May 15, 2009

Two Alumni Named ‘Champions of the Earth’ by the United Nations Environment Programme

Kevin Conrad ’05, executive director of the Coalition of Rainforest Nations, and Ron Gonen ’04, cofounder and CEO of RecycleBank, developed their business plans when they were students at Columbia.


On April 22, Kevin Conrad ’05 and Ron Gonen ’04 (both EMBA) along with five fellow innovators of positive environmental change were honored at a gala event in Paris as ‘Champions of the Earth’ by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The annual award recognizes people from around the world who have made a significant contribution to the protection and sustainable management of the Earth’s environment and natural resources. Past winners include Al Gore, the former vice president of the United States, and Helen Clark, the former prime minister of New Zealand.

Both Conrad and Gonen developed their business plans when they were students at Columbia. Both also worked with Geoffrey Heal, the Paul Garrett Professor of Public Policy and Business Responsibility. “It’s really heartening,” Heal says, “to see these ideas being applied so effectively and to show the world that business training is not just about making money on Wall Street but can really contribute to a better world.”

Conrad, the executive director of the Coalition of Rainforest Nations, made headlines at the 2007 UN Bali climate-change talks when he urged the United States to take leadership on climate change. (Professor Joseph Stiglitz penned a tribute to Conrad as a “Hero of the Environment” in Time magazine last year.)

Kevin Conrad ’05 and the Coalition for Rainforest Nations
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Kevin Conrad ’05 and the Coalition for Rainforest Nations

Gonen, named a Technology Pioneer by the Davos-based World Economic Forum earlier this year, is cofounder and CEO of RecycleBank, a recycling-incentives program that has have diverted thousands of tons of recyclables from landfills, saving more than 98 million gallons of oil and more than a million trees.

Ron Gonen ’04 and RecycleBank
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Ron Gonen ’04, RecycleBank

Both organizations were launched with financial support from Columbia Business School through the Eugene Lang Center for Entrepreneurship.

To learn more about the award, visit UNEP Champions of the Earth.

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