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Harriss Olson

Recognised Pioneer of Sustainability Trailblazing


Molly Harriss Olson is an internationally-recognised pioneer of global sustainability with experience spanning over 35 years and multiple continents.

Current work

Ms Olson is an Independent Non-Executive Director of Natural Carbon Pty Ltd, a Member of the Advisory Council for the Human Future, Chief Executive Women, and the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Previous experience

Ms Olson’s work has been at the forefront of leadership in sustainable business and development for three and a half decades.

Ms Olson recently completed 15 years with Fairtrade; the last nine years as CEO of Fairtrade ANZ where Ms Olson led Fairtrade’s work to strengthen Asia-Pacific markets and regional Fairtrade supply chains, growing Fairtrade revenue and bolstering environmental and economic sustainability practices within the Fairtrade system.

For the six years prior to her CEO ANZ role, Ms Olson served on the Board of Fairtrade International as an Independent Director and as its Chair. During this time she played a pivotal role in passing a new Constitution providing half ownership to Fairtrade producers and workers and improving governance of Fairtrade internationally. Ms Olson served on the New Zealand Government’s Trade Advisory Board for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Ms Olson worked in the White House during the time of President Clinton as the Founding Executive Director of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development. Appointed by President Clinton in 1993, the 25-member Council was a ground-breaking partnership whose membership came from high-ranking representatives of industry, government, environmental, labour and civil rights organisations.

The Council was commissioned to develop a broad-based national action strategy on sustainable development and in March 1996 submitted its report, Sustainable America: A New Consensus, to President Clinton. Other previous roles include Director and Co-Founder of Eco Futures, an Australian-based international policy firm working on building sustainable strategies with business, government and civic leaders, Founder and Convenor of the National Business Leaders Forum on Sustainable Development, CEO of The Natural Step USA, a non-profit environmental education organisation working with business leaders and the US representative on the steering committee of Sweden-based organisation, The Natural Step International.

She has convened, led and been a member of numerous business leaders and sustainability initiatives and regularly brought international leaders to Australia such as Jane Goodall, famed Primate research pioneer, Ray Anderson, business sustainability champion of Interface carpets, Georg Kell, the first CEO of the UN Global Compact and Ernst Ligteringen, the first CEO of GRI and Prof Jerry Porris, Stanford University Business expert and author of the business bible “Built to Last”. She brought Al Gore to Australia for his first visit in 2003 as the keynote at the National Business Leaders Forum on Sustainable Development.

Ms Olson previously served on the Boards of The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), The Australia Institute, the Global Action Plan, the Green Building Council of Australia, the AMP Sustainable Investments Alpha Advisory Board, Australia 21, Clean up the World, Clean up Australia, “G” Magazine Editorial Board, and was the Founding Chair of the Editorial Advisory Board of Ecos Magazine (CSIRO Publishers).

She has also served on the Australian Building Energy Council, the Environment Management Industry Association of Australia, the Australian National Committee for the Earth Charter, the International Advisory Council for the Foreign Policy Association (NY), and the Premier’s Climate Council of Queensland under the Hon Anna Bligh.

At the age of 35 Ms Olson was selected to be a member of the World Economic Forum's Global Leaders for Tomorrow, made up of individuals worldwide who had distinguished themselves as recognised leaders in the world community. She was named a 'Woman to Watch into 2000' by Business Class magazine and in 2014 she won the Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence Award, recognised in the Global Influence category for her contribution to international development and sustainability. She is featured in “Who’s Who of Australian Women”, and her exceptional contributions to global sustainability were recognised in the YALE Alumni of Distinction Award.

Ms Olson earned her Joint Bachelor degrees in Economics and Environmental Studies with Thesis honours from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She was a distinguished Bates Resident Scholar at Yale University where she earned a Masters in Environmental Policy from the Yale School of the Environmental (& Law School).

With expertise in global business sustainability including leadership and systemic economic redesign, green building innovation, fair trade, population, environment and development issues, Ms Olson speaks widely to CEOs, senior business, government and civic leadership groups. She was the sustainability expert for the Opening Plenary of the World Economic Forum's 2000 meeting in Davos and has had a significant speaking role on a variety of international speaking platforms.

She was the Chair of King Carl Gustaf's Business Leadership and the Environmental Symposium, Stockholm in 1996, has lectured at the Harvard Kennedy School and was the Meyerhoff Visiting Scholar for Global Civic Responsibility, Goucher College, Baltimore.

Molly was really good at the Q&A session. Very interesting ideas for the future of accountants. CPA Australia

I have just left the breakfast presentation you made at Logan City Council. Thank you... it was inspirational, funny and tremendously engaging. You are clearly so passionate and optimistic about climate change, it was particularly evident in your answers to the questions from the floor. Considering all that stuff about only needing to make a difference to one person and all, you should know you did better than that this morning. Awesome work.

Logan City Council

A truly inspirational and passionate lady.

Logan City Council
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