2014 saw an increased involvement in sustainability by the private sector and other actors in addition to the traditional non-profit organizations and environmentally focused government agencies. Many note-worthy developments were characterized by different groups working together (multi-stakeholder partnerships) and the narrowing in on specific areas with new tools and technologies. Although policy from the local level to the international continues to face obstacles, significant progress was made this year. Here are the Top 10 Movers and Shakers in Sustainability (not in a specific order):
1. Companies that said "No" to deforestation for palm oil. 96% of palm oil production is now covered by a no-deforestation policy. Although commitments were due to pressure from non-profit organizations and effective monitoring and enforcement is still a concern, wide-spread private sector commitment was a valuable step forward in 2014. Palm oil is found in thousands of products from brands we use everyday and it's production is a driver of deforestation. Indonesia and Malaysia are the two largest producers but, demand poses risks of deforestation across Southeast Asia and increasingly Latin America and Africa.
2. Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. The 2014 book by this award-winning journalist and author took the realities of how our economic model hurts the environment mainstream. Klein shed light on how capitalism will not save us from climate change and that momentum is already growing to rethink it. With a strong book and speaking tour, Klein's message was loud and clear: our economic model needs to change, it is possible, and it is an opportunity to do things better.
3. Edwin Chota and other activists of Peruvian indigenous communities in Saweto. Edwin Chota's dedication to protecting Amazonian forests from logging and deforestation received mention in the New York Times and National Geographic over the past few years. However, the fight took a disastrous turn when Chota and three other community members were murdered by loggers in 2014. Chota's daughter traveled to NYC to accept an award on her father's behalf and vowed to continue the fight. The loss of these activists is devastating, but brings to the surface the need to protect indigenous groups and land. We hope will see more attention and action on this issue in 2015.
4. John Podesta, Counselor to President Obama. From regulating greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) of coal-fired power plants, the agreement with China, and a handful of other environmental initiatives, Obama has been on a roll when it comes to environmental policy. A November piece in the Washington Post does a great job of explaining how Podesta is behind the administration's environmental push in 2014. Podesta's legwork included urging agencies to identify areas to reduce GHGs, coaching officials on how to include climate issues into policy debates, and meetings with the president, senators, and governors on climate change.
5. The People's Climate March, call to action by Bill McKibben. In September, 400,000 people marched in NYC for action on climate change. Solidarity marches took place around the world. The turnout, and Bill McKibben's powerful call to participate in Rolling Stone magazine, were game-changers. The world saw people come together from all walks of life and with various motivations for change. The march provided the needed momentum for the UN Climate Summit attended by global leaders taking place at the same time. The momentum also continued onto the climate change conference in Lima, Peru in December.
6. New Climate Economy Commission, author of the New Climate Economy Report. Heads of government, economists, and business leaders confirmed that the world can have strong economic growth and combat climate change at the same time. Specifically, the commission's report showed that the next 10-15 years can be an era of great progress and growth if we use our financial, technical, and human resources to raise living standards across the world. Evidence was clearly presented that acting on climate now, rather than later, is in the best interest of countries from an economic standpoint. Report broke down theoretical barriers that hindered effective discussion of economic progress and climate change.
7. State of Vermont. Vermont was the first state in the U.S. to pass legislation to label foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The requirement will go into effect in 2016, but is still battling threats to overturn (lawsuit by the Grocery Manufacturers Association). The votes which passed the legislation reflect Vermont residents' desire for more information on what they consume; it is estimated that 80% of the packaged food in the U.S. contains GMOs. Similar legislation has been on ballots in other states, but did not pass. However, Vermont is expected to pave the way for other states as awareness about GMOs continues to grow.
8. Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Figueres makes the list for her continued dedication and work to move the international community ahead on climate change and recognizing the role of various stakeholders in doing so. In 2014, Figueres made close to 20 speeches (all inspiring and powerful). Her speech at a Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) meeting of signatories was particularly valuable as the finance industry holds great potential (but also concerns and reservations) about systematically integrating sustainability considerations.
9. Hollywood celebrities. Celebrities speaking out on climate change in 2014 raised awareness and brought the topic into new and different news programs and magazine publications. Leonardo DiCaprio called for accepting that climate change is real and to take action through his opening remarks at the UN Climate Summit in September. Additionally, the Nature is Speaking campaign from Conservation International, which seeks to influence consumers to think about the environment, featured voices such as Julia Roberts, Penelope Cruz, Edward Norton, Robert Redford, and Harrison Ford. Yes, it is cool to care about the environment.
10. Rainforest Connection. This tech start-up illustrates and inspires innovation in sustainability. Rainforest Connection upcycles used smart phones to track the sound of chain saws in forests. Using existing wireless communications infrastructure, the information provided from the smart phones enables the monitoring of forest activity in real-time. Monitoring and enforcement has been the most difficult aspect of protecting forests from illegal logging, even if countries have policies in place. Technologies that provides information on when and where logging is taking place is the first step in decreasing deforestation.
Of course the list of 2014 Top Movers and Shakers in Sustainability is not exhaustive of all the contributions made by actors around the globe. We would love to hear about other work that deserves to make the list! Thank you to everyone out there doing what they can to make the world more sustainable.