The 2017 GreenBiz 30 Under 30
This year's crop of young professionals from around the world are tackling the biggest sustainability challenges — inside companies, academe, media and the nonprofit sector.
We are proud and excited to reveal our second annual list of promising young professionals in the field of sustainable business. This year's "30 Under 30" cohort was selected by GreenBiz editors in collaboration with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, based on a global search for emerging leaders who are shaping the next generation of sustainable business.
This year's honorees work across sectors for large and small companies, media, academe and the nonprofit sector. They hail from nine countries on five continents. Individually and collectively, they are showing how businesses can operate in a world of constrained resources and unconstrained opportunities. Most important, they show how society, led by the private sector, effectively can address the world's most pressing environmental and social challenges effectively and profitably.
Here, in alphabetical order, are this year's 30 rising stars.
Komal Ahmad, 27
Founder & CEO, Copia; San Francisco
An encounter with a homeless man asking for money changed the trajectory of Komal Ahmad’s career — and arguably of food waste. As Ahmad walked along a sidewalk near the University of California at Berkeley, where she was a student, a man hit her up for money to buy food.
"Something about him compelled me to stop and invite him to join me for lunch," she recalled. It turned out he was a veteran who had recently returned from a second tour of duty in Iraq — but hadn't eaten in days while waiting for his benefits to kick in.
Outraged by the veteran’s story — Komal had been a ROTC student trained to be a midshipman in the U.S. Navy — while knowing that the nearby campus dining hall was throwing away thousands of pounds of edible food, she was spurred to action.
With friends, Ahmad developed an application that’s now the core of Copia, a venture-backed, Y Combinator startup that redistributes landfill-bound food by matching food donors with agencies needing the meals. The organization even provides transportation.
About 700,000 meals later, Copia is a thriving business. "We unlock value" by helping businesses more easily make tax-deductible food donations and by identifying for them the inefficiencies in their foodservice operations. Ahmad figures donors have saved $4.6 million because of Copia's advice.
In the future, "I see us having scaled throughout the country" and internationally, said Komal, licensing Copia's technology to solve a significant problem in a world hungry for food security.
Tariq Al-Olaimy, 28
Co-founder, 3BL Associates; Manama, Bahrain
As populous megacities bloom in the Middle East, it is more important than ever for the region to grow sustainably. In 2010, Tariq Al-Olaimy and his sister Leena co-founded 3BL Associates, a think tank "established to reimagine a more sustainable and regenerative Middle East."
As he put it, "We work to address the broken infrastructure and architecture of the way we solve global social, environmental and economic sustainability challenges."
After receiving a finance degree from London’s Cass University in 2009, in the midst of a global financial crisis, Al-Olaimy wanted to create "a society of deeper meaning and purpose," which he felt the corporate world lacked. His company aims to transform sustainable development challenges into opportunities for companies, countries and communities throughout the region.
3BL Associates’ work focuses around the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, a global 2030 agenda to which nearly 200 countries have committed. So far, 3BL's projects have reached 2 million people in 54 cities, deployed $5.3 million to humanitarian causes and generated $22 million for local economies. Profits are reinvested in the company's think-tank projects.
Al-Olaimy believes that the Middle East’s transformation to a post-carbon economy can influence the rest of the world, but that an inner transformation must occur first. He recalled the Sufi poet Rumi: "Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself."
Jarami Bond, 24
Manager of Sustainability, Interface; Atlanta
As Interface’s sustainability manager, Jarami Bond has big shoes to fill.
"Ray Anderson said that we can change the way business is done to being restorative through the power of influence," said Bond of the carpet manufacturer's late founder.
Two years out of his undergraduate degree in sustainable materials and technology at North Carolina State University, Bond is helping to make Interface a company that positively impacts the communities it touches. He trains Interface’s U.S. sales force to be "a mouthpiece for our vision," believing that creating community is sustainability’s secret weapon.
Bond cultivates sustainability as part of Interface’s company culture through community impact programs, training and education. He also advances the company’s Mission Zero and Climate Take Back commitments by aligning internal departments and external stakeholders with the company's sustainability mission.
"The key turning point is creating a culture of connectivity and engagement on social issues," he said.
Having moved to Atlanta from D.C., Bond was affected by the city’s struggles with poverty and gentrification — issues interrelated with sustainability. "As sustainability leaders, we have to lead the cultivation of a more equitable world and meet the needs of the vulnerable."
Bond mentors students at the University of Florida, Georgia Tech, Purdue University and elsewhere to "train the next generation of change agents." In whatever free time is left, he writes a blog about equitable sustainability.
