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Conscious Leaders Awards 2017

Rachel Zurer July 7, 2017

Why We Created this Award

The conscious business movement is full of incredible people. Every day, we here at Conscious Company meet and hear about more dedicated, hard-working pioneers cutting paths toward new ways of practicing business, new ways of relating to one another, new ways of making meaning of our lives. And, as we also hear, it turns out that shaking off centuries of conventional wisdom about money, labor, economics, leadership, and more can be hard, grinding, and even lonely.

That’s why it’s so important that we pause at times to take stock along the journey, not just to reorient and recharge for the long march ahead, but to celebrate and recognize how far we’ve already come, what we’ve already accomplished. It’s tempting to think of “celebrating” as a party, a surge of (perhaps forced) positive energy, with cake, confetti, champagne. And of course, parties are great. But we recently learned of another way to think about celebration: as an integrative pause that honors all the effort, struggle, and growth that led to the moment of victory or triumph. It’s a savoring of all we had to be, do, let go of, and become to get to right here, right now. It’s that pause, the theory goes, that reflection, that lets us truly grow and absorb and move forward in a new way.

We’re not always good at taking and creating these moments for ourselves. Sometimes it takes an outside force — like, say, an award from our community — to remind us to do so. Building that moment for some of the most deserving and inspirational figures in our sphere was our goal as we decided to create the Conscious Leaders Awards this winter. We also hoped to elevate and recognize both well-known and unsung role models for the rest of us to turn to throughout the coming year and beyond.

The Process

Once we had the idea for the awards, we proceeded in typical startup style: at high speed and with a faith that we’d learn whatever we needed to along the way. We recruited a team of top-notch judges (see below) to lend their opinions: 14 experts, including our two co-founders, with diverse vantage points on the conscious business landscape. We sketched our criteria and a process. We sent out the call and opened nominations.

Then everything got messy.

It turns out collecting the right information about every possibly awardee and then sifting through and weighing and judging them all against each other is, well, hard. The process brought up dozens of complications we hadn’t foreseen, as we evaluated close to 150 nominations. Some people were in the pool more than once. Some nominators wrote tomes in praise of the candidate, others haikus. The businesses these leaders run range from global powerhouses to one-person nonprofits. And so on. Each stage of the process took longer than we expected, while print magazine deadlines loomed.

Fundamentally, the challenge was that there are truly so many deserving people in this movement, and we hadn’t been terribly precise about what we were looking for in a “winner.” So, also in true startup style, as the complications emerged, we began to evolve our strategy. We had our judges narrow down the initial pool, then rank their top finalists in three separate categories of accomplishment: personal journey, conscious workplace, and global impact (see right). That’s where the “judges’ picks” came from.

We also realized that our own team had the clearest idea of what we meant by each of those award categories, so we did a round of internal voting on a re-sorted pool of finalists in order to land on our “editors’ picks.” And we noticed that some of the top heroes of the movement hadn’t ended up in the original pool of nominees, so we also asked the judges themselves to nominate their picks for a new lifetime achievement category.

The Awardees

In the end, what emerged from this year’s experiment was a cohort of seven amazing awardees we feel thrilled to stand behind. It’s with humility that we acknowledge that this list could have gone many other ways, that there’s not just one right answer or one set of “winners” in the “competition” of conscious business — that’s the kind of thinking we’re all trying to get beyond. And yet: holy cow, these leaders! Many have appeared in our pages before; others we’re already planning future stories about. All have accomplished so much, for the benefit of so many stakeholders.

Read on to learn about their achievements. Then, wherever you are, please join us in raising a real or virtual glass and taking a moment to savor and celebrate their work — and hopefully get inspired to new heights in your own. Cheers!

The Categories

1. Lifetime Achievement: In recognition of one exceptional role model who has demonstrated leadership in personal journey, conscious workplace, and global impact over a number of years.

2. Personal Journey: This category recognizes leaders who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to cultivating authenticity, transparency, and vulnerability. We especially considered evidence of a significant transformation.

3. Conscious Workplace:  In recognition of leaders who have created an exceptional workplace environment where others can thrive. We especially considered leaders’ commitment to fostering health, wellness, quality of life, and work–life balance for their organization.

The Awards


Eileen Fisher, founder and CEO of Eileen Fisher Inc.Eileen Fisher

Designer Eileen Fisher makes comfortable, stylish, sustainable clothes for women. She also “embodies conscious leadership, humility, and an unwavering commitment to doing what’s best for all life,” as one of our judges puts it. Under her leadership, her namesake fashion brand has become a standout in its dedication to environmental and social sustainability. Its achievements include sourcing mainly organic ingredients, a take-back and upcycling program for used clothes, and more.

