Recycling used office furniture. Growing food. Electrifying fleets of service vehicles. Beekeeping. There are so many ways for companies to become more sustainable — and the people featured on this list are leading the way. Among these winners are chief sustainability officers and other top executives setting ambitious goals to reach zero emissions; nonprofit leaders supporting environmental justice efforts and educational initiatives in the community; and entrepreneurs offering green solutions for everything from sustainable doors to geothermal energy systems.     

METHODOLOGY: The leaders featured in this report were selected from nominations by a team of Crain’s Detroit Business editors based on their career accomplishments, track record of success in the field and effectiveness of their efforts, as outlined in a detailed application form. The honorees did not pay to be included on the list. Notable Leaders in Sustainability was managed and written by Leslie D. Green. For questions about this report, contact Special Projects Editor Amy Bragg: [email protected].


John Hartig

Member, Board of Directors, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy

John Hartig’s life’s work has been about the cleanup and restoration of the most polluted areas of the Great Lakes. 

After earning a master’s degree in aquatic biology, he became an environmental scientist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. When he completed his doctorate in limnology (the study of inland aquatic ecosystems), he served as scientific secretariat to the Great Lakes Water Quality Board of the International Joint Commission. 

He’s also been a River Navigator for the federal Greater Detroit American Heritage River Initiative and Fulbright Scholar researching cleanup revitalization of the Great Lakes. Hartig worked with late Congressman John Dingell and other partners to create the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, the only international wildlife refuge in North America. He managed the organization for 14 years.

In the midst of that, he joined the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy board of directors in 2003, helping turn the area into the No. 1 riverwalk in the country, as ranked by USA Today. 

“Dr. John Hartig is the singular individual who stewarded both the restoration of the waterway and the transformation of the river’s edge. His success with this work demonstrates his tenacity, his expertise, and his charisma as a leader,” said Mark Wallace, president and CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy.

Now, Hartig is working with the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan on its Great Lakes Way initiative to create interconnected greenways and water trails from Port Huron to Toledo. He is also a founding member of SEMI Wild, which works to improve people’s access to nature and actively promote ecosystem sustainability. 

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Interior honored him with a Meritorious Service award.

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