Ryan Bradley, 25
Product Engineering Data Scientist/Analyst, Lexmark International; Lexington, Kentucky
Ryan Bradley, a data scientist for one of the world’s biggest printing and imaging technology companies, already holds two patents that he developed as a grad student. Both use sensors and software algorithms to keep better tabs on the life cycle and carbon footprint related to paper production processes.
In this way, Bradley is already working toward his career aspiration: using data analytics to help product designers and engineers create devices that can be disassembled and remanufactured more efficiently. He is equal parts sustainable business specialist, mechanical engineer and computer scientist, a combination that Bradley would like to see more individuals embrace on the job.
"I think we need to lead the sustainability story by showing businesses, corporations, the actual economic benefit behind [sustainability]," he said. "That’s going to get them on board and catapult the entire idea forward. And I think that’s where the circular economy comes into play."
Bradley became interested in more sustainable approaches to manufacturing while working for his family’s small business. Trained as a mechanical engineer at the University of Kentucky, he is pursuing a graduate degree that more explicitly links the worlds of sustainability and engineering. The official focus is on Big Data-driven sustainable product design.
"I definitely want to be one of those people at the forefront of implementing the circular economy, rather than someone contributing to the rhetoric."
Niels Fibaek-Jensen, 24
Founder, Penstable; Copenhagen, Denmark
One could never accuse Niels Fibaek-Jensen, a journalist-turned-diplomat-now-entrepreneur, of being complacent.
While earning his master’s degree from the Copenhagen Business School, he specialized in helping the United Nations build partnerships with the private sector through jobs in New York and his native Denmark.
While researching clean energy markets in India, Fibaek-Jensen was struck by the notion that he could do more good outside the UN system than from within. And that’s where the idea for his fintech startup Penstable, the first Danish pension company focused on sustainability and investment investments, began to germinate.
“What really frustrated me the contrast between the abundance of resources in financial markets and the glaring needs that we see in the UN system for resources, whether it’s for development activities or a humanitarian crisis or something else,” Fibaek-Jensen said. “I thought I could perhaps do more to channel resources to impact investment, toward sustainability.”
Penstable’s success is still far from given, it’s still an early-stage startup, but Danish pension funds have been known to shun investments on ethical grounds and Fibaek-Jensen believes he can play a valuable role in educating the market about the value of impact investing. Just don’t ask him what he’ll be doing five years from now. “I have no idea, he said. “I just want to provide an alternative to the way we do things now.”
Camille Fabre, 27
Marketing, Sustainability Director, Saint-Gobain Nordic & Baltic; Copenhagen, Denmark
Camille Fabre inherited an interest in nature and social equity from her parents, who were passionate about preserving biodiversity in their local community in France.
The trained chemist and material science engineer launched her own journey during a six-month environmental internship at Akzo-Nobel, where she "fell in love with the topic" of sustainability. Specifically, she enjoyed how the sustainability mindset looked for opportunities to improve the world.
Now, as marketing, strategy and sustainable development director for Saint-Gobain, a 350-year-old France-based global producer of construction materials, Fabre works with colleagues in the sustainability field who "are passionate, true to themselves, willing to share and don’t give up."
She has worked at Saint-Gobain since 2012. Before moving to Denmark, she was based in France, as a sustainable habitat coordinator and manager, respectively. "Working at a big company is a good place to start," she said, "because they have big impacts but also lots of solutions and people willing to make changes."
Fabre lives that ethos, helping develop and deploy a roadmap for sustainable construction in the Nordics, marketing the company’s sustainability credentials, managing life-cycle assessments and green-building labels, promoting sustainable and circular economy design and reducing waste streams. Minimizing environmental impact will unlock more possibilities to create business value, she believes.
"Sustainability is a key business driver and will lead to opportunities to grow in coming years."
Katie Fedosenko, 29
Senior Communications and Reporting Specialist, Teck Resources; Vancouver, Canada
Katie Fedosenko grew up on Vancouver Island in picturesque northwest Canada, with the Campbell River nearby. Some of her earliest memories are of fishing and hiking with her dad, experiences that cemented her appreciation of nature. She studied English at the University of British Columbia, planning to use the power of language to communicate the importance of sustainability.
"You can approach your interest and passion with your skill set," she said.
As a communications consultant for Reef Catchment in Australia, Fedosenko helped protect the Great Barrier Reef from the downstream impacts of cane sugar and cattle farming. She got her start in the mining industry Down Under, working with Rio Tinto on communications about its reclamation programs.
"I assumed working for a big company would be challenging and bureaucratic, but it is an effective way to make positive change," she said. In 2013, she joined Teck Resources, Canada’s largest diversified mining company, and grew into her role as a sustainability reporting manager.