“Eileen is a rare breed of leader who seems to be able to check all of the boxes of personal, workplace, and global consciousness,” says another judge. “Her aspirations to create the most sustainable fashion brand in the world by 2020, her support of female entrepreneurs, and the amazing culture that she has created at Eileen Fisher are all examples. Building on those, Eileen is a truly authentic leader and is willing to be vulnerable, is willing to listen to everyone, and brings the feminine into her leadership in a really powerful way.”

Fisher’s best leadership advice: “I think listening is a really important aspect of leadership. In meetings, I always prefer to hold my thoughts until the end and give enough space to the knowledge in the room. I find I learn so much, and it gives others confidence knowing I really value what they have to say.”

Fisher’s advice on cultivating high-performing teams: “Our teams meet in circles. We check in and ensure that every point of view is expressed. We also do a moment of silence before most meetings, which allows us to get centered and bring our whole selves to the work. In addition, we try to support our employees with wellness and education programs, personal growth opportunities, and flexible work arrangements.  I think we build stronger relationships within companies — and we do better work — when our employees are growing as people and when they feel cared for and are encouraged to pause and take time for themselves.”

Judges’ choice: Sheryl O’Loughlin, CEO of REBBL

Sheryl OLoughlinAfter a stint as CEO of Clif Bar and Company, where she doubled its gross revenue and operationalized its sustainability principles, Sheryl O’Loughlin co-founded baby-food startup Plum Organics, raised $30 million in capital in three years, and led the acquisition of two small brands before Plum was successfully sold to the Campbell Soup Company. Meanwhile, O’Loughlin herself battled depression and a serious bout of anorexia that took her away from the business world — permanently, she thought. Once she recovered, though, she not only accepted a position at the helm of REBBL, which sells herbal beverages to help fund efforts to eradicate human trafficking, she wrote a book about her personal experiences.

“Sheryl realized the need to unveil the truth behind the hurdles that come with entrepreneurship so that entrepreneurs could get the help and support they need to lead healthier lives,” writes REBBL community manager Rachel Hauser in O’Loughlin’s nomination. “Her book ‘Killing It! An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Head Without Losing Your Heart’ became a platform on which she could start those deeper, often difficult conversations with her team and this community of entrepreneurs. With this as a backdrop, it has opened deep, meaningful conversations at REBBL, and not just with our team but also with our board.”

It’s this ongoing and courageous vulnerability, along with O’Loughlin’s compassionate, loving leadership style and commitment to growth and sticking by her values that earned her our judges’ choice award for her personal leadership journey.

O’Loughlin’s best leadership advice: “Always lead from a place of love.”

Editors’ pick: James Ruder, owner of L&R Pallet

James Ruder owns a Denver-based pallet manufacturing company. He ran it like a typical manufacturing business until 2013, when he found God and decided that “loving on people,” including his employees, was his mission in life. Around the same time, he started hiring refugees and found himself investing deeply in changing his business to create a supportive culture for them, including totally redesigning training, hosting English classes on site, and hiring staff to help them deal with challenges (including outside of work, like spraying for bedbugs when landlords wouldn’t). He’s now becoming an unconventional voice of the conscious business movement within his manufacturing and trade world, as other businesses admire and are starting to try to replicate his example of leadership and workplace culture.

Ruder’s transformation as a leader involved first reinventing himself, then reinventing his company. After profiling him for the May/June 2017 issue, our team agreed that his journey is truly worth celebrating, especially as a demonstration that there are many paths to a conscious workplace and room for all faiths along the way.

Ruder’s best leadership advice : “Consider the responsibility that comes with providing employment to others. Business owners have an opportunity to impact everyone through their leadership either positively or negatively, as workers are a captive audience for 40 hours each week — enough time to demonstrate what love, family, and purpose looks like to someone who needs a place to belong.”

Judges’ Choice: David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner’s

Under the leadership of David Bronner and his brother Michael, this natural soap brand has grown from $4 million in annual revenue in 1998 to $106 million in 2016. Dr. Bronner’s is a family business to the core and considers all who work for the company to be extended family. The total compensation of the highest-paid employees and executives is capped at five times that of the lowest-paid position. Employees receive 15 percent of their salary paid annually into a retirement/profit-sharing plan and up to 25 percent of their salary as a bonus, and the company covers 100 percent of the cost of health insurance. In addition, the company has advocated for higher minimum wage in several states. “David is the epitome of a conscious leader whose deeply held values are in full alignment with all facets of his life,” says Bruce Friedrich, executive director at the Good Food Institute, who nominated Bronner. “His personal commitment to the extended family that is Dr. Bronner’s is a constant inspiration to me.”

