Heroes of Sustainability: Amy Goodman

While the United States typically prides itself on being a country where free speech reigns and journalists are able to chase down stories without government interference, Amy Goodman doesn’t see it that way.

“In the old Soviet Union, people knew that they had to read between the lines of state-sponsored news to get to the truth,” Goodman said at an event in Philadelphia. “But in this country there is the illusion that…”

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Heroes of Sustainability: Philippe Cousteau Jr.

Philippe Cousteau Jr. once told Elle magazine that “it takes more than a birth certificate to be a Cousteau.” The 30-something certainly isn’t resting on his famous name, but he is living up to it, carrying on the work of his father, Philippe Cousteau, and grandfather Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

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Hero of Sustainability Wangari Maathai Passes Away at Age 71

Last weekend, the world lost a luminary when Wangari Muta Maathai passed away at the age of 71 after a battle with ovarian cancer.

 The Kenyan native, whom we honored earlier this year as one of our “Heroes of Sustainability,” is known for being the first African woman and first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize, but that accomplishment is only one of her many firsts.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Thomas Friedman

                                                   Going Green as an Act of Patriotism

“In a world that’s hot, flat, and crowded, clean tech has to be the next great global industry, and therefore the country that takes the lead in clean power and clean tech is going to, by definition, be an economic and strategic leader in the 21st century, and that’s why there’s absolutely no contradiction between going green and being patriotic, geopolitical, and geostrategic. They actually go together.”


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Heroes of Sustainability: James Balog

James Balog

With adventure comes danger, and James Balog been exposed to plenty of that over the years. He knows that one accidental dip in iceberg-filled water, one slip of the hand on a mountain, one mechanical malfunction of a helicopter high above the land would end the exploration. And yet, he presses on.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Wangari Maathai

If anyone knows the challenges that come with being a trailblazer, it’s Wangari Maathai. Her continual struggles for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation haven’t always been met with support on her native continent of Africa, where she’s faced…

 

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Heroes of Sustainability: Michael Pollan

 

One hundred years ago, no one spent time thinking about where their food came from. That’s because they all knew. There were no mystery ingredients, meals didn’t by and large travel great distances before getting to the table, and farm animals weren’t injected with growth hormones. Today, you only need to stroll down the inside aisle of any grocery store, pick a package at random, and try to decipher the ingredients listed on the back to see that it’s not that simple anymore.

That unknown is what has driven much of Michael Pollan’s research over the years, including his famous and bestselling 2006 book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Bothered by the fact that he really didn’t know the origins of his food…

 

 

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Heroes of Sustainability: George Washington Carver

                                                                      
In an era long before green, eco-friendly, and environmentalism were buzzwords, George Washington Carver advocated for organic farming and plant-based products.

An early trailblazer in the concept of reducing, reusing, and recycling, Carver was born into slavery, likely in the early to mid-1860s.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Bob Willard

Bob Willard, Corporate Straight Shooter

 Some people talk the talk about sustainability — Bob Willard talks it, walks it, and drives it (he has two hybrid vehicles). A longtime businessman, Willard spent 34 years at IBM Canada before becoming a leading expert on corporate sustainability.

 With three books under his belt – The Sustainability Advantage (2002), The Next Sustainability Wave (2005), and The Sustainability Champion’s Guidebook (2009) — Willard is among the best at laying out a clear, actionable plan for business leaders to follow in order to institute more-sustainable policies within their companies.

 “Sooner or later, there is a tough message that sustainability champions need to deliver to harried business leaders — the business game they are playing can’t continue,” Willard writes. “It’s been fun, but if they keep playing the game the way they are, everyone will lose.”

 Delivering that tough message is what Willard has made his mission, and to support it, he’s developed hundreds of keynote presentations, numerous webinars, two DVDs, and a Master Slide Set to drive home the point that if we want to have clean air, potable water, nutritious food, and adequate shelter, something has to change in the way corporations do business — and fast.

 Willard’s talent is in quantifying and selling the business value of corporate sustainability strategies to CEOs and other C-level personnel. “Executives might think you are trying to convince them that sustainability is a nobler goal than contending with gnarly business issues like complexity, resource scarcity, and talent shortages,” Willard writes. “It’s sometimes better to back off and reframe sustainability strategies as enablers of executives’ priorities, rather than as another nagging goal to worry about.”

 To communicate effectively, Willard uses sales techniques widely successful in business: He talks the language of the decision-makers, meets them where they are, and makes the connection between what they’re already doing and what they could be doing. He has a personal commitment to sustainability, having been turned on to the importance of the issue when, after plans surfaced in his community to build a water treatment plant downstream from a nuclear power plant, he realized that those in charge weren’t looking out for the well-being of the community members. Since then, environmental issues and taking personal responsibility for making a difference have been at the forefront of his life and work. But even those who haven’t caught the sustainability bug the way Willard has would do well to follow the advice he lays out. “The bottom-line payoff comes from increased revenue, innovation, and productivity, as well as risk-mitigation and eco-efficiency cost-savings,” he writes.

 For more information about Bob Willard, visit www.sustainabilityadvantage.com, and read an excerpt from The Sustainability Advantage here.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Ray Anderson’s Quest to “Close the Loop”

Most people don’t change overnight — but then again, most people aren’t like Ray Anderson. He was in his 60’s when The Ecology of Commerce, a book by Paul Hawken, fortuitously landed on his desk. The founder of Interface Inc., the world’s largest producer of commercial floor coverings, Anderson thumbed through it, hoping to glean a nugget of inspiration for an upcoming speech he was giving on his company’s environmental vision. What he found was more than a nugget — and way more than something for a one-time-only presentation.

Realizing that working in a sustainable way was not only good for the environment but made good business sense, Anderson asked Interface’s engineers to find out what resources had been stripped from the earth to make the company’s products and ultimately boost the bottom line. For around $800 million in revenue, they had used some 1.2 billion pounds of raw materials, most of it oil and natural gas. Of that finding, he’s said: “I was staggered. I wanted to throw up. My company’s technologies and those of every other company I know of anywhere, in their present forms, are plundering the earth. This cannot go on and on and on.”

Then he did something many other business leaders only talk about: He changed.

It started with Mission Zero, which is Interface’s promise to eliminate any negative impact the company has on the environment by the year 2020. So far, they’re on course to do just that, redesigning processes and products, creating new technologies, and increasing the use of renewable materials to get closer to the goal of closed-loop manufacturing.

Ray Anderson

It’s a remarkable feat in the carpet industry, one that relies so heavily on petroleum. But if the behemoth company with sales in 100 countries and manufacturing facilities on four continents can do it, others can surely follow suit.

Anderson makes it clear that while he may be an environmentalist who has traded in the luxury cars for a Prius and owns a solar-powered vacation home in the mountains, that doesn’t mean he’s not a businessman — something he writes about in his 2009 book, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose—Doing Business by Respecting the Earth. Indeed, some of the changes Interface has instituted have been expensive up-front, but they’re all paying off in the long run.

In 1997, Anderson laid out the company’s vision, and over a decade later, it still resonates: “If we’re successful, we’ll spend the rest of our days harvesting yesteryear’s carpets and other petrochemically-derived products and recycling them into new materials and converting sunlight into energy, with zero scrap going to the landfill and zero emissions into the ecosystem. And we’ll be doing well … very well … by doing good. That’s the vision.”

To learn more about Interface’s sustainability initiatives, visit www.interfaceglobal.com.

Thomas Kemper

President and Founder, Dolphin Blue

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