The 2018 GreenBiz 30 Under 30

We're pleased to introduce the 2018 class of 30 inspiring young leaders who are demonstrating the world-changing promise of sustainability in their everyday work. These individuals are advancing clean energy and transportation, circular design and supply chains, resilient communities and sustainable business practices overall.

The honorees were nominated by readers from around the world and selected by the GreenBiz editorial team. Grateful appreciation to our partners at the World Business Council for Sustainable Business in helping to cast a global net for prospective honorees.

This year's "30 Under 30" hail from megacities, suburbs and small towns across four continents. They include CEOs, engineers, researchers, entrepreneurs and analysts. They belong to industries as varied as agriculture, construction, transportation, energy, healthcare, finance, retail, chemicals and entertainment.

Twelve members of this year’s cohort work within some of the world’s largest corporations, including Amazon, BASF, Campbell Soup, CBS, Eaton, FedEx, Gap and RoyalDSM. Others are making waves in the business world from various other perches, including government, startups, nonprofits, universities and labor groups.

We look forward to hearing great things from all of them in the years ahead.

Below, in alphabetical order, is the 2018 cohort.

Meanwhile, curious about our 2017 and 2016 "30 Under 30" cohorts? Here's what they're up to.

Mohammed Abdalla, Good Faith Energy

1. Mohammed Abdalla, 29

Founder and CEO, Good Faith Energy; Dallas, United States

Mohammed Abdalla founded a home solar business right smack in the middle of oil country. Raised in Plano, Texas, the son of Egyptian immigrants, Abdalla studied energy management in college, and after graduation, got a job at ConocoPhillips negotiating oil and gas lease agreements.

Abdalla said he was always interested in renewable energy, but wasn’t able to do anything about it until after he lost his oil company job. When he couldn’t find another gig that he wanted, he decided to start his own solar business in 2014.

Abdalla installed his first solar project on the roof of his mother’s house. He found customers and installed more projects. Then, he had to figure out how to compete against a slew of competitors, including many construction companies that were expanding into solar.

Abdalla enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania’s eight-month Executive Program for Social Impact Strategy, obtained a certificate and found advice for growing his solar business.

Now, Good Faith Energy has 14 employees and hit $1 million in revenue last year. It installs not just solar panels, but also battery storage systems, smart home hardware and software, electric vehicle chargers, and energy-efficient lighting.

“We’re not just selling any electrical product or service to get in the home and make a quick buck, but products that advance sustainable energy and transportation and climate sustainability,” he said.

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Jessica Artioli Centuriao, BASF

2. Jessica Artioli Centurião, 27

Market development consultant, BASF; São Paulo, Brazil

Jessica Artioli Centurião sells sustainable products made by chemicals giant BASF to the construction market, including builders, architects and industrial customers looking to boost energy and water efficiency at their buildings.

Her work can be seen at CasaE, a showcase home in Sao Paulo, Brazil, that demonstrates energy- and water-efficient products for the construction industry. The smart building materials allow the CasaE house to consume 70 percent less energy than a conventional home, and use 65 percent less water, thanks to a rainwater reuse system and other devices.

Growing up in the leafy outskirts of São Paulo, Artioli Centurião says she always has felt a close connection with nature.

The idea that big companies can bring widespread positive change by updating their practices and using more sustainable materials struck her about four years ago. She was working as a marketing analyst in BASF’s home-cleaning products unit, selling chemicals to large home product manufacturers, when she realized that the choices major manufacturers make about what ingredients to use are extremely important to environmental and human health. This motivated her to figure out ways to push change at a large corporation.

“I saw that when we talk with other big companies — for example, when we sold raw materials to Unilever — this has a huge impact on the environment and people’s lives,” she said.

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Derek Baker, Freight Farms

3. Derek Baker, 26

Industrial designer, Freight Farms; Boston, United States

Derek Baker designs indoor, vertical, hydroponic agricultural systems for Freight Farms.

The Boston startup's flagship product is the "Leafy Green Machine," a vertical farm that uses no soil, recirculates all the water it uses and is self-contained in a 40-foot freight container.

"We're growing by literally taking a farm and growing perpendicularly up, parallel to the ground," he said. The 320-square-foot "machine" can produce the same amount of leafy crops — including lettuces, herbs, kale and swiss chard — as an acre and a half of conventional farmland.

The company has a contract with NASA to develop an enclosed food growing and oxygen-generating system that can work in outer space. Think "The Martian."

Baker’s team is working on a new product that will boost efficiency and introduce new features.

Luck and fate brought Baker to Freight Farms. He and the company's co-founder, Jon Friedman, each studied industrial design at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in different years. A professor suggested that Baker apply for a job at Freight Farms. It was exactly the type of work he was looking for.

"I didn't want to be part of something that is just going to be designing plastic consumer goods — water bottles, televisions or phones — [where] the end result is that this piece ends up in a landfill and contributes to the degradation of our world," he said.

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John Bello, BASF

4. John Bello, 25

Field engineer, Skanska; Santa Monica, California, United States

For a rookie infrastructure engineer eager to pitch concepts such as urban biodiversity or the benefits of bioswales to skeptical colleagues and clients content with decades-old construction practices, persistence and credentials are strong allies. John Bello has plenty of both.

During his initial interview with the construction colossus Skanska, the recruiting executive was surprised by Bello's passion for sustainable construction practices and encouraged him to keep waving that banner.

