John Friedman is a managing director in Grant Thornton LLP’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and Sustainability practice, based in the firm’s Arlington, Virginia office. As a member of the firm’s ESG and Sustainability leadership team, Friedman focuses on developing sustainability strategies and reporting solutions for organizations ranging from the middle market to the Fortune 500.
With an international career spanning three decades, Friedman is an award-winning ESG and sustainability leader who has helped global companies integrate their operational, financial, and cultural initiatives into sustainable and responsible business practices. He has also been instrumental in helping companies of all sizes rise to the top of the sustainability rankings for their respective sectors, including building materials, food service and facilities management, and energy. Additionally, Friedman has extensive experience helping organizations define long-term sustainability goals, especially as it relates to environmental stewardship, social progress, and sound governance practices.
Friedman is a respected voice in the ESG community, often presenting at colleges and universities as well as meetings and conferences, including Sustainable Brands, 3BLForum, Just Means, and Business for Social Responsibility. He has also authored several books on sustainability and has been quoted frequently in national news outlets.
He received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Albany State University and a business certification from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.
What inspires you?
While there is plenty to be concerned about in our world today, we do not have the privilege of despair (or complacency). Quite simply, giving up or accepting that challenges like a circular economy or human rights and equality are difficult challenges that we may not see solved in our lifetime does not insulate us from the impacts and consequences of those difficult challenges. Nor can we turn our back on the science that says we are polluting our world at a rate and in ways that threaten our quality of life, if not the survival of our species.
I get my inspiration by seeing the ‘impossible’ achieved firsthand. In my lifetime, I have witnessed technological marvels like landing on the Moon and Mars. I have seen collective action address things like the ozone hole.
Individuals can also make a huge difference. In the 1970s, there was tremendous fear that the Earth simply could not feed the growing population. Then, Norman Borlaug, an American agronomist, led initiatives worldwide that contributed to the extensive increases in agricultural production, such as the use of hybrid crops like wheat that doubled the yield produced. Today the Earth produces enough food for every person (the reasons for the millions who do go hungry are not caused by lack of food produced).
I take my inspiration from these and other reminders that individual and collective action has addressed massive problems if we only rise above petty differences and allow the best in us to rise to the occasion.
What relationship has been most influential in your life?
My wife, who brings a measured optimism and outlook that ‘every day can be better than the day before’.
What’s on your bookshelf?
Thriving: The Breakthrough Movement to Regenerate Nature, Society, and the Economy, Wayne Visser
Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take,
The Sustainable Futures Report, blog and podcast