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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.

Is climate change relevant to businesses? (140 or less)

August 15, 2013

In keeping with my latest challenge – presenting a tough topic in 140 words or less – today I’m taking on climate change. Previously I wrote about human rights and business.

The reaction on social media was positive, quite a few shares and re-tweets – thank you all very much! I did receive one question from Dana Fatol, who asked how I saw leaders using human rights to reduce costs. Indeed a good question because the link isn’t as obvious as some of the other examples. I responded by clarifying that I think costs can be reduced primarily through two ways: the improvement of quality and the potential reduction of transaction costs due to switching suppliers if a crisis were ever to arrive.

The text below answers the

Read more…

CSR: A Grand Illusion or Driver of Real Results?

August 14, 2013

I was recently asked by the US Department of State to contribute to their publication eJOURNAL USA about corporate social responsibility and its potential for businesses.

While it wasn’t positioned as a “debate,” the author of the piece with opposite point of view was Dr. Aneel Karnani, a professor of strategy at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Nearly three years ago (how on earth did time move that quickly?) I wrote an open letter to Dr. Karnani addressing an op-ed piece he wrote for the Wall Street Journal. So it was Read more…

Human rights: What are they and why are they relevant to business? (140 or less)

August 12, 2013

I was recently issued a challenge: Explain what human rights are and why they are relevant to businesses in 150 words or less. In the spirit of social media, I decided to shrink that to the 140 threshold to echo the 140 characters or less of text messages / Tweets.

Here’s what I came up with. I liked this exercise, so I am going to make it into a series. Stay tuned!

Human rights refer to the shared dignity that all human beings inherently posses at birth. As President Roosevelt outlined, each of us have the freedoms of speech, religion, from want, and from fear.

These last two freedoms are particularly relevant in the governmental context Roosevelt referred to, but also in business. No longer can businesses ignore what occurs in the depths of their supply chains. Now more than ever, businesses are expected to use their influence to ensure that their business operations do not employ child, sweatshop, or forced prison labor, as a few examples. Companies that aren’t mindful of these impacts run the risk of tarnishing their brand, reputation, and violating laws.

However, leaders that “get it” see it differently. They promote human rights to manage costs, improve quality, decrease systemic risks, and lead to a more stable future.


Word count: 140. Boom.


The Changing Tides of Sustainability Talent: It’s Not About Being Indiana Jones

January 22, 2013

A career in corporate social responsibility or sustainability can be thrilling. It seems nothing ever stays the same. Sure, many of the leaders from ten years ago are still blazing trails. But as more companies adopt sustainability policies, the shifting tides in the field change the skills and knowledge required.

Ellen Weinreb of the Weinreb Group.

Ellen Weinreb of the Weinreb Group.

To gain some perspective on the evolving needs of sustainability talent, I sat down with Ellen Weinreb, who runs an executive search firm called the Weinreb Group with a specialty in corporate social responsibility and sustainability. As far as I know, there is no greater expert in sustainability talent recruitment. She has seen the field evolve since starting her career in sustainability in 1996 while in business school at Yale and has gained notable clients like Walmart, Patagonia, Levi Strauss & Co., and Nestle Waters. In addition, I’ve had the honor of seeing her in action as we collaborate on a research project due out later in the year.

In this interview, she describes the needs of sustainability leaders, identifies where the pockets of job growth in the field may be in the future, and dispels a great myth about being a sustainability professional.

Q: You’ve been involved in sustainability for a long time. How have you seen the field change over the years, particularly relating to who’s hiring, at what levels, and what your clients are asking for in their searches?

The good news is that the sustainably field is expanding. The job market ebbs and flows in tandem with the economy. When times are bad and companies are laying off parts of the workforce, the sustainability program can be seen as non-essential business in the eyes of the people making the cuts. Right now, however, things are definitely on the uptick.

I’ve observed a progression of the sustainability position.  For example, in 2008/2009 during the downturn, many companies replaced senior level sustainability professionals with more junior professionals at half the salary. The result was that the junior person was doing the work of many staff.  In 2010/2011 I saw many heads of sustainability receive the budget to add a deputy to her team.

What I’m seeing now, big companies are Read more…

The CSR Challlenge For Companies Doing Business In China

November 6, 2012

China’s emergence as an economic force has been both rapid and relatively recent. It was only in 2001 that China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), allowing it access to foreign markets with very low tariffs on Chinese exports. In exchange, China had to lower its own tariffs on imports and follow the terms of trade governed by the WTO and its members.

For foreign businesses operating in China, the past few decades have been challenging  when it comes to corporate social responsibility and sustainability. To separate myth from reality, I wanted to get an “on the ground” perspective. So at the annual BSR (Business for Social Responsibility)conference, I spoke with Jeremy Prepscius. Based in Hong Kong he is BSR’s Vice President, Asia-Pacific:

What have U.S. companies learned about CSR in China over the past 10 years? What have they yet to learn?

U.S. companies have learned a lot about dealing with supply chain aspects of CSR in China over the last 10 years. That learning has been both good and  a challenge in terms of supply chain engagement.

But what they actually haven’t learned yet, I think, is the value of Read more…

Despite $1B Fraud Lawsuit, Bank of America Insists, We Acted Responsibly

October 29, 2012

It’s safe to say that when most people think of corporate social responsibility (CSR), they think of environmentally friendly packaging, supply chain issues, or even corporate philanthropy. But finance?

According to Alexandra (Alex) Liftman, Global Environmental Executive forBank of America, finance has an important role to play in advancing CSR and sustainability goals. I sat down with Alex at the Business for Social Responsibility conference in New York City last week to get her perspective on Bank of America’s approach to CSR and sustainability. The conversation comes at an interesting time for the country’s second-biggest lender by assets. Federal prosecutors filed a $1 billion lawsuit last Wednesday, accusing Bank of America of carrying out a scheme started by its Countrywide Financial unit that defrauded government-backed agencies by making loans without proper controls.

How does the news of the government’s lawsuit against Bank of America affect the company’s reputation for socially responsibility?

Well, in any situation, you have to look at the facts. Around these legacy mortgage issues, we have stepped up as an institution and acted responsibly and as quickly as possible to address a broad range of issues. In this particular instance, the claim that we failed to repurchase loans from Fannie [Mae], is just false. At some point, Bank of America can’t continue to be expected to compensate entities for the losses that were the result of the financial crisis. That’s the position we have taken on this particular instance.

I would also say that whether it’s the Read more…