An Earth Day wish list: 10 leadership trends that give me hope

Earth Day is here! It should be the best cause for celebration in the world. So why am I still feeling blue? Why hasn’t Lil’ Dicky’s new climate change tune given me the motivation to join a clean up day? Before I get to my list of leadership trends, I feel the need to commiserate a little bit.

For starters, unlike some people, I don’t think clean up days are an appropriate activity for Earth Day, and they annoy me, quite frankly. I never understood how transferring discarded matter—single-use by design—from the category of litter to the category of waste comes close to addressing the broader planetary issues we face. For me, nothing short of stoping the toxic, non-biodegradable materials of our world at their source serves as an appropriate response. Thanks to Cradle to Cradle for popularizing this idea.

And I think that misconstruing environmentally “clean” with the aesthetic of a tidy house does not do this holiday justice. There is no quick and easy fix to the untidy toxic manure lagoons that flood in severe storms and leach into ground water. No dustpan and broom will clean up a superfund site. No squeegee will bring back the 60% of species that have gone extinct since 1971. That’s why, for me, a clean up day is just one step up from thoughts and prayers at the bottom of a staircase as grandiose as the Great Pyramids.

My whole intention was not to come here and admonish people trying to “do their part,” but let’s be real. The state of the planet, at this point in time, does not look good. And the more you know, the worse it appears. The problem is most people aren't privy to the kind of horrors that climate scientists face on a daily basis.

The level of shameful actions by some of the most wealthy individuals on the planet leave us feeling passionately embittered. I know this this feeling all too well. Yet, I won’t let them have the last word. A much brighter picture has arisen from other quarters. Let’s have a look.

What inspires me this year are the public cries out for major overhauls to our economy and for governmental policies that can make lasting change. Back in January, I wrote on Medium about several of the most impacting environmental reports that policy makers have rallied around as a firm deadline for lasting change. The IPCC report, in particular, has given dynamite in the form talking points to activists like Greta Thunberg, Climate Rebellion and the Sunrise Movement. It says we have until 2030 to curb and reverse the rising climate temperature trend.

Clear through lines between activists initiatives and policy makers' responses can be traced. Arguably, the Sunrise Movement catalyzed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s swift decision to co-author the Green New Deal. Even though many other countries have already taken the lead, as a U.S. citizen, I'm so glad to see the rising will to connect the dots between economic, social and environmental sustainability in the American political system.  

In addition, momentum in the private sector is growing for renewable energy (by leaps and bounds). Renewables now account for a third of the entire energy economy. Plastic pollution awareness has risen to a nearly all time peak. The UN and its affiliate organizations also continue to harness its full energy towards making the Sustainable Development Goals a reality. Data science has improved our global understanding of Earth systems to an unprecedented level. And Forbes even declared this year the year of the Vegan. These are just a few highlights that keep me feeling good. 

There is a lot more to be hopeful about than what meets the unaided eye, even though we still need to amp up these rumblings to a geiger count of 10. I think we can do it. Read the list, and in the comments let me know what I’ve missed!!

Top 10 leadership trends I hope will keep benefiting the Earth


1. Fossil fuel divestment and re-Investment aligned with science-based targets

Considering that private pensions hold much of the world’s wealth, this is an area of huge potential influence. The divestment movement parallels the rise of sustainable investing, and I hope that the transfer of wealth continues to promote targets connected to clear science-based measurements of carbon sustainability.

2. Development of measurable standards for UN Sustainable Development Goals

One of the difficulties with the adoption of the UN SDGs by many companies is their lack of clear, measurable standards. I believe that with the increasing level of data available, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), and similar bodies will build the capacity to assist companies in improving their sustainability reporting to align with the UN SDGs. These standards are necessary to both informs investors of legitimate long-term non-financial benefits while influencing industries to develop and reform in this direction.

3. Natural Climate Solutions to improve our carbon sequestration

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBSCD) has announced that natural climate solutions, including land restoration, sustainable farming and other potential forms of natural carbon sequestration can account for 37% of the carbon reduction target for 2030 established by the IPCC. This is huge, and it thrills me to think our world will get filled up with more luscious groves and less crumbly concrete in the future.

4. Circular economy to repair our linear waste stream

Huge strides have been made in terms of reusable packaging innovations and life cycle analysis. We’ve seen the rise of subscription based furniture (IKEA), refillable containers, and planned durability. What excites me most about this trend is that companies are finding ways to creatively tackle the problem of our waste stream holistically from an economic, environmental and social standpoint.

5. Indigenous environmental decision-making

Exciting support by the Global Landscapes Initiative and the FAO Plant Treaty for indigenous involvement in decision making about land restoration and sustainable farming are pivotal to the long-term sustainability of the planet. Why? Indigenous communities not only care about the land, they possess valuable knowledge of local eco-systems that will help guard their biodiversity and safeguard them against drought and fire. I look forward to seeing this area of huge potential make gains and I would love to hear more from indigenous leaders on their work.

6. A rising green collar jobs sector to meet the demands of the transition

With the phenomenal increase in renewable energy and retrofitting needed to “green” the economy, a rise in skilled labor that could work in the available green collar jobs sector has prompted lawmakers to draft a piece of legislation known as the Blue Collar to Green Collar Jobs Act of 2019 which has received support from the solar energy and home building industries among others. This shift could significantly link the need for infrastructure improvements with the need for underrepresented groups to find meaningful, well-paid positions.

7. Youth led activism to hold global leaders accountable to future generations

Hats off to Greta Thunberg and the many other school climate strikers this year. Need I say more?

8. Green New Deal(s) to green-light industry through supportive legal instruments

Even though the well-received Green New Deal was killed early on in a forced vote, it has sparked a movement of state legislation that takes greater strides than we’ve seen so far. New York City passed its Green New Deal 4 NYC, the Maine Green New Deal Bill has received important endorsements, and others are sure to come forth both in the U.S. and abroad.

9. Millennial market forces to shape the demand side of the equation

The millennial consumer group is responsible for seismic shifts in the business landscape towards sustainability. These cash strapped consumers are voting with their wallets (myself included). Seventy-three percent of millennials are willing to spend more money on sustainable brands. And I hope the trend continues to grow and spark more change from industry leaders.

10. Data science platforms and insights to fuel greater accountability on a global scale

Last but not at all least, I’m so excited to see the knowledge base around global sustainability grow through data science-based sustainability platforms and companies. Knowledge is power! Read more about how you can use data stories to your benefit.

HAPPY EARTH DAY EVERYONE!! Keep your hearts and eyes open, and keep the future possibilities alive!