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Cradle to Cradle

Top 15 GreenBiz interviews of 2013

<p>Hear from leading figures in the business and nonprofit worlds about the hottest topics in sustainability this past year.</p>

We've profiled some amazing innovators and unique characters over the last year. Here are 15 of the most popular and memorable GreenBiz profiles and Q&As, in random order.

Bill McDonough, William McDonough + Partners

The designer, entrepreneur and co-author of “Cradle to Cradle” told GreenBiz executive editor Joel Makower about a new project in November. (Catch this follow-up in December, and watch for more McDonough conversations to come).

“We're starting to see signals...that the paperboard used for cereal boxes is showing toxic ink residues in the papers, which were from magazines and newspapers used to make the paperboard box...This is crazy. You're giving your kid cereal plus contaminants for breakfast...I'm designing cereal boxes out of new materials with new techniques that are going to be super cost-effective -- probably even more cost-effective, because that's part of my assignment...I've never done this before, but I had never done a space station, either.”

Lisa Jackson, EPA (now Apple)

Makower caught up with Jackson in January, months before she resigned from her post as EPA chief. You can see more recent talks with Jackson from VERGE SF 2013 in this onstage talk about Apple's 100-percent renewables goal, as well as this Studio C interview.

“One of the conundrums of our time right now is, [critics] say we have an elected government that doesn’t always reflect the will of the people,” Jackson told me. “Well, I feel like we have a business policy and an energy policy and a water use policy that sometimes don’t reflect what’s best for businesses, but [companies] don’t know how to engage, and we start having the same old conversations. It’s like we’re stuck in a loop.”

David Steiner, Waste Management

What if you shoot for sweeping change but find that "creeping change" is more realistic? Makower hears more about this CEO's compelling plan to turn waste into assets. From this May interview:

“When I talk about the timeframe, I think we all thought, ‘Wow. Zero waste is a fast-moving tide.’ But that tide's not as fast-moving as we thought. People think about their waste differently, which is a good thing, but people are still creating a lot of waste materials. Our job is to find out how to extract value out of that material and create value for our customers."

Robyn Beavers, NRG Energy

NRG Energy shook things up by hiring Beavers to explore technologies that could radically reinvent its industry. Microgrids, for instance, would enable homes, companies or neighborhoods to be self-sufficient with energy. When I chatted with Beavers in September, the Station A project she was leading for NRG was still pretty much hush-hush. (Beavers also joined GreenBiz onstage at VERGE SF 2013.)

“When I convinced Larry [Page], Sergey [Brin] and Eric [Schmidt] to put 9,000 solar panels on our roof [at Google], not many companies would have said yes to that in the mid-2000s,” Beavers said. “That’s really typical for Silicon Valley technology companies...Now, working for a company where energy is our core business, there’s more at stake.”

Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia

The mountaineer and VP of environmental initiatives at Patagonia talked about the company's new "Responsible Economy" campaign in October.

“There will be an increasing number of people that recognize that if you pay more for a jacket that lasts a lot longer and you run the numbers, you’re saving money. It’s an investment. Now, I know that that’s a long ways from a Wal-Mart or H&M or Zara customer, but I believe that all of those companies are starting to recognize they would be smart to begin delivering higher-quality products. They’re thinking about it, and maybe over time there will be a shift away from fast fashion, speaking about the example of our own sector, towards products that last a lot longer.“

Kate Wylie, Mars

The global sustainability director spearheads efforts at the privately held company. Mars is best known for its chocolate bars and Wrigley gum, but that's only part of the story. "How She Leads" columnist Maya Albanese spoke with Wylie in October.

"By 2020, we will source 100 percent of our cocoa from certified sources...In 2012, we purchased 90,000 tons of certified cocoa, making us the largest purchaser of certified cocoa in the world...Farmer productivity is at the heart of our sustainable cocoa program because if the farmers can produce more, they benefit and so does Mars...Traditionally, businesses competed on everything. But now we are facing huge and dire challenges globally, and we need to work in a pre-competitive way.”

Len Sauers, Procter & Gamble

P&G is a leviathan in the consumer goods world. As VP of sustainability, Sauers oversees 25 billion-dollar brands. Makower checked in with the company's chief "optimist" in July.

