President, Bullitt Foundation; Organizer, Earth Day and Founder, Earth Day Network; U.S Solar Energy Research Institute
Many pioneers of environmental law credit the first Earth Day in 1970 with influencing their decision to enter the field. Pioneer Denis Hayes made Earth Day happen. He left graduate school at Harvard to work for Senator Gaylord Nelson as national coordinator of the event, and in later years took Earth Day international, organizing events in 141 nations in 1990 and adding China in 2000. He still chairs the board of the Earth Day Network.
Hayes grew up in a “stunningly beautiful” part of the Columbia River Gorge in the Pacific Northwest where a paper mill was a big employer and a big polluter in his hometown. Hitchhiking somewhere in Namibia as a young man, Hayes had an epiphany and decided that a text on fundamentals of ecology he had studied years before pointed to a better way to organize the industrial enterprise. He went to Stanford Law School because law “sets the ground rules for how the economy operates” and later headed the Solar Energy Research Institute in the Carter Administration. He has served as activist, advocate, executive, and thought leader with many organizations and is now CEO of the Bullitt Foundation.
Time magazine chose him as a hero of the Planet, one of a host of awards he has received over his career. His most important recent project at the foundation was designing and building “the greenest office building in the world, ” the Bullitt Center in Seattle, lauded as the first major building to meet the ultra-rigorous Living Building Challenge. He believes progress on environmental priorities has stalled and looks to young people who understand environmental issues better than ever to be the change agents. Hayes thinks young leaders need passion and hope of success as well as new ideas to revitalize the movement and make it more inclusive. “Somebody has to emerge from within that community that’s capable of inspiring them,” Hayes believes, “And then I think we could see electrifying changes.”