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Press release: From CEOs to Tree-huggers: Diverse Group of Six Leaders Named “Pioneers of Sustainability”

September 18, 2013

BERKELEY, CA (September 18, 2013) – In a report released today, an unlikely and unusual matching of six business executives, and thought leaders were named as “pioneers” in corporate sustainability.  The report “Pioneers of Sustainability: Lessons from Trailblazers” is the result of a survey of prominent leaders in the field of sustainability conducted by the Weinreb Group. Among the Chief Executive Officer Pioneers, survey respondents selected Lee Scott of Walmart, Paul Polman of Unilever, and the late Ray Anderson of Interface. In category of “Thought Leaders,” sustainability professionals chose Paul Hawken, Peter Senge, and Michael Porter.

“Sustainability would not be the same without the contributions of these six pioneers,” said Ellen Weinreb co-author of the report and founder of the recruiting firm the Weinreb Group. “In their own way, they helped build the momentum so that the expectations of businesses go beyond the balance sheet.”

The report is designed to be useful for current CEOs considering how to make their mark in sustainability and for sustainability practitioners. All five pioneers were interviewed for a section about themselves and their thoughts on some challenges facing the world today. In addition, a former colleague of the late Ray Anderson shared his perspective on Anderson’s work.  The pioneers noted many success stories of sustainability becoming a part of everyday business for many companies. At the same time, there is still a need for more progress so it is more commonplace for companies to look at the impact of their business operations on the people and the planet in addition to profit.

“One of the central themes from all of the pioneers is that there is no better time than now for companies to take sustainability seriously,” said James Epstein-Reeves co-author of the report and head of the business strategy consulting company Do Well Do Good, LLC. “These pioneers teach us that starting your company’s journey or finding more dynamic results from current business approaches can be both an act of bravery and necessity. The path doesn’t need to be 100% clear, but executives should have the audacity to try to make the interdependencies of commerce, society, and the environment thrive. And ultimately, the future of success of business depends on assured and plentiful access to talent, raw materials, and customers.”

The free report is available for download on the Weinreb Group’s website: This is the latest publication of the Weinreb Group, which holds a library of research reports analyzing Chief Sustainability Officers and Sustainability Careers.


About the CEO Pioneers:

  • Ray Anderson, Founder and Former Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, Interface, Inc. – Ray Anderson led carpet manufacturer Interface to become, according to many, the leading company in sustainability. Anderson was the company’s passionate and unabashed leader and left no ambiguity about where he stood on business practices related to people and the planet. In addition to inspiring many, including many of his fellow Pioneers, Anderson’s advocacy changed the entire carpet industry.
  • Paul Polman, Chief Executive Officer, The Unilever Group – Paul Polman is the current CEO of Unilever. As the acknowledged head of his company’s commitment to sustainability, Polman has made several bold moves including the ending of quarterly profit reporting to reinforce the long-term view of the company’s investments and business goals. Polman looks at the “bottom line” differently than any other CEO currently in business
  • Lee Scott, Retired Chief Executive Officer, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Lee Scott is the retired CEO of Walmart and led the company through one of its most dramatic and perhaps unexpected transformations. Perhaps no other company faces as many critics as Walmart. But Scott fought naysayers, both inside and outside of the company, with boldness and audacity to make sustainability issues a top priority at the world’s largest retailer.

About the Thought Leader Pioneers:

  • Paul Hawken, Environmentalist, entrepreneur and author –  Paul Hawken is the former CEO of Smith & Hawken who put pen to paper to write The Ecology of Commerce. He spread the word about sustainable business practices at a time when such thoughts were seen as revolutionary at best and downright crazy at worst. But his passion and drive attracted an enormous number of followers including several Pioneers, but especially Ray Anderson.
  • Michael Porter, Bishop William Lawrence University Professor, Harvard Business School – Michael Porter collaborated with his Harvard University colleague Mark Kramer to develop the concept of “Creating Shared Value,” which outlines sustainability from a competitive strategy perspective. His reputation as a leading authority on competitive strategy lent an element of seriousness to the field. Through his efforts, many proverbial doors were opened that otherwise might not have been.
  • Peter Senge – Founder, Society for Organizational Learning and Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management – Peter Senge has helped bring “systems thinking” into the mainstream, which identifies how companies learn, act, and evolve as an organization. Senge built upon his strong reputation in organizational development to help further sustainability. Among other endeavors, he helped in founding the Sustainable Food Lab and co-authored The Necessary Revolution. The book provides a clear articulation of how and why business can lead the effort for a more sustainable world and is considered a mandatory guide for many in business.
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