5 Women Who Are Breaking Glass Ceilings in Sustainability
Piece by Abby Nitta
It’s a tough time to be a woman, let alone a woman in leadership. In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History month, now is the perfect opportunity to celebrate a few women who are breaking through gender barriers and making a name for themselves in the fight for a climate-stable future.
To understand the accomplishments of these women rightly, you need to first take a look at some sobering facts about the reality of the gender pay gap — as well as the adverse effects of climate change on women.
Women in the U.S. earn about 82 cents for every dollar earned by men and own only 32 cents for every dollar of wealth owned by men (these gaps are exasperated by race, with Latina and black women earning only 61% and 68% of white men’s earnings respectively). Alarmingly, the World Economic Forum estimates that it will take 257 years to close the global gender pay gap.
In light of the stark disadvantages women face globally when it comes to earning power, it’s not surprising that the effects of climate changes appear to disproportionately affect women. Research has shown that environmental degradation caused by climate change is a driver for gender-based violence against women.
With the intersection of the climate crisis and gender disparities in mind, the work of the following women is all the more inspirational — and necessary. Here are five women shattering the glass ceiling and building a more sustainable world for future generations.
Heidi de Bruin - Proti-Farm / SOKTI
A native of the Netherlands, Heidi de Bruin is the founder and former CEO of Protifarm, one of the world’s leading producers of insect-based alternative protein. Through her work in building a company based on sustainably-sourced protein, de Bruin found that consumers were concerned about the sustainability of all of their food. That’s why she founded SOKTI, where the vision is to accelerate global sustainability through our blockchain-enabled ecosystem that both cultivates sustainable business practices and connects ethically-minded food suppliers to conscious consumers.
When it comes to advice for other women looking to make a change through starting a company, de Bruin says the most important thing to remember is to trust your instincts.
“Don’t listen to people who might tell you your idea is insane. You’ve got to believe in yourself and be both determined and persistent.”
She also believes that women should “think green” from the very beginning of their professional ventures.
“I think everybody should be involved in sustainability initiatives — it starts with how you run your own household. One-third of all food doesn’t end up in the mouths of consumers, but thrown away. Do we stop and ask ourselves how our food is tied to agricultural efforts and resulting greenhouse gas emissions? I think most people want to make a difference and contribute to change but simply don’t know how. Information and transparency are crucial — that's why platforms like SOKTI are born.”
Ranjani Varadan - Impossible Foods
The Impossible Burger made a splash when it was first introduced to the public in 2016 by Impossible Foods. As a former Director of Protein Discovery and current Vice President of Research and Development, Ranjani Varadan has led efforts to create one of the most talked-about meat substitutes.
Varadan works with teams to discover better ways to use plants to mimic the desirable texture and flavor of meat from animals.
“Using animals to make meat is a prehistoric and destructive technology,” Varadan told Inter Press Service in 2019. “Animal agriculture occupies almost half the land on earth, consumes a quarter of our freshwater and destroys our ecosystems. So we’re doing something about it: we’re making meat using plants, so that we never have to use animals again. That way, we can eat all the meat we want, for as long as we want. And save the best planet in the known universe.”
3. Isha Datar - New Harvest
Founded in 2004, New Harvest is a nonprofit that is on a mission to build the field of cellular agriculture in order to feed a growing global population sustainably and affordably. As Executive Director, Isha Datar leads the organization’s efforts to fund and conduct open research that reinvents the way animal products are made through a post-animal bioeconomy.
“I’m motivated by the kind of big ideas that address significant challenges and change the way we do things,” Datar said in an interview with Massive Science. “My vision is a world where cultured meat is on shelves, and decreases the demand for meat from animals. That would have a net positive effect on the planet.”
Sarah Paiji Yoo - Blueland
On a mission to help people cut down their plastic use, Sarah Paiji Yoo founded Blueland — a start-up that provides home cleaning products in “forever bottles” and delivers refills in the form of tablets that customers mix with their own water.
"So many of our everyday products come packaged in just one way — single-use plastic," Yoo told CNN. “Blueland is dedicated to making it easy for people to make the right choice with products that are more effective, affordable and convenient, underscoring my belief that you don't have to sacrifice a clean home for a clean planet.”
All of Blueland’s cleaning products are certified by Cradle to Cradle and Leaping Bunny as well as USDA Biobased Preferred. The company launched in 2019 with a $3 million seed round led by Global Founders Capital and included investments from Comcast Ventures, Honest Company founder Brian Lee, Thrive Market founder Nick Green and Justin Timberlake.
Majora Carter - Sustainable South Bronx
“Greening the ghetto” was one of the first-ever TED Talks, and it detailed Majora Carter’s fight for environmental justice and urban renewal in the South Bronx.
Carter, a real estate developer and Peabody Award-winning broadcaster, also founded Sustainable South Bronx, a nonprofit that focuses on career training and community greening.
Carter eventually moved to the private sector and currently serves as CEO of her own consulting firm.
“We've got to decide that we want to live in a world that is sane and happy and healthy, and that everyone deserves that,” Carter notably told CNN in 2008.
Honorable mention - Rachel Kyte
Named one of Time’s “15 Women Leading the Fight Against Climate Change,” Rachel Kyte is a former CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All. She was also named dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, making her the first woman to lead the nation’s oldest graduate-only school of international affairs.
If you want to read about even more inspiring women, here’s Meet 5 Women Inspiring Our Sustainable Choices. Is there a change-maker out there you’d like to see featured on SOKTI—female or otherwise? Share who inspires you in the comments, and join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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