Fedosenko travels to Teck’s mining and smelting operations, which helps her "still feel connected to the land." At the core of sustainability, she said, are "everyday people who are on the ground making decisions that reinforce our values."
Even during the commodity market downturn of 2013-15, Teck doubled down on its commitment to its 2020 and 2030 environmental goals, according to Fedosenko.
Communication is key to setting and reaching those values, she said, and hopefully, “one day, we won’t talk about it as sustainability -- health, water conservation and indigenous communities will be material issues.”
Nikki Fraser, 26
Young Leader for United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; Ontario, Canada
There’s a phenomenon where young women and girls are disappearing from the reservations of North America’s Native nations. Nikki Fraser calls it "an epidemic."
And she is working to stop it. A member of the Secwepemc Nation whose cousin disappeared two years ago — the family believes it was kidnapping — Fraser advocates for Native women in several important areas. She is the National Youth Representative for the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Youth Representative to the British Columbia Native Women’s Association.
Fraser’s advocacy led the United Nations to choose her as one of 17 Young Leaders of the Sustainable Development Goals — a global competition that received 18,000 applications.
But her most important role?
"I’m a single mom of two kids, and they are one of the reasons I do what I do," she said, so they don't have to experience the oppression many Native people face. "And so they can look up to me and say, 'Hey, if my mom can do this kind of thing, I can, too.'"
It takes just "a little belief in yourself," said Fraser, who also wants to be sure to pass on Secwepemc and Native values to her children.
"It is part of our culture and tradition that we respect mother earth. So, when we go hunting or gather any kind of medicine from the land, we only take what we need."
David Harary, 23
Executive Director, Center for Development and Strategy, Holliston, Massachusetts
At the ripe age of 23, David Harary runs a nonprofit, the Center for Development and Strategy, which he founded three years ago while studying at the State University of New York in Buffalo. The organization is "focused on delivering rigorous research on the intersection between sustainability, development and security."
It’s only a side gig — Harary just finished his master’s degree in sustainability management at the University of Toronto and is about to enter the job market — but his online creation has become a platform for discussing a range of critical topics, such as exploring the social and environmental issues associated with attacking the oil wells that are ISIS’s main source of funding or assessing the environmental impacts of engineered and natural nanomaterials.
Harary became interested in such issues during his sophomore year at university when he connected the dots between climate change and food insecurity. "That resonated with me because you can understand it very easily," he said. "If people don’t have food, water or basic energy, they can’t survive. And for the sake of 9 billion people who will be here by 2050, the outlook isn’t that great."
The solutions he sees most promising are ones born through public-private partnerships: "How can private businesses and public entities work together to solve issues concerning our environment, and how can that be done in a business-friendly way?"
He’s not sure where he’ll go next — "it could be at a startup, multinational or government" — but there’s little doubt that he’ll be a force for good wherever he lands.
Jake Hiller, 29
Sustainable Finance Manager, EDF+Business, Boston
Jake Hiller has trash to thank for his career. Growing up in South Carolina, he credited his mother’s work educating businesses and consumers about recycling with spurring his interest in the sustainability field.
"I think waste is kind of a gateway drug for a lot of environmentalists," said Hiller, recently promoted to sustainable finance manager at the Environmental Defense Fund after five years at the nonprofit advocacy group.
He studied chemistry at Princeton University but quickly gravitated toward entrepreneurial pursuits. Hiller entered two business competitions while in school, one for a social enterprise focused on people living and working in landfills around the world and another for a closed-loop wine bottle recycling concept.
Today, at EDF, he has homed in on the economics of sustainability. From a planned $100 million sustainable fishery fund to new mechanisms for funding carbon credits related to saving tropical forests, Hiller is part of a team of five people on the front lines of sustainable finance.
Looking ahead, he could envision a future at an impact fund, an individual company or another kind of role entirely.
Said Hiller: "For me, it’s less about what type of institution. It’s more about, 'Can I work at the interface of the for-profit, nonprofit and government worlds?' I think that’s where exciting things happen."
Lizzie Horvitz, 29
Distribution Services Analyst, Unilever; Stamford, Connecticut
That was in 2004, before "climate change" became part of her vocabulary. "I like to say that I saw the solution before I fully understood the problem," she said.
After receiving a joint degree from Yale University’s schools of management and forestry and working a couple of years in the nonprofit sector, Horvitz became determined to take up the cause within a company that valued sustainability — but not necessarily in a role that had "sustainability" in the title.
The role of distribution services analyst for Unilever fit the bill. Horvitz helps factories in California, Pennsylvania and Tennessee make better decisions about everything from transportation options that take trucks off the road, to clean power options. "I think the most important thing in this field is to work with people from many different backgrounds," she observed.
