3 Sustainability Leaders (That Are Saving The World)

The world is waking up from COVID19 lockdowns and many are questioning the way our society was built. We live in a historical moment where we can choose to go back to the old world of pollution and waste or to accelerate the transition to a future where profits are not against the planet or people.

In these times of change, there is an urgent need for global leadership and collaboration.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of leaders from academia, the political, civil society and corporations inspiring others to have the courage to make a difference in the world.

I want you to read about 3 Sustainability Leaders that I admire for relentlessly fight for bold action in sustainability, for challenging the status quo that follows a route of marginal improvements and for inspiring many of us to do our part.

Paul Polman – CEO Sustainability Leaders

Paul Polman - One of my 3 Sustainability Heroes

Role Business Leader

Quote “We cannot choose between [economic] growth and sustainability – we must have both.”

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Getty images – Copenhagen fashion summit

Bio Dutch businessman, ex-Unilever CEO (2009.2018), Chair of the International Chamber of Commerce and The B Team,.ViceChair of the U.N. Global Compact and co-founder of global business collective IMAGINE.


  • As CEO of Unilever (2009-2018), he set a bold vision to decouple the company’s growth from the overall environmental footprint and increase its positive social impact through the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. He demonstrated that a new “inclusive capitalism” that involves multi-stakeholder drives long-term value. Thanks to his work, Globescan and SustainAbility named Unilever among top sustainability leaders for six consecutive years.
  • As part of the U.N. Secretary General’s High-level Panel, he played a leading role in developing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) developing the business case for the 2030 agenda. He was appointed by the Secretary-General as one of 17 SDG advocates.
  • Paul Polman has been honoured with France’s Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, in recognition of his role in the historic 2015 U.N. Climate Change agreement in Paris. In 2018 was named an Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) for services to business and environment.

I admire this person because Paul is a true advocate that business should be a driver first and foremost for generating value for society that goes beyond increasing shareholder profits. As CEO he transformed Unilever’s environmental problems into opportunities to create value for the company’s stakeholders.

Above all, by his actions, he demonstrates how a CEO can play a key role in redefining a company’s purpose and culture and create a long-term relationship between companies and society. His most significant achievement has been to inspire other CEOs to look beyond profits and align business goals with the world’s pressing societal issues and create the needed global transformative partnerships.

“I had never before heard a business boss tell a proportion of some of his investors to get lost”

Michael Skapinker Financial Times Editor

Christiana Figueres – Diplomatic Sustainability Leaders

Christiana Figueres - One of my 3 Sustainability Heroes

Role Collaborative Diplomatic

Quote “Each of us has the responsibility to do the best that we can”

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Image by UNclimatechange

Bio Costa Rican diplomat with 35 years of experience in high level national and international policy and multilateral negotiations


  • As Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana injected a unique sense of optimism that steered world leaders to reach the Paris Agreement in 2015. Has been credited with forging a new brand of collaborative diplomacy.
  • Mrs Figueres founded together with Tom Carnac Global Optimism, a purpose-driven enterprise focused on social and environmental change. Global optimism includes various initiatives including a weekly podcast or the book “The future we choose“.
  • She served as Director of Renewable Energy in the Americas (REIA). Founded in 1995 and directed for 8 years of the Center for Sustainable Development of the Americas (CSDA). She is Convener of Mission 2020, an initiative to ensure the world bends the curve on greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 protecting the most vulnerable.

I admire this person because of her energy, assertiveness and optimism that allows her influence world leaders to reach better sustainable outcomes.

Reading her book, listening to her participation as a speaker and following the many initiatives she’s involved, you can find a person proud of her home country Costa Rica. Certainly, she uses plain language to describe our environmental challenges and defends gender equality as part of the solution to climate change. Christiana has dedicated her life to tackling climate change, sustainable development, energy, land use, technical and financial cooperation.

“The Woman Who Could Stop Climate Change”

Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker

Michael E. Mann – Scientist Sustainability Leaders

Michael E. Mann - One of my 3 Sustainability Heroes

Role Atmospheric Scientist

Quote The trouble is that the hockey stick graph become an icon and deniers reckoned if they could smash the icon, the whole concept of global warming would be destroyed with it.

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Bio American climatologist and geophysicist who has contributed to the scientific understanding of historic climate change based on the temperature record of the past thousand years.


  • Mr. Mann was the Lead researcher on a historic paper on climate change in 1998. He reconstructed global temperatures and produced a “hockey stick” like graph that showed a sharp acceleration in the 1900s due to fossil fuels released by human activity.
  • Since then, Michael has spent two decades defending the paper and his reputation against climate change deniers. He has won many court cases and forced groups to retract & apology.
  • Among many awards and recognition, Michael E. Mann received the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement in 2019. Recently, the National Academy of Sciences elected Mann as a member.

I admire this person because, in a world of climate disinformation about the problems caused by human activity, our society needs scientists to analyze the causes and be present in the decision table.

Furthermore, Michael has brought the discussion to the general public, translating the scientific jargon in a language everyone can understand. He has combated groups that tried to create confusion by spreading false information.

Due to Mann’s dedication to explain the cause of climate change, he has been the object of repeated attacks. These attacks were not about the validity the scientific evidence but about the integrity of the scientist carrying out the research.

However, Mann has fought back and won at Court several cases for which he has received retract and public apologies. These won trials have reinforced the scientific consensus that global warming is occurring as a result of human activity. I hope that his work brings more science and scientist into tackling climate change.

“Death threats, intimidation and abuse: climate change scientist Michael E. Mann counts the cost of honesty”

Robin McKie, www.theguardian.com. March 03, 2012. 


These 3 Sustainability Leaders have accomplished much more than any other leader. Why? Because they are inspired by a PURPOSE that goes beyond themselves, the purpose of doing good for others.

Most importantly, they are persistent. They fight against the business as usual by acting today since they know that waiting another decade would be too late.

The solution to climate change and other major threats to the planet need a collective response. Their firm actions inspire many of us to follow their example.

In a word, get inspired by these sustainability leaders and act in your company, community or personal life to build a better future for us and for the future generations.

1 thought on “3 Sustainability Leaders (That Are Saving The World)”

  1. Thanks Carlos. These three leaders are impressive. It is hard work to swim against the tide particularly when legal systems are involved.

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