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Richly Green: 100 Eco Barons

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The Sunday Times of London publishes its first ever Green Rich List today, featuring the 100 wealthiest tycoons in the world with major investments in green technology, conservation, and environmental causes of all stripes.

The usual suspects are on the list - Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Michael Bloomberg and the Google duo of Larry Page and Sergey Brin. But the international flavor of the list contains some green scions that may not be so familiar to Americans, though they should be - or soon will be:

  • #64 on the Times list, Wang Chuanfu, founder of China's BYD battery company, which is bringing to market what may be one of the most capable and affordable fully electric cars in the world.
  • #5 Mukesh Ambani, India's richest person, who is developing non-edible fuel crops that grow on wastelands
  • #14, Hansjorg Wyss (Swiss by nationality, Pennsylvanian by residence) heads the Wyss Foundation, a major supporter of environmental and conservation efforts, including the work of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, which took the lead in securing endangered species protections for the polar bear in the waning days of the Bush Administration.
  • #21, Aloys Wobben of Germany, founder of Enercon, a world leader in wind turbines
  • #3 on the list, Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad of Sweden, the world's greenest developed nation, whose many environmental initiatives include conversion of his stores to 100% renewable energy.

Two of the green moguls on the list are profiled in my new book, Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet - Turner, with immense land holdings dedicated to conservation and endangered species protections, and Burt's Bees founder Roxanne Quimby, who is preserving large swaths of the last great American forest east of the Mississippi, the Maine Woods.

List of this sort are fascinating and useful, but I prefer assessments that measure environmental impact rather than net worth. Such a list would be trickier to produce, and though it would include many of the same names, it would also recognize that the true measure of an Eco Baron is not his or her bank account. One of my favorite examplesa of this distinction is Carole Allen, an unheralded county probation department employee in the Houston area. She took on the powerful Gulf Coast shrimp industry with few allies and little money, faced down hate mail and threats, assembled an army of school children to fund-raise and launch a letter-writing campaign, and finally won vital protections that have saved sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico from extinction.

Sometimes it's not just about throwing money at a problem. It's also about throwing yourself at the problem. And though we can admire and appreciate this list of 100 tycoons, most of us looking for a green role model would do well to emulate the Carole Allens of the world.

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