Horvitz’s proudest achievement came during a summer job at Estée Lauder, where she managed to make a business case for more sustainable packaging. Her employer didn’t necessarily take her advice but the experience prepared her well for the future.
"It took me more out of my comfort zone than anything else in my career, and I think that’s something you have to keep pushing on in sustainability."
Allie Janoch, 29
Founder and CEO, Mapistry; Berkeley, California
Allie Janoch believes that while corporate leaders want to follow environmental regulations, many lack the resources to comply with them. Due to stiff fines levied by the regulators, they can't afford to pollute, either.
So she co-created Mapistry, a web-based app that monitors industrial compliance with stormwater runoff regulations, saving clients such as Sims Metal Management and AC Transit hundreds of thousands of dollars — and preventing pollutants from reaching streams, rivers, lakes and oceans.
Janoch, a computer scientist with a master’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, started her company after leaving startup IQ Engines, which Yahoo purchased in 2013.
"The idea of doing something for the environment really spoke to me," she said. With a desire to break out on her own, and sensing that not enough Silicon Valley startups served the greater good, she and her husband, Ryan Janoch, set out to develop a business that would make a material difference reducing pollution.
So far, the results are impressive. "About 2,300 industrial facilities in California had high levels of contaminants in samples last year," said Allie Janoch. "Of the facilities that used Mapistry’s software as part of their efforts to reduce contamination, 86 percent succeeded in getting back below allowed levels," compared to just half of facilities statewide.
She envisions Mapistry becoming the "go-to source for companies when they make the decision to comply with environmental regulations."
Lauren Kastner, 26
Environmental Policy Manager, Cummins, Columbus, Indiana
Lauren Kastner remembers the "aha!" moment about a decade ago that led her down her professional path. Walking through the Indiana University campus, she was asked to sign a petition to help transition the campus off coal.
"Most students don’t stop to talk, but I did that day," she recalled. She ended up leading an effort that successfully helped the campus transition to cleaner fuels.
In her role at Cummins, which designs, manufactures and distributes engines and power generation products, Kastner handles regulatory affairs and emerging environmental policy issues. "I take issues that we don’t quite know how to handle yet and bring the right people together to figure it out, do some analysis and put a strategy or plan in place to address it."
It’s not far off from fighting campus coal plants, she said. "I learned a lot of the skills I carry on today at Cummins — communications, how to balance stakeholders and drive consensus and get people to think about things in a new way — as a green organizer."
Kastner also brings a global view, having studied or worked in India and Kenya and at Oxford University.
"I realized that sustainability looks different in every country," an insight to that helps her engage employees in the 190 countries where Cummins operates.
No matter where the world and its ecosystems will be in 2050, Kastner wants to be in it, asking, "What skills can I bring that are additive and valuable, and where am I needed the most?"
Rita Kimani, 24
Co-founder and Managing Director, FarmDrive; Nairobi, Kenya
In Africa, agriculture employs 65 percent of the population but attracts only 1 percent of bank lending. For farmers to be successful, they need access to credit to buy seeds, fertilizer and other inputs for production.
For Rita Kimani (above, left), who experienced a hardscrabble childhood on a smallholder farm in Kenya, it seemed the tools existed to fix this problem.
"I wanted to solve some of the challenges I saw around me growing up," she recalled. "I am a computer scientist and I saw tech as a tool I could use to solve some of these challenges."
Today, she is a co-founder of FarmDrive, an alternative credit risk-assessment model that uses phone texting technology to store and send information that allows smallholder farmers to develop banking relationships.
"What I’m most proud of, and continue to draw inspiration from, is when I visit the farmers that are benefiting from the solutions we’re creating and see the difference that access to credit makes," she said.
In just two years, FarmDrive has helped 3,000 farmers get bank credit, and Kimani was named by the United Nations as a U.N. Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals.
She points out there are 7 million smallholder farmers in Kenya and 50 million in Africa — a massive market. But FarmDrive won’t try to hoard market share: "The more complex the challenges, the more people you need to achieve it, so you need partnerships and collaboration."
Devin Kleinfield-Hayes, 27
Sustainability Compliance Auditor, IKEA; Philadelphia
These globe-hopping experiences cemented his passion for environmental causes, and he went on to earn a master’s degree in international affairs, focusing on U.S.-China energy and environmental relationships.
After holding jobs at the Woodrow Wilson Center, the American Council on Renewable Energy and the Office of Presidential Correspondence at the White House, he joined Gap International as a performance consultant before joining IKEA.
