While he resists being labelled, John is a writer, thought-leader and business strategist, a serial entrepreneur and, at heart, an environmentalist.
- Co-Founder, Chairman & Chief Pollinator, Board member, Volans, a certified B Corporation (2008 to date)
- Co-Founder, Honorary Chairman (for life), former Chairman (1995-2005), Board member (1987-2014), SustainAbility, a certified B Corporation
- Co-Founder, Founding Editor and Managing Director, Environmental Data Services (ENDS, 1978-1983)
Hear John talk about the latest Volans report, The Stretch Agenda, in conversation with the Global Reporting Initiative here. His latest book is 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.
Grit in the corporate oyster
At the age of 11, in 1961, he raised money for the newly formed World Wildlife Fund (WWF), where he has for many years served on the Council of Ambassadors. He 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 sustainability’s triple bottom line and breakthrough innovation.
Focusing on business from the mid-1970s, he has worked with scores of large corporations, particularly at board and C-suite level, as well as with the financial community, industry bodies, government, the media, NGOs, academia, innovators and entrepreneurs. His favourite description of his role: “grit in the corporate oyster.” As a provocative friend both of the future and of business, his aim is to help identify and create new forms of value.
Leading Breakthrough Innovation for the SDGs
John is leading on uncovering new intelligence around innovative mindsets, disruptive technologies, and tomorrow’s business models as part of Project Breakthrough (launching September 2016, watch teaser video here), in partnership with UN Global Compact. Intelligence from this work will also feed into a new report, Breakthrough Business Models (also launching September 2016), commissioned by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission.
Writing, Speaking & Advocacy
John is the author or co-author of 19 books, and has written chapters or forewords for many others. His most recent book is The Breakthrough Challenge: 10 Ways to Connect Today’s Profits with Tomorrow’s Bottom Line, co-authored with Jochen Zeitz—former Chairman & CEO of PUMA and now co-founder of The B Team alongside Sir Richard Branson. John’s 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, spotlighting 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 has contributed to an A-to-Z of newspapers and magazines, and is currently a columnist for such publications as Eco-Business (Singapore), Monday Morning (Denmark), and Semana (Colombia), and also has his own GreenBiz (USA) feature, The Elkington Report.
As a speaker, he has addressed over 1,000 conferences, from World Economic Forum events through board meetings, industry convenings, future-focused gatherings to student events. See here for a list of upcoming speaking engagements.
He co-chairs the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) Breakthrough Innovation Advisory Council, chairs the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Technology Consortium, and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Business & Sustainable Development Commission (BSDC). He is a member of the Board of the Social Stock Exchange (SSX), and chairs its Admissions Panel. He is also a member of the Boards of organizations like the Biomimicry Institute and The Ecological Sequestration Trust (TEST), and a member of Advisory Boards for organizations like 2degrees Network, Aviva’s Stewardship Committee, The B Team, Nestlé, Tesco and Zouk Capital.
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 London and University College London (UCL).
Recognition & Awards
John was awarded an Honorary Doctorate at the University of Essex in recognition of his work in the field of sustainable development. It was symptomatic of his broad interests that he was offered the opportunity to receive the award at the convocation ceremonies of the Economics Department (a subject he gave up after a year in 1968), the Sociology Department (the subject of his first degree), the Business School (given his focus all these years) or the School of Biological Sciences (which hosts the relatively new Sustainability Institute). He opted for Biological Sciences, a subject he gave up at 14, partly because he refused to cut up frogs.
- John has been described as a world authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable development and is credited with coining the ‘triple bottom line’ concept for business. Back in 2004, BusinessWeek described him as “a dean of the corporate responsibility movement for three decades.”
- In 2008, The Evening Standard named him 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 insists that Nobelist Yunus should rank way higher.
- John has received many awards and honours, including from the United Nations (Global 500 Roll of Honour, 1989). 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.
- 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, he 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”. And in 2014, he was awarded the Recycla/El Mercurio International Prize and in 2015 the Ethical Corporation Lifetime Achievement Award.
- 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.”
Ask John (born in 1949) if he is ready to retire, and he laughs—insisting that he is only just beginning to get a sense of what he was put on the planet to do—and is hopeful that the next decade will be his most productive yet.