Sustainability has become a top-of-mind issue in many boardrooms. Several factors influence this shift of thinking: the increase in environmental regulations, changing consumer demands, and evolving market trends. Additionally, many businesses are finding that assessing and mitigating sustainability risks like climate change sets them up for a more successful future.
Driving businesses toward corporate responsibility, environmental compliance, and long-term financial, social, and environmental sustainability will take great leadership. It requires leaders who drive innovation, act decisively and strategically, and challenge the status quo. Strong leadership is especially important as issues like climate change, biodiversity loss, resource depletion, and many more impact businesses. Thankfully, some of the world’s greatest minds are making a collective effort to mitigate environmental threats and leading the world to a sustainable future
To help you keep up to date with some of the exceptional talent working in this dynamic space, we are highlighting 12 active sustainability leaders helping their organizations make great strides in their sustainability goals.
Kate Brandt, Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO), Google
Google has a very ambitious sustainability agenda by striving for both net zero emissions and 24/7/365 carbon-free energy by 2030. Kate Brandt, formerly the Obama administration’s sustainability lead in 2014 and 2015, took over as Google’s CSO in 2018 with the mission of adding sustainability to everything Google does.
Brandt believes that collaboration should be at the heart of all net zero goals and learned after years of attempting decarbonization that it “requires ecosystem change and that these changes can only happen in partnership.” She has led on this by unleashing Google’s machine learning capabilities to enable CircularNet, a tool to increase recycling rates, and contribute to a circular economy. She has also implemented other innovations to Google Nest, which will enable users to use their energy savings to direct funds to philanthropic energy infrastructure projects.
Several note-worthy publications have recognized the impact Kate has made: Forbes included her on its 2021 40 under 40 list, Outside Magazine named her one of the 40 most important women changing the world today, and Sustainability Magazine named her as the top Sustainability Leader for 2022.
Todd Fields, Principal - Global Enterprise Sustainability, Boeing
Boeing has one of the most innovative and progressive ESG programs in aviation. They have invested over $60 Billion into sustainable innovation over the past 10 years, which has enabled them to reduce emissions by 15-25% in each new generation of their airplanes. Across his 10 years at Boeing, Todd has been pivotal in leading the Boeing sustainability team in creating an industry-leading decarbonization strategy called “everything to zero”, which looks to reduce their carbon footprint to zero through renewable energy implementation, operational efficiency, and advanced technologies. This strategy led Boeing to reach net zero emissions from manufacturing and worksites by 2020.
Todd is confident that the work Boeing is doing today for the climate and ESG is “important for competitive positioning in the future.” This is why Boeing is investing so heavily in sustainable fuels for their airplanes, renewables at their facilities, and the diversity of their workforce.
Julia Mathews, VP, ESG Strategy at Peloton
Julia joined Peloton in the spring of 2020 at the start of the company's ultra-high-growth phase. Shortly after, Peloton announced the Peloton Pledge - the company's multi-pronged plan to become an antiracist organization and support the advancement of social equity across its communities. In her role as VP, ESG Strategy, Julia is tasked with creating Peloton’s first ESG team and driving their ESG commitments across the company. Her team is responsible for the oversight and execution of Peloton's social impact programs and partnerships; ESG governance, strategy, and business integration; and environmental sustainability initiatives. Julia serves as the executive sponsor for the Peloton Pledge and Chair of the company's ESG Executive Steering Committee.
Learn more about Julia’s approach to leadership in ESG and social impact, and her career journey in this “BRIDGES: The Reciprocal Influences Between ESG & Your Career” webinar. For an overview of Peloton's ESG progress, check out Peloton's recently published second annual ESG Report.
Mandi McReynolds, Head of Global Environment, Social, and Governance at Workiva
Workiva supports 75% of the US largest 500 companies reporting their financial information to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). With the recent rise in ESG reporting regulations, Workiva now offers their customers the means to measure and disclose their ESG information with the same rigor as their financial reporting. Workiva is also committed to improving ESG within its own operations. They have already achieved several sustainability goals, which they share in their annual ESG report, and have a decarbonization plan aligned with science-based targets.
Mandi has been with Workiva since 2021 and brings her 15+ years of leadership experience in building corporate responsibility and ESG teams to help both the company and its customers meet their sustainability goals. In addition to being an accomplished leader, Mandi is also a published author and podcast host. She wrote a book on community engagement and hosts ESG Talk, where she talks to other ESG leaders, offers tips, and reports on trends in the industry.
Cherie Wilson, Vice President of Government Affairs - Sustainability, Delta Airlines
Delta was the first airline to become carbon neutral globally and continually scale up its ambitious sustainability goals. Cherie Wilson has been an integral driver of the sustainability agenda at Delta, her current company, as well as General Motors (GM). spearheaded the first cross-functional Diversity and Inclusion report and established sustainability as part of the Federal issue portfolio. Prior to GM, Cherie worked at M. J. Bradley & Associates, where she worked with corporations and NGOs on air quality and climate change-related advocacy initiatives.
Cherie has a proven track record as a government affairs sustainability advocate, having engaged with congressional leaders on the importance of adopting an equity-based approach to funding for electric- and autonomous-vehicle development. Her work in promoting sustainable transport got her added to Washington DC’s 500 Most Influential People.
Samantha Sims, Vice President of ESG, Warner Music
In 2022, The Warner Music Group became the first major music company to release an ESG report, which highlights the ESG progress made by Warner in well-being; diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); and climate change. Warner’s inaugural ESG report was spearheaded by Samantha, who collated input from more than 70 employees to create a comprehensive baseline of the company's sustainability performance.