Kleinfield-Hayes said that finding his sustainability role was not an organized, step-by-step career path because there is "not a defined career in sustainability." He recommends working with companies and organizations committed to the same vision and finding ways to contribute, a connection he has maintained throughout his career by publishing articles about energy policy.
Now, Kleinfield-Hayes helps lead IKEA’s sustainability activities as part of the company's global purchasing and supply-chain goals. Having lived and worked in Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, the Spanish and Chinese speaker has a truly global perspective on the fragility and importance of natural resources.
Sustainability "can’t be a 'nice thing to do,'" he said. It "has to be substantive to the business in order to have long-term results."
Dhawal Mane, 28
Senior Specialist, Sustainable Chemicals Management, C&A; Bengaluru, India
"A city like Delhi has so much waste and pollution," he observed. "I saw that these problems are interrelated and thought that I can contribute towards a better environment through the textile sector."
Because many traditional roads to jobs in fashion were well-trodden, Mane blazed a unique path and earned a master’s degree in sustainable apparel production. "When I started in this space, especially in India, there wasn’t a defined role in sustainability in the textile sector."
First, as a sustainability manager at Pratibha Syntex, a knitted textiles manufacturer, he kept the company compliant with sustainability regulations, market research and best practices, implementing tools such as the Higg Index to move towards using 100 percent sustainable materials.
Now in his role at C&A, the international Dutch chain of fashion retail clothing stores, he implements sustainable chemicals management across India, including auditing, wastewater testing, performance tracking and corrective action.
He also works with a local fashion institute to stitch sustainability into the curriculum and organizes a bimonthly networking event that connects more than 200 environmental professionals.
Mane’s most rewarding moments come from visiting suppliers that have transitioned to sustainable practices. "Converting them to real action gives you a lot of satisfaction," he said.
Anne Munaretto, 29
Manager in Sustainability Services, Ernst & Young; Chicago
While in college, Munaretto pursued accounting, but she knew there was more to business than just numbers. Things added up when she got involved in an effort to turn used oil from the campus dining hall into diesel to fuel campus trucks.
The result: Even as she dived into double-entry bookkeeping and related topics, "I saw the beauty of taking something that was a little outside the box and make the world a better place while at the same time improving business results."
Today, as part of Ernst & Young’s Sustainability Services practice and armed with a CPA license, she leads engagements and provides technical assistance to clients from a variety of sectors and on a variety of topics — from change management to conflict minerals tracking, goal setting to governance.
Munaretto’s accounting background has helped her keep her eye on clients’ bottom lines.
While she says that sustainability issues can seem "fluffy," she welcomes the opportunity to "very succinctly translate what we do into business value — into how this is going to affect profit, how this is going to affect long-term share price. And when I’m able to do that more effectively, it’s made my career more successful, helped make my clients more successful and helped share that what we do at EY is actually integral to the business."
Kavickumar Muruganathan, 28
Sustainability Consultant, CSR Asia; Singapore
Singapore has been lauded for its commitment to water management, roadside pollution reduction and sustainable construction. Kavickumar Muruganathan has dedicated his career to turning the city’s potential into reality.
Muruganathan received a masters degree in environmental management from the National University of Singapore, the city where he was born and raised. He began his career as the lead engineer and head of eco-certifications for the Singapore Environment Council (SEC), a nonprofit that administered the Singapore Green Labelling Scheme, the region’s oldest eco-label for consumer products, because, as he noted, "Many of our decisions that we make daily have a sustainability impact."
He helped Singapore's public sector sustainably source paper products, as well as helped certify sustainable manufacturing for paper-related devices such as printers. Muruganathan was also at the SEC when it suspended Asia Pulp & Paper products because of the company’s involvement in smog pollution that befell the city.
"There are a lot of social and economic issues to deal with in sustainability," he said.
He later championed those issues as manager of sustainability and stakeholder engagement at Asia Pulp & Paper, which he joined in 2016 — the year he was on the shortlist of 10 nominees for the Straits Times Singaporean Of The Year award.
With nonprofit, corporate and consultancy experience, Muruganathan is pursuing an MBA from Alliance Manchester Business School and hopes to effect change at the government level.
Julia Pyper, 29
Senior Editor, Greentech Media; Los Angeles
Canadian-born journalist Julia Pyper, raised on a horse farm, credits her chosen beat to her upbringing: her native country’s economy is closely tied to oil and logging.
As an undergraduate, she became fascinated with educating fellow citizens about sustainable alternatives to both of those sectors. "It’s not just about fighting climate change, it’s about new economic opportunities and healthier cities and all the other good things that come with clean solutions," she said.
