International Women’s Day: The Female Voices Shaping Sustainability

In celebration of International Woman’s Day 2023, we are shining a light on the female leaders pioneering the climate conversation.

Keisha Sintim-Lewis
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In the last couple of years, we have seen a shift in female leaders pioneering the climate conversation. The percentage of female Chief Sustainability Officers (CSO) in the US has almost doubled since 2011, and we have seen leaders such as Christiana Figueres and Emma Watson at the forefront of transformational change. In honour of International Women’s Day (IWD) 2023, we’re celebrating these inspiring female leaders who are disrupting the status quo by creating transformative action and driving forward legislation and standards to halt climate change.

International Women’s Day (IWD) has been celebrated globally for over 100 years, recognising women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements whilst raising awareness of the challenges they continue to face.

This year, one of IWD’s campaign missions is to elevate women forging change via technology and sustainability in communities, workplaces and beyond. Helping this mission, we want to celebrate ten women driving forward standards and taking transformative action within sustainability.

Christiana Figueres, Architect of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Christiana Figueres is an internationally recognised leader who played an integral role in the global effort to halt climate change. As Executive Secretary for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from 2010-2016, Cristina led the international negotiations that culminated in the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement, adopted by 196 parties, is a legally binding international treaty on climate change to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

After her ground-breaking work with UNFCCC, Cristina founded Global Optimism to continue to support the climate crisis. Global Optimism is a purpose-driven enterprise inspiring people and businesses globally to face the climate crisis head-on and take action towards a regenerative future.

Lisa Ekstrand, VP of Sustainability, Vestas

Lisa Ekstrand is considered a master of renewable energy transformation. Currently, the Vice president of Vestas’ globally recognised sustainable energy solutions, Lisa leads their global sustainability efforts and the innovation of their wind turbines.

Outside of Vestas, Lisa was part of the EU Parliament’s negotiation team on the EU Climate Change Package and REACH. REACH is a programme commissioned by the EU which aims to protect human health and the environment from potentially dangerous or toxic chemicals.

Fiona Macklin, Race to Zero Campaign Manager

Fiona Macklin has been a prominent mover in the world’s transition to Net Zero. Fiona joined Race to Zero in 2020 to lead the coordination of Race to Zero, the world’s largest coalition of organisations committed to reducing their carbon emissions across all scopes in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. Heading up the team, Fiona worked closely with partners and stakeholders of the Race to Zero to drive the delivery of robust net zero commitments. Prior to joining Race to Zero, Fiona worked for the Stakeholder Engagement Team at UNFCC.

Recently, Fiona was involved in the production of the Pivot Point report. The report convened experts in the voluntary, standards and regulatory space to call for the acceleration of converting voluntary climate action into standards and regulated action.

Laura Clarke, CEO, Client Earth

Laura Clark has spent over two decades working to tackle climate change. Before being appointed CEO at Client Earth, Laura spent 20 years in Government and diplomatic roles across Africa, Asia and Europe, working extensively on climate, environmental and sustainability issues.

A notable role she played during this time was British High Commissioner to New Zealand and Governor of the Pitcairn Islands from January 2018 to July 2022, where she worked to strengthen the UK-New Zealand relationship.

Currently, Laura is the CEO of Client Earth, an environmental law charity that focuses on changing the system by informing, implementing, and enforcing the law for people and the planet.

Emma Watson, Head of Standards at SBTi

Emma Watson’s drive to tackle climate change began at an academic level when she studied at the University of Edinburgh and achieved an MSc in Carbon Management and a BSc with Honours in Environmental Science.

Emma Watson is part of a widely recognised coalition, the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). SBTi has thousands of businesses working to reduce their emissions in line with science-based targets. At SBTi, Emma heads the Standards team developing and maintaining SBTi’s cross-sector standards, such as near-term science-based targets and the corporate Net Zero standard.

Outside SBTI, Emma is a member of the Race to Zero Expert Peer Review Group, an advisor to the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero and sits on the Standards Committee for the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative. 

Emily Faint, ISO Net Zero Guidelines – Net Zero Policy Manager (BSI) 

Emily Faint has been a force for change in the global transition to Net Zero. Working with ISO under BSI, Emily led the development of Our 2050 world, a global initiative that supports organisations and standard bodies to accelerate their transition to net zero emissions.

She’s now Policy and Engagement Lead for the Our 2050 World initiative, with her first major deliverable being the ISO Net Zero Guidelines. Following its publication, Emily was appointed as an Associate of Oxford Net Zero to deliver on the shared ambition of aligning net zero governance through standards.

Hermione Taylor, Do Nation Founder

After her master’s where she studied environmental technology, which involved looking into pledging and encouraging behaviour change, Hermione’s mission was to build the social enterprise Do Nation to help people and organisations make sustainable changes.

Do Nation was founded because of Hermione’s belief that building a better world was about action, not money. As an enterprise, they run campaigns encouraging people and organisations to make sustainable pledges. Throughout her career, she has had the ambition to tackle climate change by pledging to drive environmental habits.

Gloria Walton, President and CEO, The Solutions Project

Gloria Walton is described as one of the USA’s most exciting next-generation political leaders. As president and CEO of The Solutions Project (TSP), Gloria works to build equitable solutions for health, racial justice and the climate crisis.

Gloria quadrupled TSP’s impact in her first year as CEO by raising $50 million to fund community-centred climate solutions, including $43 million from the Bezos Earth Fund. With her growing team, she is funding and amplifying the innovations of more than 100 grassroots grantees.

Outside of the TSP, Gloria has worked on multiple government grants and philanthropic funds, helping move $112 million in grants to frontline climate justice groups in more than 30 states; across her roles.

Durreen Shahnaz, Founder and CEO, Impact Investment Exchange

Durreen Shahnaz is a global leader in social impact and impact investing. As founder and CEO of Impact Invest Exchange (IIX), her mission has been to transform our financial markets by making them more inclusive, sustainable, and accessible to underserving women. Over the last three decades, her work has helped thousands of entrepreneurs, investors, governments and impact stakeholders globally play a crucial role in sustainable development and women’s empowerment.

The organisation as a collective has unlocked around $235 million in private-sector investments supporting women-focused enterprises in India, Indonesia, Cambodia and the Philippines.

During her studies, she created a proprietary Impact Assessment methodology at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS, a widely used impact methodology in Asia. Shahnaz’s work has been commended through several awards, including the 2019 Sustainability Superwoman Award from CSRWorks, the 2017 Oslo Business for Peace Award and the 2017 Global Steering Group for Impact Investment Impact Market Builder of the Year award.

Kate Brandt, CSO, Alphabet/Google

Kate’s work in sustainability stretches to a government level. As CSO of Google and Alphabet, she coordinates their operations to ensure they strategically advance in sustainability and the circular economy.

Previously, Kate served as the United States’ first Federal Chief Sustainability Officer. Her work included promoting sustainability across Federal Government operations, including 360,000 buildings, 650,000 vehicles, and US$445 billion annually in purchased goods and services. Before this, she worked in several senior roles in the U.S. Federal Government surrounding Energy and the environment. For her outstanding work, she received a Distinguished Public Service Award for helping the U.S. Navy go green.

Kate continues to fight the good fight as she serves on the boards of BSR, the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, the Roosevelt Institute, Planet Forward, Stanford International Affairs Network, the NSF Committee for Environment.

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