Samantha has over 15 years of experience leading and building sustainability teams in a variety of sectors. Her work in her previous role, the clothing corporation PVH Corp., was recognized by the World Wildlife Fund in their Celebrating Women in Sustainability series. Samantha's accomplishments include setting a science-based target for emissions reduction at PVH, which she plans to replicate at Warner; promoting a circular economy of materials; putting Warner on the map as a founding signatory of the UN-backed Music Climate Pact, which aims to reduce the industry’s environmental impact.
Amanda Gardiner, Head Sustainability Innovation & Engagement, Meta
Meta has a very strong sustainability program: they have already achieved 100% renewable energy and net zero emissions for their global operations, and plan to reach net zero for their value chain by 2030. Amanda’s leadership has maintained sustainability roles at telecommunications company Verizon and education company Pearson previously.
Amanda was recognized in The Business and Sustainable Development Commission’s Behind Every Global Goal: Women Leading The World To 2030, where she was commended for her work demonstrating how Pearson can drive profitability while maximizing societal benefits. She also improved Pearson’s social score by initiating the Every Child Learning program, which ensures children in emergency and conflict-affected settings like Syria receive a quality education. In her current role at Meta, Amanda continues to innovate new sustainability solutions, as Meta was one of the first companies to use Climate Club, which helps employees measure and manage their environmental impact. To learn more about Amanda’s work at Meta, tune in to this podcast, in which she is featured.
Jenny McColloch, CSO, McDonald's
Every day, McDonald's feeds almost 1% of the global population, so the environmental and social impact of their supply chains and operations is huge. It has been Jenny’s job over the last 10 years to mitigate McDonald’s impacts. Through her leadership, McDonald’s has been able to reduce emissions with science-based targets, increase climate resilience, introduce sustainable packaging, and promote an inclusive workplace and healthy eating through their Happy Meals.
Jenny was praised for her work in the World Wildlife Fund’s Celebrating Women in Sustainability series, where she highlighted some of her amazing sustainability achievements at McDonald's. To hear more from “the woman greening the golden arches,” you can listen to her conversation on the Degrees podcast.
Kentaro Kawamori, Co-Founder and CEO, Persefoni
Kentaro is the Co-Founder and CEO of Persefoni, one of the world’s leading climate management and accounting platforms that helps companies accurately measure, manage, and report their carbon footprint. In the almost three years since Persefoni was founded, the company has measured over 9 billion tons of carbon across its customer base.
Kentaro was formerly Chief Digital Officer at Fortune 500 energy company Chesapeake. After being tasked with measuring the company's carbon footprint, he found that there was no easy way of doing so, which inspired his idea to build a carbon accounting software platform. Kentaro has received many accolades for his leadership in sustainability, including Forbes 30 under 30 and an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur Of The Year 2022 Pacific Southwest finalist. To follow Kentaro’s mission to create a more sustainable planet, you can listen to his podcast Climate Tech with Kentaro, where he interviews other leaders in climate technology and sustainability.
Niki King, Head of Sustainability North America, Unilever
Niki joined Unilever from Novo Nordisk, where she was Director of Corporate Sustainability, and Campbells Soup Company, where she was Director of Supply Chain Sustainability. She aims to continue Unilever’s leadership in sustainability and contribute to the amazing innovation happening across its brands (Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, led by former CSO Paul Polman, puts the planet and society at the center of everything the company does. The plan included a net zero goal by 2039, the elimination of deforestation in their operations and supply chains, and the reduction of food and plastic waste, cementing Unilever as an industry leader in sustainability.)
One of Niki's primary focuses is ensuring Unilever reaches its decarbonization goals. She says, “What’s exciting to me is trying to figure out how we’re going to do it without using offsets” and “by the end of this year, here in North America, we will know what it’s going to take for us to fully decarbonize by 2030.” To learn more about Unilever’s sustainability plans under Nikki’s leadership, you can watch her panel discussion on “Sustainability and Equity: Corporate Climate Initiatives That Center People.”
Desiree Fixler, Chair, Venture ESG
Formerly the Group Sustainability Officer at DWS, Desiree Fixler is now a professional public speaker and Chair of Venture ESG, a community-based non-profit driving the adoption of ESG in the Venture Capital industry. Fixler made waves in 2022 after accusing DWS of inflating their ESG funds’ sustainability credentials.
Desiree’s whistleblowing at DWS led to a wake-up call In the finance world, which now looks to increase its protections against reputational and litigation risks by accurately labeling ESG funds and reporting ESG data. Now Desiree works at Venture ESG, where she wants to promote ESG as more than just a box-ticking exercise and to “spread awareness about a practical version of ESG for the VC and startup market.” When not working at Ventrue ESG, she talks at speaking engagements, consults with companies, and works with ESG-ratings agencies to help them get their ESG data right.
Lilian Liu, Sustainability leader, Braze
Lilian started her career working for NGOs and the UN Global Compact to promote sustainable fashion and co-founded Fauna, an online sustainable fashion e-commerce company. Lilian is a significantly influential voice in sustainable fashion, having been a prominent figure in bringing sustainable fashion shows to China and an effective consultant for fashion brands with the change agency, Futerra.
Liu joined Braze, a leading customer engagement platform, in mid-2022. In the short time since she joined as Sustainability Lead, she has pulled together the company's first ESG report and disclosure through Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and EcoVadis, which they scored a silver sustainability medal for. The report also included Braze’s first carbon footprint and ESG materiality assessment.