There are game-changers and then there are world-changers. From Internet giants working to make renewable energy cheaper than coal, to a sea captain monitoring the ocean’s plastic waste, to the growth of intentional communities (they’re not just for hippies anymore)—welcome to Plenty’s second annual list honoring (in no particular order) 20 dynamic individuals and 20 pioneering companies that are bettering the planet, plus 10 innovative ideas that will revolutionize how we live. 

2008 The Plenty 20


Maude Barlow

It’s been said we’ll launch 21st-century wars over water, not oil, but Canadian activist Barlow has been leading the battle for water justice for decades. She made international waves with her 2007 book, Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water; and her global initiative, Blue Planet Project, helped successfully lobby for groundwater protection in Vermont and is driving the push for a UN covenant declaring clean water a personal right.


Michael Pollan

An advocate for sustainability, heirloom species, and local food, Pollan turns a critical eye on both green (for example, industrial organic) and mainstream businesses. His charming humor and self-deprecation inspire readers to follow suit in planting gardens and asking farmers about their methods and produce managers about their sourcing. Pollan’s 2006 book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and his latest call for food-system reform, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Mani­festo, made bestseller lists.

David de Rothschild

If you combined Indiana Jones with Al Gore, you’d get 30-year-old David de Rothschild—a modern-day explorer hell-bent on saving the planet. He runs Adventure Ecology, an organization that spotlights global environmental crises through high-profile expeditions, like his fastest-ever crossing of the Greenland ice cap in 2005. De Rothschild also manages a self-sustaining organic farm and was named a Young Global Leader at the 2007 World Economic Forum. His list of feats is already legendary—including being the youngest Brit ever to reach both poles—but it’s his commitment to the planet that’s truly superlative. 

Al Gore

With a groundbreaking documentary, an Oscar, and a Nobel Peace Prize under his belt, Al Gore took a new approach to raising environmental awareness in 2007: advertising. His nonprofit Alliance for Climate Protection’s $300 million “We” campaign runs ads on American Idol, The Daily Show, and other programs, aiming to build support for fighting cli­mate change. Already, more than 1.4 million people have joined the campaign, demonstrating that Gore is on the cutting edge of environmentalism.

Nicholas Negroponte 

Author, entrepreneur, and MIT scholar Negroponte has helped spur innovation in technology and information science for the last four decades. The One Laptop Per Child Foundation is his latest triumph. Since mass production of the $188 computers began in November 2007, more than 600,000 children in schools from Uruguay to Rwanda have received OLPC’s solar- and human-powered XO laptops. The success of these super-cheap, super-efficient machines has inspired widespread innovation among computer makers.  

Lester Brown

An agricultural economist, Brown founded the Worldwatch Institute—one of the first organizations to address global sustainabil­ity issues—in 1974, and the Earth Policy Institute in 2001. He focuses on the world population’s effect on resources and predicted the cur­­rent food crisis. Among his more than 20 books is this year’s Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, a comprehensive strategy to reverse the effects of global warming by tackling four areas: climate, population, poverty, and ecosystems.

Mindy Lubber

As president of Ceres—a nonprofit assisting financial investors and cor­porations with environmental sustainability—Lubber works to expose the financial risks of global warming, making them an everyday part of investment decisions. Under Lubber, the group has advised 65 major institutional investors (including the state controller for California and CFO for Florida), representing a total of $5 trillion in investments. All have agreed to demand that their money managers disclose how they incorporate climate risk into their portfolios. 

Peter Diamandis

As chairman and CEO of the X Prize Foundation, Diamandis dreams up lucrative competitions to design objects that benefit humanity. Most recently, he launched the Progressive Automotive X Prize. The $10 million quest is for a road-tested, production line–ready car that gets at least 100 miles per gallon (or the energy equivalent) and produces about 90 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than conventional cars. Consider this the tech and auto worlds’ Nobel Prize. 

Charles Moore

Since 1997, Moore’s nonprofit, the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, has documented the “great Pacific garbage patch.” Also known as the Pacific Gyre, the 3.5 million tons of plastic floating in the ocean threaten organisms of all sizes, from whales to plankton. In 2007, Moore found not just a patch but a super-highway of junk running between San Francisco and Japan. The discovery garnered international media attention, and now governments are adopting Moore’s protocols to monitor plastic waste in the ocean.

Van Jones

Last year, Jones was instrumental in getting the city of Oakland, California, to fund an initiative to train citizens in green-collar jobs. But that’s just one of his environmental-justice achievements: As founder and president of Green For All, a non­profit whose goal is to decrease poverty and inequality by creating a green economy full of opportunities for disadvantaged communities, he also helped pass the national Green Jobs Act of 2007. The law provides $125 million to prep tens of thousands of people annually for work in eco-industries. 

Heidi Cullen

What to do when major news and weather channels refuse to acknowledge global warming? Bring in a peppy, brainy climatologist as the resident climate expert. The Weather Channel’s weekly Forecast Earth has soared in popularity since its expansion to an hour-long show in 2008, so while most weather anchors are stuck predicting “cloudy with a chance of showers,” Cullen gets to chill with the likes of Al Gore, Van Jones, and Sylvia Earle.

Story by Anuj Desai, Dan Fost, Liz Galst, Tobin Hack, Jessica A. Knoblauch, Alisa Opar, Sarah Parsons, Mindy Pennybacker, Victoria Schlesinger, and Jessica Tzerman. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in September 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Part 1: Plenty 20: Green people

Part 2: Plenty 20: Green people, cont'd.

Part 3: Plenty 20: Green businesses

Part 4: Plenty 20: Green ideas

The Plenty 20 awards for 2008
Plenty Magazine recognizes 20 businesses, 20 people, and 10 ideas that will change our world.