15 Inspiring Women to Follow in the Sustainability Space
These inspiring women in sustainability, from leaders in climate legislation to environmental scientists, are making the world a better place.
So many outspoken leaders have been fighting for our planet for years. And, by no surprise, a great deal of them are powerful and inspiring women. So what better time than Women's History Month to celebrate and recognize the women in sustainability who have made it their life mission to change the world for the better?
If you're not already following these women in sustainability, you'll want to change that ASAP. There are leaders in climate legislation, environmental scientists, and innovators, all of whom will go down in history for their work toward a brighter future.
15 Inspiring Women in Sustainability
1. Isatou Ceesay
Photo: Green Up Gambia
Isatou Ceesay—a Gambian activist who you may know as the "Queen of Recycling"—quite literally turned trash into treasure through her recycling movement called One Plastic Bag. Using her knowledge from being a volunteer in the Peace Corps, Ceesay taught other women how to upcycle plastic bags into bags, purses, and rucksacks. With that, the N’jau Recycling and Income Generation Group was born. The movement uplifted hundreds of West African women, allowing them to earn an income. It also greatly improved the plastic waste problem in Ceesay's community.
2. Precious Brady-Davis
Photo: Annie Flanagan for HuffPost
Precious Brady-Davis is an influential LGBTQ rights activist and the associate regional communications director for the Sierra Club. Over the years, she's made it her mission to educate people on how climate change is just as much of a social justice issue as it is an environmental issue.
"Whether it’s a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body, a trans woman’s right to walk down the street without being murdered, or protecting clean water and air from pollutants, it’s all public health issues," Brady-Davis told the Huffington Post. "To not have a more well-rounded view of justice is just perilous."
3. Winona LaDuke
Photo: Schumacher Center for New Economics
Winona LaDuke is an Indigenous environmentalist, political activist, and program director for Honor the Earth. She works extensively on issues of climate change, renewable energy, sustainable food systems, and environmental justice with Indigenous communities. She's also been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame, was one of Time magazine's 50 most promising leaders under 40 years old, and more.
In Honor the Earth, she works with many others to raise awareness of Indigenous activism for environmental justice. "If we build a society based on honoring the earth, we build a society which is sustainable, and has the capacity to support all life forms," she said in her TED Talk.
4. Autumn Peltier
Photo: Linda Roy of Ireva Photography
Autumn Peltier may only be 16 years old, but she's already making a huge impact in the sustainability space, advocating for safe and clean drinking water for all. Through her work in raising awareness about water rights, she's spoken at the United Nations World Water Day and has been honored on many occasions. She even famously confronted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about water protection.
5. Christiana Figueres
Photo: Aurum Speakers Bureau
Over the years, Christiana Figueres, co-founder of Global Optimism, has worked in everything from climate change and sustainable development to energy and land use. While she's had many achievements, one in particular that will go down in history is being responsible for the international climate change negotiations. Her hard work as the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change led to the Paris Agreement of 2015.
6. Helen Clarkson
Photo: Helen Clarkson
As the current CEO of The Climate Group, Helen Clarkson has been a champion for sustainability issues and a leader in delivering sustainable results. Prior to her current position, she founded the United States office of Forum for the Future, a nonprofit that works with businesses and governments to build a more sustainable future. During that time, she established key sustainability partnerships with big brands like Target, Walmart, Nike, Gap Inc, PepsiCo, Levi Strauss & Co., and INGOs (international non-governmental organizations) such as the Forest Stewardship Council, the Rainforest Alliance, and The Rockefeller Foundation.
7. Sylvia Earle
Photo: The Nature Conservancy
A legendary marine biologist, author, and explorer for National Geographic, Sylvia Earle is everything you wanted to be when you were a kid. The explorer was among the first to use modern SCUBA gear, discovering many underwater life forms. Her legacy as the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the founder of Deep Ocean Exploration and Research will go down in history. (Her nickname is “Her Deepness," after all.) Today, she devotes her time to raising awareness about climate change and sustainability. Her foundation Mission Blue was founded to "ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas." You can watch the documentary of the same name on Netflix, which showcases her efforts to mediate the impacts of oil pollution.
