By Stephanie Rogers
There may still be a huge gender gap in the workforce, with even the women running Fortune 500 companies earning just 69 cents to every dollar earned by male CEOs. But women are proving to be major forces of change in virtually every industry, from international banking to non-profit organizations. These 10 women CEOs, including Eileen Fisher, Lauren Bush and Majora Carter, are promoting social and environmental responsibility within their companies and in the world at large.
Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Green for All
CEO of anti-poverty organization Green for All, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins is also a sustainability advocate who has been named among the 100 most powerful people in California's Silicon Valley. Green for All provides green jobs training for low-income people and people of color, and helped push through a California provision that guarantees local workers access to energy-efficiency and renewable energy projects. Before she came to Green for All in 2009, Ellis-Lamkins was the Executive Officer of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council and Executive Director of Working Partnerships USA, which works to address economic disparities in Silicon Valley.
Kim Jordan, New Belgium Brewing
Along with her husband Jeff Lebesch, Kim Jordan co-founded one of America's most successful craft breweries, New Belgium. Now the company's CEO, Jordan was instrumental not only in bringing the company from a tiny two-person operation to selling beer in 26 states, but also in making New Belgium truly sustainable. The brewing company is 100% wind-powered and employee-owned, with a sustainability team visiting each department on a regular basis to make sure operations are as green as possible. Through smart cuts to waste, energy and water usage, New Belgium has become a leading example of how breweries can take a sustainable route to profitability. The company is about to open a new brewery in Asheville, North Carolina, where it will revitalize an industrial brownfield and create new parks and greenways.
Eileen Fisher, Eileen Fisher Sustainable Apparel
The name Eileen Fisher is associated with timeless elegance, high quality and eco-friendly fabrics like organic and Fair Trade cotton, hemp and bamboo. As CEO of her eponymous brand, Eileen Fisher has committed to environmentally and socially conscious fashion, creating sophisticated garments that can last a lifetime. Many of Fisher's garments are hand-sewn at a family-owned facility in New York City with a seamless process that reduces waste and creates a more durable product. The company even takes back used garments to either repair and resell, or recycle into other items like rugs and blankets.
Irene Rosenfeld, Kraft
Kraft Foods isn't exactly known for being sustainable, more closely associated with industrial 'cheez food' products that barely resemble actual food. But Irene Rosenfeld is trying to change that. The Kraft CEO has dedicated a vast amount of resources and time to overhaul the company's strategies, setting aggressive sustainability goals that have resulted in massive reductions in packaging waste, water consumption, energy use and carbon dioxide emissions. Kraft is also the world's largest buyer of coffee and cocoa from Rainforest Alliance-certified farms. While the changes may be slow, they're certainly notable.
Lauren Bush, FEED
Ducking out of her family's historical involvement in politics, Texan Lauren Bush (now Lauren Lauren, after marrying the son of fashion designer Ralph) has dedicated her life and career to feeding the hungry. She co-founded FEED after becoming the UN World Food Program's 2004 Honorary Spokesperson and is now CEO and Creative Director. FEED seeks to create products that can help bring food to impoverished people across the globe. The purchase of one FEED reusable shopping bag can feed one child in school for one year.
Gail Kelly, WestPac Bank
Can big banks be sustainable, too? Gail Kelly, CEO of Australia's WestPac Bank, believes so, and has pushed sustainability as a business strategy in this seemingly unlikely industry. Under her leadership, WestPac rose to #14 on the Corporate Knights Top 100 Most Sustainable Companies in 2011. Kelly has advocated for unprecedented transparency in WestPac's operations and its sustainability report reveals such small details as CO2 emissions per employee. WestPac Bank also has 37.5% women in positions of leadership, which is unusual for such big companies, let alone banking institutions.
Alexa Von Tobel, LearnVest
28-year-old Alexa Von Tobel started LearnVest in 2008 to teach women how to be financially independent. Since then, the company has been valued at $100 million and expanded to offer affordable financial advice to clients ranging from those extremely in debt to people with a net worth that reaches 8 figures. Von Tobel got the idea while at Harvard Business School, taking a leave of absence to follow her dream. According to LearnVest, the company has helped over one million women gain control of their finances to date.
Majora Carter, Majora Carter Group
The founder of Sustainable South Bronx (SSBX), a non-profit organization that works to address economic and environmental issues through green job training, Majora Carter is now CEO of her own economic planning and consulting group. Known as one of America's top environmental justice advocates, Carter's motto is "Green the Ghetto!" and her current work with the Majora Carter Group brings her SSBX approach outside the South Bronx. The Majora Carter Group "uses the green economy and green economic tools to unlock the potential of every place - urban, rural and everywhere in between."
Denise Bode, American Wind Energy Association
Denise Bode is the CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, the national trade organization for the United States wind energy industry. A nationally recognized energy policy expert, Bode was once the president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, but now heads up lobbying efforts to get funding for wind energy projects. She has also served as CEO of the American Clean Skies Foundation, and was named among Washingtonian's "100 Most Powerful Women of Washington" in 2011.
Maria Eitel, Nike Foundation
After sportswear giant Nike got caught violating worker rights in outsourced factories around the world in 1998, Maria Eitel came on board to help turn things around. The CEO of the Nike Foundation and vice president of Nike, Inc. works to bring economic opportunities to the world's most impoverished girls, focusing on 250 million girls aged 10-19 in the developing world. Eitel turned the Nike Foundation from a passive group lacking any real budget or organization into a force for change committed to gender equality. Initiatives that have been created under her leadership include efforts to keep girls in school in Zambia, to avoid early marriage in Ethiopia, and to build rural learning centers in Bangladesh.
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Images: wikimedia commons, new belgium brewing, eileenfisher.com, wikimedia commons, feedprojects.com, westpac, learnvest.com, majora carter group, awea.org, unicef.org