Women make up less than 20 percent of the clean energy work force, but a Yale report in 2018 found that women are consistently “more likely than men to be concerned about the environment and have stronger pro-climate opinions and beliefs.”
From big-name activists to lesser-known startup entrepreneurs, here is a list of business and socially minded women who want to make their opinions heard.
What were you doing at 15 years old? Swedish teen Greta Thunberg started skipping school to silently protest climate change at 15, even handing out leaflets that read, “I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future.” Since then, she’s inspired hundreds of “school strikes,” been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and met with the Pope. Thunberg recently told the New York Times, “We will make our voices heard. It is our future on the line, and we must at least have a say in it.” Have a say in it she will, as she plans to attend two watershed climate change conferences, one in Chile this December and one in New York next month. Catch her riding a 60 ft racing boat (she’s boycotted airplanes for obvious reasons) into the Hudson River soon.
If the New Deal was championed by a president with an iconic three-initial moniker, then it only seems fit that the Green New Deal be espoused by AOC, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. As a young woman of color and a U.S. representative, Ocasio-Cortez has also been an open advocate of the Green New Deal, a federal policy resolution combating climate change with new infrastructure projects and clean energy investments. “Living in the world as it is isn’t an argument against working towards a better future,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in March, when the Green New Deal failed to advance in the Senate. When it comes to preserving the health of the world, however, Ocasio-Cortez stops at nothing. She and U.S. presidential candidate Kamala Harris introduced a bill on Monday to prioritize low-income and otherwise vulnerable communities in future climate change legislation.
[Related: She believes empathy can save the world]
There’s waste, and then there’s waste you can’t see — that’s why former windsurfing teacher Rachael Miller created Cora Ball, a laundry ball designed to collect microfibers, tiny bits of synthetic material that come off our clothes while in the wash. Imitating the design of coral reefs, the ball picks up around 25% of clothes’ microfibers, by some estimates Granted, that’s still a lot of unwanted microscopic synthetics that flow into the ocean, but Miller’s gadget, successfully crowdfunded two years ago, is doing its part to clean the world’s waste.“You could either do nothing or do something and make a positive change,” she has said. It’s safe to say Miller’s Cora Ball is doing something indeed and her company follows more sustainable practices than most. Based in Vermont, Miller refuses to distribute the Cora Ball through online retailers like Amazon, but has several eco-friendly retailers in the UK.
Janice Lao, Director of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, thought of something no hotel manager — not even the ones who graduated from Cornell — had seriously implemented: a way to remove waste. In 2018, Lao initiated the hotelier’s global plan to reduce single-use plastics and better integrate sustainable business practices into luxury offerings. Formally trained in environmental change and management at the University of Oxford, Lao had lobbied for similar environmental change with her former employer, Cathay Pacific Airways, which involved fairer carbon trading solutions. Now, across properties in Asia, Europe, and the United States, Lao is on a mission to stop the company’s use of single-use plastics by 2020.
[Related: Listen to our podcast ‘Reuse and Recycle’]
Better think twice about eating those oysters — esteemed landscape architect Kate Orff won a MacArthur fellow and received federal funding in 2017 to redesign the northern coast of Staten Island with, you guessed it, oysters. Orff is the founder of her own architecture company, SCAPE, and her project, Living Breakwaters, will place constructed oyster reefs offshore to filter polluted water, calm wave action at the shoreline, and help restore New York’s oyster population all the while doing wonders for biodiversity and climate change. Add this to the list of projects Orff has undertaken across the country to make her one of the most versatile and prolific landscape architects of the era. Currently the director of Columbia’s graduate urban design department, Orff tells her students it’s “dangerous to look passively upon the Earth as an aesthetic backdrop” and continues using her landscaping powers for environmental good.
