldo" books? The challenge was to find that sneaky character hidden in plain sight, midst the trees, buildings and crowds of a typical daily scene. When you finally discovered him, you'd see he'd been smack in front of your face the whole time.

Well, it feels like the sustainability movement is in the middle of just such a setting now. More than ever, we are seeing that we need business leaders to launch us forward, but it feels like a huge challenge to find such people in the madding crowds. But, if an event I attended in early October -- the Women's Network for a Sustainable Future annual summit -- is any indication, there's some serious hope to be had.

Across the street from the U.N. on a grey Manhattan day, I walked into a room full of incredible energy and impressive resumes. Cross-sector speakers, panelists and attendees alike offered wisdom, perspective and passion for the sustainability cause. Thrilled to connect with like-minded peers, plans and pledges for moving forward in collaboration were made.

All involved in this event noted, pointedly, how important it will be to engage with and leverage the incredible talents and commitment of the younger generation. MTV Networks' Allicin Williamson, one panelist who should know, sees the millenials as a great group of young people who "will blow us away," and noted that the sustainability and corporate social responsibility issue is at the top of their agenda.

Keynote speaker and lauded leadership pioneer Frances Hesselbein emphasized that college scholarships and internships for this generation are key, and so strongly encouraged attendees to get involved in shaping the future in that way.

During event breaks, the attendees representing organizations from Pfizer and Interface Flor conversed and learned from representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy and KPMG.

WNSF logoThe final call to action came by way of a powerful video keynote from Ray C. Anderson, sustainable business pioneer, Interface Flor founder, and author of the newly released "Radical Industrialist" who is currently undergoing treatment for cancer.

As he closed his presentation, he reminded the audience that practical and pragmatic thinking got us into this environmental mess, but that it will be right-brain attributes, the ones that involve human spirit, that will make all the difference in sustainability moving forward.

So, where's Waldo in the audience and speakers of this event? It was perhaps Ray Anderson's reading of a poem written by one of his own sustainability-inspired employees, that offered the biggest clue. The piece focuses on those who are most at risk if we don't get to work on sustainability today: Tomorrow's child. Can you see Waldo yet?

Photo CC-licensed by Steve Jurvetson.

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