Pyper exported that sensibility south, to Washington, D.C., where she covered clean energy and climate policy issues for three years after earning a masters from the Columbia School of Journalism in 2011. More recently, she has combined her wanderlust and curiosity for reporting missions to the Maldives and Germany, filing dispatches for The New York Times, Scientific American and for Greentech Media, an online media and research company.
Equally comfortable researching long-form investigative articles or orchestrating video dispatches, in 2016, Pyper produced a documentary about the potential for distributed solar in Haiti.
Pyper dreams of the not-so-distant future when coverage of climate issues isn’t such a "niche, nerdy subject" and the audience for news about water conservation and energy issues is far more mainstream.
"Everything takes time, it’s hard and you can feel super frustrated; you may not know what the heck you’re doing. But if you feel driven to do it and if there’s a reason driving you, then you can’t ignore that feeling, keep your head down and keep trying."
Catherine Queen, 29
Manager, Corporate Sustainability, DanoneWave; Broomfield, Colorado
One model that Catherine Queen lives by in the corporate sustainability field is, "Don’t forget to put your steel-toe boots on." That is, in order to make change, you have to bring all stakeholders to the table, from investors to executives to shift workers from the factory floor.
"We’re really tasked with the challenge of how to do your job differently and engage in a way that not only drives results in the triple bottom line but also everyone in the company," Queen said.
Queen’s journey to a career in corporate sustainability at DanoneWave, the public benefit corporation formed by the merger earlier this year of Danone and WhiteWave, started at Creighton University, where she combined her environmental and science classes with business and economics to create an interdisciplinary course of study.
"I recognized that if I wanted to work in corporate America and truly sell sustainability to anyone who had the ability to make these decisions, I not only had to sound like I knew what I was talking about, I actually had to know what I was talking about," Queen said.
But for Queen, who calls her position her at DanoneWave her "dream job," selling sustainability to businesses will be very different in the future.
"I think that every social and environmental issue in the next five years is a business opportunity in disguise. It will be unimaginable that business ever existed without this."
Paula Tomasini Ramos, 28
Marketing Manager, High-Performance Buildings, Dow Chemical Company; Sao Paolo
Growing up in a small city in the south of Brazil, Paula Ramos had little exposure to the sustainable business aspirations of multinational companies. When she joined Dow Chemical’s sustainability immersion program as a trainee — picked from among 10,000 contestants — Ramos admits she wasn’t very clear on her role but now considers that breakthrough a "tremendous gift."
And she’s not looking back. Ramos caught on quickly, thanks to her university studies in both environmental engineering and business administration — her final thesis was about product lifecycle analysis. She already has earned internal recognition as part of Dow’s InnovAction program for contributions to a supply-chain optimization project that reduced both greenhouse gas emissions and improved logistics safety.
Five years into her career at Dow, most recently as a marketing manager for the company’s high-performance buildings division, Ramos is uncovering opportunities to embed sustainability thinking into day-to-day conversations. "Now, it is more common for units to integrate this sensibility right into their strategy," she said. "I see the market evolving in knowledge, interest and capturing opportunity."
It isn’t just other Dow employees who are benefiting from this passion. A workshop Ramos created to help Latin American executives understand that perspective received kudos from a respected Brazilian business magazine.
"Sustainability is always something very important for us to work toward, no matter the market."
Sarah Robinson, 29
Director of Economic Inclusion, Emerald Cities Collaborative; Cleveland
Growing up in Northern Ohio, Sarah Robinson got an early introduction to the hazards that can arise when cities aren’t built with health and sustainability in mind.
"I was a bit of a bubble kid," she recalled of her childhood struggle with severe allergies. "It made me very aware of the built environment. I remember at 9 I was like, 'I want to build healthy homes.'"
Now the director of economic inclusion at the Washington, D.C.-based Emerald Cities Collaborative, a national nonprofit working to create "sustainable, just and inclusive local economies," Robinson is working to translate what she’s learned to a broader audience. Through the collaborative, Robinson works with cohorts of a few dozen contractors at a time to provide training and increase exposure to green building techniques.
"What we’re looking to do is build their capacity so they can bid on multimillion-dollar projects," she said. "A lot of contractors are small mom-and-pop shops. They don’t know what these green jobs are."
An alumna of Syracuse and George Washington universities who studied environmental and engineering topics, Robinson got her start in sustainability working on an urban farm in the nation’s capital. In the future, she said, the private sector is beckoning. "I really see myself moving forward in corporate social responsibility."
Anthony Santarelli, 29
Director, Illinois Green Business Association; Urbana, Illinois
Anthony Santarelli saw the potential for a green business cluster in his home state, and in 2008 launched an organization to help cultivate it.
"It was right after President Obama’s first election," he said. "It was an interesting time when the Great Recession was coming and sustainability was starting to trend."
