HBS Reunions offer Alumni a chance to come together and learn from faculty and fellow alumni and find inspiration in the ways HBS and fellow alumni make a difference in the world. Below is information on the session "Climate Pioneers" organized by the HBS Class of 1978.

When we graduated from HBS in 1978, climate change was a distant concern, if, indeed, any of us even considered the topic. This year, however, the existential threat came home. Climate scientists reported that July was the hottest month ever recorded and August's record temperatures made the northern hemisphere's summer the hottest since record keeping began in 1940.

Three of our classmates are on the leading edge of efforts to address the climate crisis, in the fields of bio agriculture, building renewable energy infrastructures worldwide, and creating climate literacy curricula.

Led by HBS Professor Michael Toffel, faculty chair of the HBS Business and Environment Initiative, Grace Chao (Section A) organized the panel. Our three alumni discussed their pioneering activities:

  • Steve Kahn (Section A) is the co-founder and executive chairman of NewLeaf Symbiotics, an agricultural biologics company that has built its technology platform around naturally occurring beneficial bacteria found on all plants. After a career in private equity and venture capital, Steve became an entrepreneur in 2012, helping to feed a growing population in a sustainable way. NewLeaf's technology is used to increase crop yield, naturally protect against pests and diseases, enhance grain and fruit quality, and improve plant nutrition. Some of the microbes under development may soon be used to reduce fertilizer usage and to substantially reduce methane gas escapage.
  • Rick Whitaker (Section A) joined us via Zoom from Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he is presently the Chief of Party for USAID’s Sri Lanka Energy Program. Rick has 40 years of experience in formulating and implementing international infrastructure development programs in Latin America, Asia, Middle East, and Africa. Energy Infrastructure is a particular specialty for him, with extensive work in renewable energy and energy efficiency, power plant development, utilities operations and restructuring, and advanced energy technologies. He has also developed expertise in electronic land management and administration systems, as well as data and cyber security. His work at organizations include Enron, USAID, Booz Allen Hamilton, Bain & Co., United Technologies Corp, and International Resources Group. Rick graduated with a BS cum laude in engineering from USMA West Point and is a decorated Vietnam veteran.
  • Mary Jo Veverka (Section B) joined via Zoom from Maryland. MJ quit ‘paid employment’ in 2003. After a successful careers in private industry and the federal government, she is now focused on philanthropy and personal enrichment. MJ founded and funded her Veverka Family Foundation, served on several non-profit boards that support the arts and women in crisis. She has explored all 63 national parks in depth and was a presidential appointee to the National Park Foundation board. Today, she supports immersive Field Science curriculum, embedding environmental and climate literacy in a growing number of school districts throughout her home state of Maryland and nationally, through the National Park Foundation. Her goal is to transform science education by getting students into the field to experience science directly.

Professor Michael Toffel is faculty chair of the HBS Business and Environment Initiative, co-principal investigator of the Climate and Sustainability Impact Lab and co-chairs Harvard's Presidential Committee on Sustainability. He co-founded and hosts the HBS Climate Rising podcast, which many of us listen to.

You can watch a recording of the 1978 Climate Session here:

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