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Courage to Lead: WRI Celebrates Sustainability Champions

Nearly 400 people gathered in New York City last week for Courage to Lead, WRI’s biennial award and fundraising event. The luncheon raised almost $700,000 in unrestricted funding and honored two business leaders, WRI Board chairman Jim Harmon and Citi Foundation president Pamela Flaherty.

But we don’t host this event just to raise money. We see it as a way to bring together leaders from business, government, and philanthropy; explore innovative solutions; and inspire our hundreds of attendees.

To that end, this year’s luncheon included an impressive lineup of speakers, featuring former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation; Dan Doctoroff, president and CEO of Bloomberg and WRI Board member; and Dr. Andrew Steer, president and CEO of WRI. In many ways, the speakers and their messages reflected what it takes to solve the world’s sustainability challenges—leadership from government, from the private sector, from local communities, and from individuals.

A Message from Hillary Clinton

Secretary Clinton joined the event to honor Harmon, chairman and CEO of Caravel Management. In her remarks, she highlighted progress the United States has made in recent years to address urgent challenges—including new greenhouse gas emissions standards for power plants that were recently announced by the US EPA. “We have all that we need to become the 21st century clean energy superpower, except the political will to translate our innovative, entrepreneurial research and commitment into jobs and answers to solving the climate crisis,” she said.

Yet she also acknowledged the significant challenges that remain—and the role organizations like WRI can play in overcoming them. “These are such consequential challenges: the focus on climate change, clean energy, on water and forests, and the increasing effects of urbanization are the heart and soul of what WRI has done,” she said. “So I am greatly appreciative of WRI’s work, pushing ahead, asking the tough questions, and influencing business and government. We’ve made some progress over the years, but we still have so much more to do.”

Leadership from the Private Sector

Speakers also honored Flaherty and Harmon, two leaders who have influenced their peers and industries in incorporating sustainability into the business world.

As director of corporate citizenship at Citi and president of the Citi Foundation, Flaherty’s values run parallel to WRI’s—promoting environmental sustainability and economic development. She helped create Citi’s $50 billion Climate Initiative as well as the Equator Principles, industry guidelines used to manage environmental and social risks in project financing.

Harmon, chairman and CEO of Caravel Management and former president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, also boasts an impressive record of sustainability—particularly in his 10 years as the chairman of WRI’s Board.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is the successful integration of the private sector into WRI’s work,” he said. Harmon highlighted our Greenhouse Gas Protocol emissions accounting program, Global Forest Watch, which helps companies track and eliminate deforestation in their supply chains, and the work of our EMBARQ network, which helped bring bus rapid transit to more than 160 cities worldwide. “When I visit Mexico City now, I can take a run,” Harmon said. “Ten years from now, I hope I will be able to say the same of Beijing and maybe Cairo.”

Focus on Sustainable Cities

Creating sustainable cities emerged as a key theme of the event’s discussions. Projected to house 70 percent of the world’s population by 2050, urban centers can exacerbate existing problems of congestion and pollution—or they can drive economic opportunity and sustain resources.

To that end, C40, Citi and WRI are working on a joint approach to support cities on scalable, replicable finance solutions for sustainable infrastructure. This project will complement the work of the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, a new program to integrate WRI’s cities work, established through a $30.5 million contribution from Stephen M. Ross, chairman of Related Companies and WRI Board member.

The Courage to Lead

As Steer noted at the event, “WRI believes that economic and social development can accelerate, that poverty can be eliminated, and that it can be done in a way that respects the environment.” We achieve this vision by working with business, government, other NGOs, and civil society.

Our Courage to Lead event is really a microcosm of this philosophy. By celebrating and fostering leadership at all levels and across all sectors, we can ensure a more prosperous and sustainable future for all people

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