Having started out as an environmental compliance intern at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaigne, Santarelli teamed up with a few other students to form the nonprofit Illinois Green Business Association (IGBA). They also created a green business certification program in partnership with a network of similar programs in California and four other states.
So far, IGBA has since worked with more than 3,000 businesses to implement sustainable practices. For example, the IGBA saved upwards of 2,500 metric tons of carbon emissions by installing thousands of faucet aerators at company facilities. Overall, it helped Illinois businesses reduce enough energy to power 460 homes for a year.
IGBA is developing a mobile app to make it even easier for state businesses to achieve green accreditation and collect environmental impact data.
But it's just a start, he said. "We are working with businesses that account for over a million square feet of business space in the state, and it feels like we really haven’t gotten started yet."
Max Scher, 27
Sustainability Program Manager, Salesforce; San Francisco
Max Scher developed the company’s energy and carbon roadmap and led its carbon offset program, which enabled Salesforce to reach that key greenhouse gas emissions milestone this year. He also helped the company execute two power purchase agreements.
How did Scher wind up behind these accomplishments?
"It came about from being at the right place at the right time, hard work and support from a wide group of stakeholders," he said. Salesforce already had set a renewable energy commitment in 2013, two years before he was hired to help achieve that goal. But five months into his job, his manager moved on to a new challenge. "Little did I know I was starting to be groomed" to take the helm on the project, he recalled.
Today, thanks partly to Scher’s efforts, Salesforce is 37 percent of its way to being powered entirely by renewable energy.
He said his success stems from executive support and also from employees, a quarter of whom are involved in Salesforce’s voluntary Earthforce program. After all, Salesforce was a founding member of the Business Renewables Center, an initiative focused on education about the renewables market started by the Rocky Mountain Institute.
So, if you are already a sustainability program manager at Salesforce at 27, where do you go next?
Maybe nowhere. "Quite honestly, this is my dream job," Scher said.
John R. Seydel III, 24
Director of Sustainability, Mayor’s Office, Atlanta
That’s a pretty good approximation of how John Seydel approaches his work. And it’s no coincidence: Seydel’s grandfather, media magnate Ted Turner, created "Captain Planet," and his mom, Laura Turner Seydel, chairs the philanthropic foundation that emerged from the series.
John, for his part, seems headed for superhero status, too, with a drive, passion and tenacity to combine sustainable development with environmental justice in Atlanta — "my hometown," he is quick to point out — although his ambitions may extend well beyond city limits.
As Mayor Kasim Reed’s sustainability lead, Seydel has forged a pivotal role for himself, orchestrating an array of initiatives for city residents and businesses: reducing greenhouse gas emissions, achieving 90 percent waste diversion, restoring the city’s tree canopy, reducing municipal energy use and making fresh, local food accessible to all.
It’s a tall order, but Seydel is hellbent on making change — and, in the process, setting an example for his generation.
"I’m hoping that more millennials and people of color and different religions and ages run for office to represent the morals of our generation," said Seydel, who studied political science, business and communications at the University of Denver. "There are multiple ways that I and my generation can be the leaders and changemakers we need."
Courtney Small, 29
Global Sustainable Finance Associate, Morgan Stanley; New York
The Columbia University-educated sustainability manager held a variety of roles, honing her skills and deepening her knowledge of the sustainability world, before landing at her current job. Small interned at the electric vehicle program at the New York City Mayor’s Office; was a manager at Columbia's Earth Institute, and worked as a sustainability analyst at Addison. She assumed her current role on Morgan Stanley's sustainable finance team slightly more than two years ago. Like many of its peers in financial services, Morgan Stanley is seeking ways to better serve clients that are incorporating climate change and fossil fuel awareness into their investment portfolios.
"I kept coming back to the idea that working for a company committed to sustainability was a great way to address that climate risk exists throughout the economy."
Small's multifaceted experience allows her to translate environmental issues for different audiences, and into the language of finance. The essential key to success, she said, is "meeting people where they are and finding creative ways to link climate change and social issues to their client priorities and business objectives."
"Be open and constantly learn about the issues," she counseled. "You never know where you’ll end up. By continuously learning and exposing yourself to different issues, you can create an interesting career."
Sunny Sohrabian, 28
Manager, Environmental Sustainability Projects and Initiatives, AEG Worldwide; Los Angeles
When she was a high school senior, Sohrabian enrolled in an advanced-placement environmental science class because she "wanted to take it easy." The class changed the way she saw the world.
"I felt aware, angry and motivated to contribute to the cause of environmentalism," she recalled. Sohrabian first tried her hand in policy, interning with the Environmental Protection Agency as an undergraduate student, but soon realized that she "wanted to drive change at a faster rate."