"I think we’re beginning to realize now that there’s just so much a single company can do. I’ve got 700 people, including 200 PhDs, at our disposal to work on this stuff, so we have huge amounts of resources, yet the issues that we’re facing are really big to the point that in order to make meaningful advances going forward, we’re going to have to do it with partnerships."

Mike Lynch, NASCAR

Jennifer Inez Ward caught up with NASCAR’s managing director of green innovation back in February.

"What a sport can do is it can give very broad general public and business-to-business visibility to green technology and solutions that are already perhaps broadly deployed in the marketplace, or are ready to be deployed because they’ve been proven but not adopted fully yet.”

Beth Colleton, NBCUniversal

In August, the senior VP of corporate social responsibility provided insight into sustainability efforts within the entertainment industry.

"As a media company, we do play a different kind of role in this space...We have access to hundreds of millions of people in any given month through all the outlets in our portfolio. We have the platforms to educate and inform many specific types of demographics. You get traction only when you talk to people in an authentic way about things that they really care about.

Christina Amorim, Life Technologies

CSO Amorim told Maya Albanese how she has followed design-for-environment and green chemistry principles, considering the full lifecycle of products and services.

“I went from hearing, 'Oh, here comes the green team,' to being considered a legitimate seat at the executive table adding business value. It took 18 months of campaigning to make this important transition. We worked hard to anchor our claims on hard data. They don't want to see ideals like "pollution is not a legacy we want to leave behind for our children." Instead, they want to hear, "Here's the data that shows this is what we must be doing to save money."

Paul Hawken, Presidio School

In sustainability circles, Hawken needs no introduction. Here, the entrepreneur and author of "Natural Capitalism" tells Makower why he's now teaching graduate students. (He goes deep about the "biology of technology" in this VERGE talk a few months ago.)

“What I see in the classic business schools that are teaching sustainability and environment and business is a more constricted version of what sustainability should mean. It’s not one of my favorite words, as you know. I don’t use it much. “Sustainability is simply not something you add on to a company. You can try — you can make a department, you can hire people to do that. But at the end of the day, that has nothing to do with sustainability.

Erika Karp, UBS

High finance and sustainability aren't exactly considered bedfellows, but as managing director at UBS in January, Karp aimed to shift that perception. She is now CEO of Cornerstone Capital.

“I’d like to see sustainability as a standard part of the investment process; a systematic analysis considering every single material factor that relates to economic outcomes, including environmental and social factors. I would like to UBS to be perceived as a financial institution that facilitates prosperity.”

Mark Tercek, Nature Conservancy

The nonprofit's president and CEO spent more than two decades in investment banking. In this May interview with Makower, he talks about innovative approaches to protecting natural capital.

"First, we need more people on our side. This is especially true when we go to Capitol Hill to fight for policy...Second, we need more financial resources. It’s hard to imagine environmental nonprofits getting bigger than we are today...The third thing that is that environmentalists have to think about how we have a dialogue with the rest of society. We’re very, very good at preaching to the choir, and we’re also pretty good at criticizing bad guys, but we haven’t been very successful at connecting with mainstream America, or the mainstream people around the world. And so I think a natural capital approach addresses each of those things. It results in more people, more money and a better dialogue."

Lester Brown, Earth Policy Institute

Makower asked the nonprofit founder and president how he would approach "a full planet with empty plates" if he were the CEO of a multinational food company.

"We used to have huge stocks of grain in the world; enough carryover stocks when the new harvest began to feed the world for 100 days. That's now down to 61 days. So, we're living much closer to the edge and a poor harvest next year, for example, in a situation where reserves are so low and prices are already high, would create a lot of instability in world grain markets. And that instability, I'm afraid, is going to become part of the agricultural landscape in which agribusiness firms will be doing business...They’ll have to think about building up their reserves in a way that they've not had to do before."

Pam Alabaster, L'Oreal

The senior VP of corporate communications and sustainable development at L’Oreal USA shared some of the cosmetics giant's accomplishments.

"Today we have 18 materials that we source using fair trade practices. Some of these materials include argon oil, cypress, lavender oil, mint, sunflower seed oil, coconut, Brazil nut and aloe. We also use a sustainable sourcing 10-point assessment tool that includes Fair Trade criteria for the evaluation of all new raw materials of renewable origin. We source 100 percent sustainable palm oil and we are a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). We also have upwards of 90 percent of our paper and pulp products FSC-certified."

More of 2013, the year in review:

Top image of microphone by Elnur via Shutterstock


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