The people, businesses, and organizations on this list show that thinking outside the box holds the power to change the world in monumentally positive ways. Whether getting a nation inspired to embark on a healthy journey, protecting public health on a huge scale, or standing up for what you believe in when everyone else thinks you are wrong, these pioneers helped pave the way toward a better world, creating a path for the finalists of this year's list, and meriting a place of honor on the 2016 Rodale 100.
Pediatrician and a pioneer in environmental health
A pediatrician, dean for global health, and professor of preventive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Dr. Landrigan has spent decades studying the connection between environmental exposures and how they impact human health. The author of more than 500 published papers and five books, covering topics ranging from exposure to toxic chemicals, lead poisoning, and pesticide exposure, Dr. Landrigan's work has undoubtedly made the world a better place for life while raising awareness the connection between what we eat, drink, and breathe and health conditions like autism and other developmental problems. One of his landmark studies in the early 1970s was crucial in persuading the Environmental Protection Agency to remove lead from gasoline and paint.
A pioneering philanthropic powerhouse
Founded more than 30 years ago by the late actor Paul Newman and author A.E. Hotchner, Newman's Own is a philanthropic powerhouse, donating more than $430 million to many different charities over the years. What started with Paul Newman filling up fancy wine bottles with his homemade salad dressing for holiday gifts has transformed into a major food brand that produces nearly 100 different food products across 8 categories, many of them organic. The company donates all of its profits after taxes to the Newman's Own Foundation, which delivers funding to a broad spectrum of charitable organizations.
Physical culture visionary
Often called "The Godfather of Fitness," the late Jack LaLanne was a trailblazer in the field of fitness and wellness. The creator of what is considered the first modern health club, which opened in 1936, he also preached the importance of healthy food, lifting weights, and general wellness on TV, too.
At a time when even many doctors were misinformed about weight lifting, LaLanne understood the benefits well and shared them with his health studio and TV fans. In fact, LaLanne even developed several exercise machine designs, many of which are still in use today. One of our favorite Jack LaLanne quotes? "Exercise is king, nutrition is queen, put them together and you have a kingdom."
The original gardening radical
J.I. Rodale, who founded Rodale, Inc. in 1930, knew that there was a direct relationship between the declining health of America's soil and the health of America's people — a revolutionary view in those days.
In 1942, he started Organic Farming and Gardening magazine, today known as Rodale's Organic Life, which taught people how to grow better food by cultivating healthier soil using natural techniques. J.I. put his theories into practice on a 60-acre farm near Emmaus, Pennsylvania, which is now the site of Rodale's Working Tree Center. Although chemical farming was becoming more popular at the time, J.I.'s ideas slowly took root and spread. Today, he is widely recognized as the father of the organic movement in America.
In 1950, J.I. introduced Prevention, a magazine that presented systematic ways people could try to prevent illnesses and diseases, rather than wait for a critical need to cure them, another idea that ran contrary to the established thinking of the day. Upon his passing in 1971, his son, Robert Rodale took the reigns. Today, J.I.'s granddaughter, Maria Rodale, is at the helm.
Farm-to-table restaurants are increasingly common around the United States today, and we have Alice Waters to thank for that. The founder of Chez Panisse in 1971, she sourced her restaurant's produce from local farmers. Today, the restaurant continues to work bring delicious, seasonal ingredients from the community into its dishes.
Aside from sourcing the most seasonal, delicious ingredients, Waters also believes in the power of education. Her creation of The Edible Schoolyard, a one-acre garden, kitchen classroom, and "eco-gastronomic" curriculum at Berkeley's Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle School, has garnered numerous national awards. Waters also serves as vice president of Slow Food International.
