Meet the individuals who don’t restrict their practices to the confines of tradition. These are the people who are bending the rules of the system to make it suit them. The trailblazers of original thought and pioneers of things to come. Below we’ve rounded up 5 of the most influential people of our time doing exactly that in such a way that it has ignited a shift in how we approach sustainability.
BEN SHEWRY – CHEF
When it comes to sustainability, the world of fine dining has never been better. As the chefs behind the most innovative restaurants discover their increasing societal influence, we’re witnessing the rise of a new kind of cook — one devoted to his or her craft, wielding masterly knife skills and a deft palate, as well as a social conscience.
Ben Shewry, whose restaurant Attica, in Melbourne, Australia, is perennially regarded among the best in the world. Mr. Shewry, who developed his love for nature while growing up on a farm in New Zealand, has made his menu into an example of how sustainable ingredients can be made absolutely delicious.
Many of culinary trailblazers are determined not to confine their influence to their recipes. Around the world, they are using their restaurants to push for sustainability, and for social change. Mr. Shewry is deeply aware of the stress overfishing poses to our oceans. I find his willingness to fundamentally alter the way he cooks, and to position his restaurant at the vanguard of sustainability, an inspirational and vital lesson.
For over three decades, Gopal Shankar has been at the forefront of sustainable architecture in not just India, but around the world. Starting the Habitat Technology Group, the largest non-profit in the shelter sector in India committed to sustainable building solutions, cost-efficient, community-driven and eco-friendly architecture, Architect Shankar has been at the forefront of constructing nearly 1 million mass housing units (and over 100,000 green buildings) in more than five countries.
From constructing the first township built with green building technology in India, which contains 600 houses, a community centre and temple, in Sirumugai, Coimbatore in 1995 to the largest earth building in the world measuring over 600,000 square feet in Bangladesh in 2006, Architect Shankar has religiously taken on the cause of sustainable architecture with his blood, sweat and tears, battling hostile contractors, the establishment and naysayers.
More importantly, however, from his office in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, he has empowered those living on the margins to build quality homes with their meagre resources. Today, vegetable vendors and traditional fishermen in the city come to his office to design their homes. The masses of this country have an architect they can approach.
ORSOLA DE CASTRO AND CARRY SOMERS
There is a place in this World where only 2 people started a revolution. It is not a single revolution, it is the Fashion Revolution, a movement that is changing the way designers, brands and consumers look at their clothes. Now, Fashion Revolution is four years old and has an enormous global effect. There are Fashion Revolution Teams in nearly 90 countries and volunteers giving their best in almost 100 countries.
Do you know who made your clothes? You should. That was the first objective of Fashion Revolution founders Orsola De Castro and Carry Somers. They made up campaigns for systemic reform of the fashion industry with a focus on the need for greater transparency in the fashion supply chain. In 2014, 2015 and 2016 millions of people around the world called on brands to answer the question: Who Made My Clothes?
The pair founded the campaign group in the wake of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, to increase transparency in the clothing industry. It is now active in more than 100 countries, and the group works with citizens, policymakers, NGOs and retailers.
Before Nike, Timberland, Walmart, GE and IBM got religious about sustainability, there was Patagonia and its soft-spoken climber turned founder and chief executive, Yvon Chouinard. Chouinard was part of a cohort of 1960s rebels, counter-cultural anti-businessmen and women who built companies that reflected their commitment to social and environmental justice.
“There is no business to be done on a dead planet.” So said David Brower, the legendary leader of the Sierra Club whos words are etched into the front door of Patagonia’s headquarters in Venture, California.
Chouinard, for his part, blazed his own contrarian path to success by putting the Earth first, questioning growth, ignoring fashion, making goods that don’t break or wear out, telling customers to buy less and giving away chunks of the company’s earnings to fund environmental organisations as well as setting up 1% for the planet, an international organization whose members contribute at least one percent of their annual sales to environmental causes. Patagonia remains a trailblazer, bringing radical transparency to its supply chain and leading an apparel-industry sustainability coalition that is a model for systems change.
May Boeve is emphatically not your typical non-profit Executive Director. Which is to say: her life isn’t swanky cocktail parties in local halls of power, nor barking out orders to a cadre of aides, nor making fly-by-night phone calls to powerful political operatives.
350’s Executive Director should really be called Activist-in-Chief, because that’s what May’s life truly is. She’s been arrested outside the White House in protest of the Keystone XL pipeline, she’s called out sexism in public conversations with prominent media outlets, and of course, she played an absolutely crucial role in last year’s historic People’s Climate March, which brought 400,000 protesters to the streets of New York demanding action on climate change.
May Boeve has clearly always been an activist at heart, driven by a vision of the world as it should be and committed to working around the clock to make it more real. Or her own team put it: “May is the best kind of leader: clear-eyed in her vision for the world we’re building and the work we’re doing, yet also deeply committed to real collaboration with her colleagues and comrades. Her smarts, savvy, and formidable competence are rooted in a remarkable capacity for empathy.”