Bronner’s advice on cultivating high-performing teams: “The constant stream of real-world projects — whether in our own supply chain; operations, sales, and marketing efforts; or in external political campaigns, causes, and impact investments — provides the training ground and learning experience that’s most benefited our staff and team performance. Anywhere stakes are high, the need is great; our individual and collective efforts make a real impact and difference, and the goals reflect our deepest shared values.”

Editors’ Pick: Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein, co-founders of Asana

AsanaAsana’s mission is “to help humanity thrive by enabling all teams to work together effortlessly.” From day one, co-founders Justin Rosenstein and Dustin Moskovitz (who is also a Facebook co-founder) have baked that into everything from their collaboration software application to the company culture. In fact, they see the  culture as yet another product, something to design, ship, and iterate. Individually, every new  employee is welcome to attend a two-day Conscious Leadership workshop led by Diana Chapman, author of the “15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership.” As an organization, every four months the company sets aside “roadmap week” — a time to step away from daily operations to plan and reflect together. Each employee has dedicated “areas of responsibility,” with manager giving input and advice, not dictating what happens. The result of these and other initiatives: one of the tech industry’s fastest-growing enterprise software startups.

Rosenstein’s advice on cultivating high-performing teams:  “The most important thing any leader can do — from a project manager to a CEO — is to provide clarity of purpose, plan, and responsibility on their teams.”

Judges’ choice: Caryl Levine and Ken Lee, co-founders and co-CEOs of Lotus Foods

As founders of specialty rice company Lotus Foods, Ken Lee and Caryl Levine have provided international leadership in preserving rice biodiversity, promoting organic rice cultivation, and elevating awareness of the need to change how rice is grown around the world. In 2005, Lee and Levine learned through Cornell University about a better way to grow rice — and vowed to help it spread. System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is a set of practices and principles that enable even the poorest farmers to improve their yields just by changing how they manage their plants, soil, water, and nutrients. They can double and triple their harvests using up to 50 percent less water, 90 percent less seed, and no agrochemicals, with less work for women, who generally bear the brunt of the hardest labor of rice farming. Since 2008, the company has been committed to working with farmers using these game-changing practices. Their pioneering development of supply chains with marginalized rice farmers — who previously never had access to global markets — and proactive education outreach have given consumers throughout North America access to healthier rice and a way to engage in solutions that contribute to a more sustainable future for our planet. “Lotus Foods is the first and only US company to invest in market incentives for these pioneering farmers,” says Norman Uphoff, professor emeritus of government and international agriculture at Cornell University, who nominated the duo. “The importance of their vision and leadership cannot be overstated.”

The most pressing challenge Levine and Lee would like to see more businesses working to solve:   “Global warming.”

Editors’ Pick: Kat Taylor, co-founder and co-CEO of Beneficial State Bank

Kat Taylor, along with her husband Tom Steyer, sure doesn’t think small in her attempts to change the world. Perhaps best-known for founding Beneficial State Bank, a community development financial institution (CDFI) and certified B Corporation whose mission is to change the banking system for good, Taylor is also deeply involved in activism, social enterprise, and philanthropy related to climate change and agriculture. Her other projects include the TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation, dedicated to inspiring a sustainable food system through ranching, and the social enterprise LeftCoast GrassFed, which humanely raises cattle and other livestock for the benefit of healthy ecosystems. “If you’ve ever had the chance to meet or work with Kat Taylor, you instinctively understand her brilliance, humility, compassion, and commitment to building a more equitable and inclusive world — because all are deeply embedded in every single thing she does,” says colleague Emma Guttman-Slater, who nominated her.

The most pressing challenge Taylor would like to see more businesses working to solve: “Sharing global resources and running businesses, nonprofits, and government in a way that inspires constructive genius in every ordinary person.”

The Judges

In addition to the Conscious Company editorial staff, our panel of expert judges included:

Ben Anderson, chief B keeper, B Lab

David Brodwin, VP and co-founder, American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC)

Ryan Cabinte, senior faculty, Presidio Graduate School

Pamela Chaloult, chief opportunity officer, BALLE

Lori Darley, CEO and founder, Conscious Leaders

Meghan French Dunbar, co-founder, Conscious Company Media

Andrew Hewitt, founder, GameChangers 500

Maren Keeley, co-founder, Conscious Company Media

Scott Kriens, founder, 1440 Multiversity

Mike Rowlands, president and CEO, Junxion Strategy

Yanik Silver, founder, Maverick1000

Cory Smith, co-founder and CEO, Wisdom Labs

Paul Thallner, partner, Great Place to Work

Gerry Valentine, founder, Vision Executive Coaching


Social Entrepreneurship / Stakeholder Capitalism
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