Blazing a trail for GMO transparency
Raised on the idea that he should "always leave the soil better than you found it," Stephens has gone on to build North America's largest organic breakfast foods company, Nature's Path. With many companies starting to offer more and more organic products, Nature's Path remains fiercely independent and mission-driven. It donates more than 1 percent of total sales to food banks, community gardens, and other nonprofit causes. Stephens is also a founding member of the Non-GMO Project, serves as a board member of the Rodale Institute, and is involved with California's Right-to-Know initiative promoting the labeling of GMO foods. He also authored the 2001 book, The Compassionate Diet.
The inspiration behind vital protective legislation
A woman who made it her life's work to protect people, wildlife, and the environment, the late Dr. Colborn's contributions to science helped us better understand how our surroundings—even things we can't see and in tiny doses—can greatly impact our health. The founder of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, her scientific publications about compounds that interfere with hormones—and the health impacts that result—helped prompt the creation of new laws around the world to better protect us from hormone disrupting chemicals. The 1996 book she co-authored, Our Stolen Future, is now printed in 18 languages.
The recipient of awards from all over the world, Dr. Theo Colborn was a true researching pioneer, helping to build a robust scientific community that is still studying the world of hormone-disrupting chemicals, including those found in the natural gas industry.
Protector of food integrity, from farm to Capitol
Even back in college, the environment was weight on Gary Hirshberg's mind. He wrote his thesis about the expansion of alpine tree lines, which was being caused by what we now refer to as climate change. As writer Joe Dobrow points out in Natural Prophets, Hirshberg was moving in the direction of advanced climatologic research and a PhD. But then he had a revelation: "I realized I didn’t want to further advance my knowledge of the problem; what I really wanted to do was work on the solution."
From that end, Hirshberg went off to study small-scale, sustainable agriculture and co-founded and lead Stonyfield Farm, the now powerhouse organic yogurt company, for which he still serves as a chairman today. He now serves as the chairman of Just Label It, where he lobbies Congress to pass strong, mandatory GMO labeling laws so consumers can make more informed decisions about their food.
Innovators bringing healthy greens to the table
Starting out with just a 2.5-acre raspberry farm in 1984, Drew and Myra Goodman went on to create a powerhouse organic produce company, making it easier than ever to source healthy, affordable organic veggies at supermarkets across the country.
The duo made "baby green" salads, something once reserved for the fanciest of restaurants, a common household dish. Today, that 2.5 acres has grown to nearly 50,000, where the company's small, medium, and large family of farms is feeding the country organically, and on a huge scale.
Creating a market for organics
Starting out with a loan from family members and one lone store in Austin, Texas, Whole Foods Market has grown to become the go-to location for healthier food options. With more than 400 stores in North American and the United Kingdom, the chain recently made Fortune's Change the World list and ranked as top supplier for seafood sustainability by Greenpeace.
And this organic pioneer is still innovating and leading the way. The grocer announced in mid-2015 that they'll offer new "365 by Whole Foods Market" stores slated to begin opening in 2016. The goal? To offer low prices on organic and natural products in lower economic areas that may not have the healthy consumption opportunities otherwise.
Forward-thinking plant pathology expert
Don M. Huber will tell you his greatest accomplishment—hands down—is his family, but the truth is his contributions to the food system and agriculture impact all of us, too. A professor emeritus of plant pathology at Purdue University, his 55 years of agricultural research has focused on tracking and controlling plant pathogens. Huber was an early critic and raised warnings about glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, the most commonly used farming herbicide in the world. Commonly sprayed on GMO crops, Huber says glyphosate is the most abused chemical we've ever had in agriculture. He continues to study and spread the word about its negative impact on everything from farming and the food system to your own back yard.
Groundbreaking organic farming researcher
David Pimentel Ph.D. turned to researching human population and became a champion of pesticide reduction and energy conservation after seeing firsthand how destructive an industrial food system can be.
Pimentel, a professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University, coauthored the 22-year review of the Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial in 2005. This groundbreaking report proved that we could produce organic crops with less energy while improving the sustainability of the soil. Pimentel's work is important because it provides decades of data to that proves organic can be a cost-effective, sustainable, and effective way to feed the world.