- Co-Founder & Executive Chairman, Volans (2008 to date)
- Co-Founder, Honorary Chairman, Board member (1987-2014), former Chairman (1995-2005), SustainAbility
- Co-Founder & founding Editor and Managing Director, Environmental Data Services (ENDS, 1978-1983)
Latest book now available: The Breakthrough Challenge: 10 Ways to Connect Today’s Profits with Tomorrow’s Bottom Line. Available via Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Waterstones, and Wiley.
‘Advisor from the future’
John is a writer, thought-leader and strategist, a serial entrepreneur and known as an ‘advisor from the future’, working with large corporations, particularly at C-Suite level, as well as the finance & investment community, industry bodies, intrapreneurs, media, academia, government, innovators and entrepreneurs across the globe.
At the age of 11, in 1961, he raised money for the newly formed World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and went on to dedicate his life to helping influence, inspire and stretch the thinking of business leaders through informed ‘story-telling’ and delivering ‘constructive discomfort,’ all in service of true sustainability and breakthrough innovation.
John’s day job, as Co-Founder & Executive Chairman of Volans, is to help corporates, investors, innovators and other leaders to drive transformational change. Volans is a consultancy & think-tank which launched in April 2008, delivering thought leadership, strategic advisory services and brokers strategic conversations. We work to help leaders stretch organizational and culture change in order to ‘Break through’ to a global system ‘fit for the future’.
Writing & Advocacy
John is the author or co-author of 19 books. The latest is: The Breakthrough Challenge: 10 Ways to Connect Today’s Profits with Tomorrow’s Bottom Line, co-authored with Jochen Zeitz – former PUMA CEO and now co-Founder of The B Team alongside Sir Richard Branson (published by Jossey-Bass, San Francisco). The book explores what leaders should be thinking about to ensure their business strategy will be future-ready in relation to building demographic, environmental and resource pressures. The book spotlights some rather different (and increasingly radical) solutions and draws on 100 exclusive interviews with leaders, mapping the emerging landscape of risk and opportunity, as well as investigating the pioneering work of CEOs and other business leaders from around the globe.
Previous books include:
- 1988’s million-selling Green Consumer Guide (co-authored with SustainAbility co-founder Julia Hailes).
- 1997’s Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business (the book which brought his triple bottom line concept and agenda to a wider audience).
- 2008’s The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World, (Harvard Business School Press), co-authored with Volans co-founder Pamela Hartigan; and
- 2012’s The Zeronauts: Breaking the Sustainability Barrier, which spotlights a new breed of innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and policy-makers who are pushing towards zero in such areas as population growth, pandemic risk, poverty, pollution and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
John is also a columnist for a number of publications, including Guardian Sustainable Business (UK), Eco-Business (Singapore), Monday Morning (Denmark), Ideia Sustentavel (Brazil), and Semana (Colombia), and has his own GreenBiz (USA) feature, The Elkington Report. He has previously written for Director Magazine (UK) and CSRWire (USA), and is a frequent commentator and interviewee for broadcast, print and online media.
As an active, and sought-after public speaker, John has addressed over 1,000 conferences around the world, with audiences both large and small, and from board-level to sessions with students. His areas of expertise include: the future, ‘the stretch agenda’ (ie beyond sustainability), corporate strategy, sustainability, corporate social responsibility (CSR), social innovation and entrepreneurship, sustainable and breakthrough capitalism, globalization and the zero-targeted innovation and management agenda, among other topics. See here for a list of John’s upcoming and previous speaking engagements.
In addition to the day job, John is a Visiting Professor at the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility at the Cranfield School of Management, as well as at Imperial College and University College London. He was recently awarded an Honorary Doctorate at the University of Essex in recognition of his work in the field of sustainable development.
John sits on various strategic advisory boards: 2degrees, EcoVadis, Instituto Ethos, Nestlé’s Creating Shared Value Advisory Board, Tesco’s Expert Advisory Panel, Polecat UK and a Cleantech Fund developed by Zouk Capital. He is also a Senior Advisor to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, a member of the WWF Council of Ambassadors, a member of the Advisory Board of The Climate Group‘s Clean Revolution Campaign and sits on Newsweek’s Green Rankings Advisory Board. He has also recently joined the advisory board of JUCCCE, which looks at the greening of China, and the board of Janine Benyus’s Biomimicry 3.8 Institute.
John is an active advisor to The B Team, a not-for-profit initiative founded and co-chaired by Sir Richard Branson and Jochen Zeitz, bringing together a global group of leaders to create a future where “the purpose of business is to be a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit.” John has also been a member of the Jury of the Buckminster Fuller Challenge – a prize given to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems.
John served as a juror for the first Gigaton Awards, developed by Sir Richard Branson’s non-profit Carbon War Room – dubbed the ‘Oscars of sustainability’ – and sits on the advisory boards of Guardian Sustainable Business, One Earth Innovation, Friends Life’s Committee of Reference, Recyclebank‘s Sustainability Advisory Council and Atkins‘ Futures Board. John is Chairman of the Trustees at the Ecological Sequestration Trust and is an Honorary Fellow of The Hub, and part of the advisory board of The Social Stock Exchange launched in June 2013 by the Prime Minister of the UK.
Until recently John was also on the advisory boards of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), until he voluntarily stepped down. He is also a past Chairman of The Foundation for Democracy & Sustainable Development (FDSD) and the Aflatoun Impact and Policy Analysis Steering Group.
Recognition & Awards
John is considered a world authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable development and is credited with coining the ‘triple bottom line’ concept for business. In 2004, BusinessWeek described John as “a dean of the corporate responsibility movement for three decades.”
In 2008, The Evening Standard named John among the ‘1000 Most Influential People’ in London, describing him as “a true green business guru,” and as “an evangelist for corporate social and environmental responsibility long before it was fashionable.”
In 2009, a CSR International survey of the Top 100 CSR leaders placed John fourth: after Al Gore, Barack Obama and the late Anita Roddick of the Body Shop, and alongside Muhammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank—though he thinks Nobelist Yunus should rank way higher!
John has received many awards and honours, including from the United Nations (Global 500 Roll of Honour, 1989). More recently, in 2011 he was awarded the Spencer Hutchens, Jr. Medal by the American Society for Quality (ASQ), for his “outstanding leadership, as an advocate for social responsibility, and for bringing about positive social change.” In the same year, he was named among the ‘100 Global Sustain Ability Leaders’’ by ABC Carbon and the Sustain Ability Showcase Asia, based on nominations and recommendations received from around the globe.
John has completed a Fellowship at the Bellagio Centre awarded to him by The Rockefeller Foundation. In May 2013, John was inducted into the Sustainability Hall of Fame by The International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) in honor of his “extraordinary contribution to the field through research, publication, teaching and innovation”.
In 2005, John landed a “Social Capitalist of the Year” award from Fast Company, and at the end of that year he was awarded a 3-year, $1 million field-building grant from the Skoll Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, at SustainAbility and Volans, 2006-2008. His most recent award, in late 2014, was the Recycla/El Mercurio International Prize.
John’s Who’s Who entry lists his recreations as: “playing with ideas, thinking around corners, conversations with unreasonable people, reading an Alpine range of books (history to science fiction) and business and science magazines, risking life and limb as a London cyclist, catch-it-as-you-can photography, art and design, writing all hours, pre-1944 aircraft, New World wines, 20th century popular music and Johann Strauss II.”
Personal Website: www.johnelkington.com
Videos: View John Elkington here
Updated: February 2015