Co-founder Marija Rucevska and her team at Kora have recently created a digital currency — yes, a digital currency — that aims to fight climate change. Set to pilot in Berlin, Germany, this September, the currency, called The Kora, is developed as part of an app for users: The more good you do for the environment, the more you are financially rewarded. The app would track acts of environmental kindness as anything from walking to work to buying a vegetarian meal, and pay users in the Kora accordingly. The company, which has raised $650,000 in funding, has stated that “the difference between Kora and the dollar is that Kora has a purpose, and that’s to fight climate change.” Of course, the concept only works if the Kora actually gains value. Unlike cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin that fluctuate in value, the Kora hopes to become a stable currency, one that’s ultimately used and trusted on a global scale.
She started from the bottom (literally, a basement of a house) and now she’s the co-founder and CEO of the fourth largest craft brewery in the U.S, Colorado-based New Belgium. Kim Jordan was worth an estimated $225 million according to Forbes in 2016, and though her business has had its rough patches, she’s always directed it toward environmental sustainability. In the 1990s, the company’s workers turned down a pay bonus to allow Jordan to invest in wind power expansion. The business also reports it has diverted 99.9% of waste from the landfill, 18% of electricity is produced on-site through solar and biogas, and it hopes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from 2014 to 2050. As long as Jordan keeps brewing, the world will be a better place than it started, and with good craft beer, too.
As the co-founder of Local Office Landscape and Urban Design, Bolstad is a landscape architect with a mission. Instead of designing ‘Gram-worthy cobblestoned backyards, Bolstad plans outdoor spaces with the environment always in mind. Her Brooklyn-based company makes around $750,000 in revenue and takes on projects to revitalize coastal areas with improved infrastructure. In 2017, for example, Bolstad and her husband helped set up solar-powered hubs in Puerto Rico after the hurricane, boosting the island’s electricity system. She says, “It’s all of our responsibility to protect our communities and to protect the environment.” In the face of rising sea levels and catastrophic climate change, Bolstad continues to place sustainable practices and long-lasting, resilient home-building at the forefront of her business.
[Related: Read our full profile on Jennifer Bolstad]
Spend a day in New York and you’ll quickly see the company name stitched on the vest of a “finance bro” on Wall Street: Patagonia. But for all its ambivalence about sponsoring one of the most cringe-worthy fashion trends in the workplace, Patagonia has consistently set the bar for environmentally sustainable practices. According to its website, its goal is to be completely carbon neutral by 2025, with renewable energy and other eco-friendly practices already in place. CEO Rose Marcario, who has helmed the company since 2008, isn’t afraid to make her opinions known: in a letter posted to LinkedIn in 2018, Marcario announced that Patagonia is donating the $10 million it saved in GOP tax cuts to non-profit groups who work on issues related to climate change.
Katherine Lucey and Neha Misra
Katherine Lucey and Neha Misra, co-founders of Solar Sister, have blazed a trail for both female empowerment and climate change prevention in Africa. The company invests in women, rather than energy: it recruits, trains, and supports women entrepreneurs to sell clean-energy products to their communities. Its team of “solar sisters” mentors women and supplies them with solar-powered products and clean stoves. Once the women have learned the tools of the trade, they can start their own businesses selling clean energy and “pass it on.” The result? A ripple effect across communities as ideas spread, networks branch out, and more communities adopt a cleaner, eco-savvy approach to living. In 2019, Solar Sister estimates it has reached over 1.6 million people across numerous locations in Africa and kickstarted over 4,000 clean energy entrepreneurs.
Lynn Jurich is showing the world what it takes to go green. Co-founder and CEO of the San Francisco-based company Sunrun, Jurich left a cushy job in venture capital to pursue something more worthwhile in the Silicon Valley. She’s since pioneered the solar energy business model and is waiting for other companies to follow her lead — under this model, solar energy would be a service, much like how other utilities like water and gas are billed on a regular basis. Currently, Sunrun is the largest dedicated provider of solar energy services in the U.S., operating in 22 states, serving almost a quarter million customers, and saving those customers more than $200 million in electricity bills.