8. Dr. Rose M. Mutiso
Photo: Energy For Growth Hub
Consider Dr. Rose M. Mutiso, PhD, your go-to expert in energy innovation and energy access. She's the research director for the Energy for Growth Hub and the co-founder and CEO of the Mawazo Institute, which empowers female leaders and next-generational intellectuals in East Africa. Since 2016, she has also been the Senior Fellow in the Office of International Climate and Clean Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). She worked on several pieces of crucial legislation on energy access in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia that were signed into effect by President Obama.
9. Vandana Shiva
Photo: The Seeds of Vandana Shiva
Vandana Shiva—aka the "Gandhi of grain"—is an ecologist, physicist, and activist who has been working to better the planet for years. As the founder and director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy, as well as the founder of Navdanya, one of her prime goals is taking on big agriculture and fighting for farmers' rights to change the food system for the better: "I don't want to live in a world where five giant companies control our health and our food," she said.
10. Dr. Asmeret Asefaw Berhe
Photo: UC Merced
Dr. Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, is a soil biogeochemist, political ecologist, professor, and researcher at the University of California Merced who is helping people understand what climate change is doing to the planet from the ground up. Literally. Her research looks at how different environmental conditions—like fire, erosion, and climate change—have an effect on soil processes. Particularly how these conditions affect soil's ability to store carbon. Her important research gives crucial details into how soil helps regulate the earth's climate.
11. Janice Lao
Photo: Eco Business
Janice Lao is a developmental economist and an environmental scientist. In 2018, she was named one of Forbes' 46 Sustainable Leaders, where she was the only Asian—and one of the youngest people—on the list. She was also the first Asian and youngest winner of the Edie Sustainability Leader of the Year Award. Lao worked at MTR, Hong Kong's transport network, where she launched the network's first green bond with major success. Lao also worked for many other large brands, setting the standard for carbon trading, ethically-sourced seafood, hiring minorities, and more. She's a proud member of the STEM community and released Sparky and Benny's Big Home Mystery—a children's book about climate change—last year.
12. Susie Hewson
Photo: Susie Hewson
A champion in the fem-care business, Susie Hewson is all about eco-friendly period products. In fact, Hewson actually pioneered the first brand of "organic and natural period products in 1989." Her brand, Natracare, produces chlorine- and plastic-free products that are made out of biodegradable materials. The company has also acquired a wide range of certifications and awards over the years for its eco-friendly practices. Hewson calls herself a "lifetime active environmentalist and disrupter" with "respect for humanity and the natural world" in her Twitter bio, and that couldn't be more true.
13. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Photo: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
No matter what your political party is, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—or AOC—is a loud and proud voice for all things eco. For instance, you've probably heard of the Green New Deal—the first piece of legislation drafted by AOC, who has served as the representative for New York's 14th congressional district since 2019. She's the youngest woman ever to serve in the United States Congress, as well as one of the first Democratic socialists to do so. The idea behind the Green New Deal is to phase out fossil fuel use, lessen greenhouse gas emissions, and create high-paying jobs in clean energy industries. If implemented, it would be the first-ever U.S. mobilization on climate change of its size and scale.
14. Greta Thunberg
Photo: Greta Thunberg
As an environmental activist and public figure, Greta Thunberg has repeatedly called out international leaders for not doing enough to combat climate change. When she was 15, Thunberg inspired a movement called Fridays for Future (FFF) by protesting in front of the Swedish Parliament. In 2019, more than one million protestors of FFF stood on strike for climate change in 125 countries. When attending the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, Thunberg famously sailed there on a zero-carbon yacht instead of flying to deliver an electrifying speech that made history.
15. Jennifer Granholm
Photo: U.S. Department of Energy
Jennifer Granholm was recently confirmed as the new Energy Secretary, making her the second woman sworn into the head of the U.S. Department of Energy. Prior to this, Granholm was the first woman to serve as governor of Michigan. She hopes to move the country toward a more sustainable future by pushing the advancement of energy as far as it will go. She also understands that the climate is changing quickly and that it's up to big businesses to do better. She stands behind the need for clean energy and local action—for example, microgrids, distributed energy resources, and small nuclear power plants.
Reporting by Rachel Liu, Giulia Lallas, and Tehrene Firman.
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