After finishing her master's degree at the University of California, Santa Barbara, she consulted companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Estée Lauder. A music and sports fan, Sohrabian was able to marry all her hobbies in 2014, when she joined AEG Worldwide as an energy and environmental analyst.
As AEG’s manager of environmental sustainability projects and initiatives, Sohrabian works with the company’s venues and festivals worldwide to meet its 2020 environmental goals and manages projects for the AEG 1EARTH corporate sustainability program.
She counts the sports teams Los Angeles Kings (hockey) and LA Galaxy (soccer), both owned by AEG, as part of her green team.
Sohrabian, a self-proclaimed CSR "nerd," also loves to make the business case for sustainability and energy efficiency, and is particularly proud to do it on behalf of her millennial cohort.
"When you go into a business meeting and you’re the youngest person at the table, it gives you a sense of pride that you’re representing the younger generation."
Samson Szeto, 26
Business Development Coordinator, Arizona State University Lightworks; Phoenix
"It takes a lot of effort to change the world," said Samson Szeto.
A first-generation Chinese-American citizen growing up in a poor neighborhood in Phoenix, he was also the first in his family to attend college. At Arizona State University, his alma mater, Szeto also found his professional calling.
"Two things happened there that changed my life," he explained. "I found a great group of mentors and friends, and I found sustainability, something I was passionate about." Szeto graduated with a bachelor’s in justice studies and sustainability, with no fewer than four minors, including corporate responsibility, which propelled him to get his MBA.
After managing social and environmental campaigns at Sprint, Szeto moved to manage business development and marketing campaigns for a spectrum of renewable energy projects at ASU Lightworks, the university’s research engine for solar-electric energy, carbon capture and sustainable fuel. One of Szeto’s proudest achievements is securing a $3 million award for the organization’s NEPTUNE project, which trains U.S. Navy veterans for energy-sector careers.
He also recognizes that not everything succeeds. "Resiliency and adaptability are important in sustainability" — especially in the current U.S. federal administration’s anti-climate stance.
"I’ve learned to deal with the changing tide, pick up the knowledge and skills to put forward a counterproposal, alternate strategy or just a different way to achieve an objective," he said.
Aaron Tartakovsky, 27
Co-founder & CEO, Epic CleanTec; San Francisco
From there, Tartakovsky was spurred to start testing technology in a lab to convert dog waste to fertilizer and was awarded a grant for his work by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This idea of converting waste to a needed resource eventually led to the creation of Epic CleanTec, a wastewater reuse and recovery startup Tartakovsky co-founded in 2015.
Tartakovsky has learned that in order to tackle the bigger sustainability challenges of our time, such as recycling water and wastewater solids from buildings, "you have to appeal to the masses" — not just those few who can afford to pay more.
For Tartakovsky and his startup, this is only the beginning of an ambitious task to create clean drinking water through recycling wastewater.
"If we can demonstrate a model in a place like San Francisco, which has really strict regulations, then we want to be able to expand in the developing world," Tartakovsky said. "We want to take the solution to people who don’t have access to sanitation."
Elizabeth Torres, 29
Sustainability Professional, Bioconstrucción y Energía Alternativa, S.A. de C.V.; Monterrey, Mexico
Mexico is experiencing a green construction boom, and sustainability professional Elizabeth Torres is helping set its foundation through her work at Bioconstrucción y Energia Alternativa, the country’s biggest green building firm.
Working from the company’s headquarters near Monterrey, in Mexico’s first certified LEED Platinum building, Torres is in charge of corporate social responsibility, sustainability reporting and community outreach. The company has helped plan 30 LEED-certified projects, four of them Platinum, and due to Torres’s work, its influence extends beyond buildings.
She also works with the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, where the firm builds programs that teach sustainability to architecture and engineering students. "Instead of going overseas and coming back with tuition debts and no job, they can gain these skills in their country," she said.
When the courses commenced about seven years ago, there was little discussion in the academic field about green building. "There are now probably 10 universities including green building and sustainability on their syllabus."
Furthermore, Torres works to help women enter careers in green building. The firm is enrolled in the United Nations' He for She initiative and employs mostly women, fighting the stereotype that "architecture and engineering is a traditionally male career, especially in Latin America."
Previously a human resources coordinator at Johnson Controls, where Torres was in charge of corporate social responsibility programs, she is pursuing a master’s in engineering and hopes to use her skills to help strengthen Mexico’s indigenous industry.
— Written and edited by Anya Khalamayzer, Heather Clancy, Barbara Grady, Lauren Hepler and Joel Makower, with research support from Becky Dempsey.