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Sixteen global sustainability leaders seeking transformational change

Glen Coe, Scotland

Those who run organisations can feel very lonely at the top, it’s important to recognise the leaders who are driving sustainability, writes Jo Confino. Photograph: Murdo Macleod


Powered by article titled “Sixteen global sustainability leaders seeking transformational change” was written by Jo Confino, for on Tuesday 28th January 2014 07.00 UTC

There is a well known management team building exercise, which is to create a circle of appreciation.

We all tend to beat ourselves up and feel we are not doing enough, so it feeds the spirit to get some positive feedback as well as giving us the courage, commitment and enthusiasm to take the next step.

Our basic psychological desire is to be seen and appreciated, but we often do not get that from within the organisations we work, and those who run organisations often feel very lonely at the top. As I leave Davos, I wanted to create a virtual circle and recognise a few of the people at the World Economic Forum who are seeking to drive the sustainability agenda.

The list is by no means exhaustive and does not in any way suggest these people are perfect; they are not and each will have his or her critics. It also does not imply that the organisations they work for cannot be doing a lot more to address the multitude of social and environmental challenges we face.

But it is also important to recognise the truth that each one of us is constrained by the complexity and culture of the organisations we are part of, whether we are royalty, CEOs, heads of UN agencies or running international NGOs.

What is most important to remember is that our core strength comes from who we are, first of all, and coming back to this place helps us to be more effective in what we do.

Each of the people listed below, in their own unique way, demonstrate this. So here goes:

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC

Alejandro Bolivar/EPA

For her determination and for dropping her diplomatic shield and showing her iron fist when necessary, such as throwing a very effective right hook into the belly of the coal industry in Warsaw.


Kumi Naidoo, head of Greenpeace International

Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace

Ted Aljibe/AFP

For having a heart as big as a mountain, the courage of a lion, the tenacity of a British terrier dog, and being prepared to risk the wrath of his own colleagues and supporters if he genuinely sees a way of working with mainstream corporates to drive change


Rachel Kyte, head of climate change at the World Bank

Rachel Kyte, World Bank

The World Bank

For her quiet strength, and intellectual rigour. Also for saying things as they are, such as pointing out how the elitism at Davos excludes women, and for being able to back up what she says on global finance with a deep knowledge of the markets.


Andrew Steer, president and CEO of World Resources Institute

Andrew Steer, WRI


For his generosity of spirit, warmth and openness, which engenders a deep sense of trust that makes the WRI the great convening power that it has become.


Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever

Paul Polman, Unilever


For his intense energy and fierce commitment, his focus on the world’s poor, as well as his ability to integrate the many aspects of sustainability, from climate change and deforestation to nutrition and agriculture, and therefore having a truly holistic worldview.


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