Four years into his career there, Bello's resume boasts a veritable alphabet soup of sustainability certifications. He's credited with stewarding one of the largest projects to date to be recognized at the highest level under the emerging Envision infrastructure rating system, a counterpart to the LEED framework for buildings. And this insatiable student is preparing for more.

The suburban New York and Division 1 lacrosse athlete was halfway through his undergraduate studies in business management, when two things convinced him to switch to engineering: the climate documentary "Earth 2100" and Jeremy Rifkin's book "The Third Industrial Revolution."

"The people who have been able to look ahead and see opportunities before they happened really become the most prosperous," Bello said.

Alongside his full-time job, Bello is winding up a master's degree at the University of South California, where he just won the 2018 Fleischer Prize in Green Technology for his research into Ferrock, a sustainable alternative to cement.  

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Christopher Bodkin, Circular Blu

5. Christopher Bodkin, 29

CEO and founder, Circular Blu; Burlington, Massachusetts, United States

One million tons of plastics used by some 500 U.S. hospitals annually could be salvaged for recycling. Yet that's rarely done because separating the recyclables from contaminated plastics and finding high-value uses for the recycled materials present huge roadblocks.

Christopher Bodkin wants to change that as the CEO and co-founder of Massachusetts-based Circular Blu, which launches initiatives to recycle the blue wrap used to sterilize surgical instruments into tote bags.

"We want to work with hospitals to save money on hauling costs, divert plastics from landfills, and create domestic jobs around sustainable products," Bodkin said.

Working with recycling firms and a tote bag manufacturer, Circular Blu takes used plastics from hospitals for free, and in return the hospitals agree to buy a certain amount of tote bags made from the recycled wrap for patients or staff. The company also has sold tote bags to other corporate buyers, such as conference organizers.  

Circular Blu's customers include Vizient, the largest healthcare purchasing company in the United States, which serves networks of nonprofit and university hospitals.

Bodkin started Circular Blu in 2016, renaming what was initially called Blu2Green by Bodkin and co-founders in 2011. Collectively, the two companies have diverted nearly 500,000 pounds of blue wrap from landfills, said Bodkin, who also works as a data coordinator for Practice Greenhealth, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable practices in healthcare.  

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Willemijn Brouwer, Royal DSM

6. Willemijn Brouwer, 27

Sustainability engagement and learning officer, Royal DSM; Heerlen, Holland

"I often say that I'm a diplomat, but also a translator and an ally at the same time," said Willemijn Brouwer, describing her role for 23,000-employee Dutch life sciences and materials giant Royal DSM.

The former U.N. Global Compact researcher studied international relations and investigated the humanitarian impact of supply chains for Unilever and Akzo Nobel. But a book by a former BP employee, "The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist," convinced her to become a changemaker inside a large company.

Last year, Brouwer organized DSM's first sustainability summit in the Netherlands, including 100 hand-selected employees and customers. A second event in China is on the drawing board. The focus: how sustainability can be a business driver.

"It's really important to truly listen and be present to understand their agenda but also to provoke them into thinking about new agendas," she said about reaching skeptics. Brouwer is also DSM's chief delegate for the One Young World forum, a U.K. initiative dubbed the "Young Davos."

A "highly infectious" communicator (according to the colleague who nominated her), Brower's interest in environmental issues was cultivated by her father, a journalist who writes about the economic value of nature. A childhood spent partially in Argentina and Mexico exposed her to the social challenges caused by climate change, as do her weekly sessions as a language buddy to a Syrian refugee in the Netherlands.  

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Michael Caballero, FedEx

7. Michael Caballero, 28

Systems engineer, FedEx; Miami, United States

After a decade of living in Miami, Michael Caballero knows the effects of climate change firsthand. "Any time it rains for more than 20 minutes, it's shocking how quickly some places flood," Caballero said. And that's not to mention the hurricanes.

The engineer — who works on scheduling flights for FedEx in and out of Latin America and the Caribbean — is dedicated to helping his adopted city develop more resilient and sustainable infrastructure, both to withstand record storms and rebuild after devastating hurricanes. He co-created a program called SmartMiami, which works with policymakers and community leaders to facilitate infrastructure development focused on sustainability, resilience and equity.

That equitable part tends to be overlooked, according to Caballero. There's the potential for "climate gentrification" to displace marginalized citizens when designing developments, he wrote. "Cities can be a bastion of inequity if they're put together incorrectly."

SmartMiami has worked with the EcoDistricts group to help the working class Miami neighborhoods of Allapattah, West Grove and Little Haiti — all vulnerable to flooding and environmental contamination — work toward being accredited as EcoDistricts, a green building standard that incorporates smart and equitable urban design, and climate change adaptability.

Caballero said down the road he'd like to create a startup in sustainable products, and he's also been organizing a one-day camp focused on hurricane preparedness.

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Hayley Cashdollar, Proterra

8. Hayley Cashdollar, 28

Manager of automation and power systems, Proterra; San Mateo, California, United States

Six years ago, Hayley Cashdollar, an engineer with a passion for vehicle electrification, helped Tesla turn its electric car factory in Fremont, California, from "a blank space into a place that made something," as she describes it. It was a great place to work just out of school, Cashdollar said, because Tesla often asks its engineers to contribute to all aspects of the business.

Now, after studying the software side of robotics at University of California at Berkeley, Cashdollar is managing a team working on automation and power systems at electric bus maker Proterra's California factory. She's also focused on making electric-bus charging as easy and convenient as plugging in a cell phone.

"Transit is so overlooked. It's such a huge industry. One person can have a giant impact," said Cashdollar (it's a German "Ellis Island name" she acquired through marriage).

Cashdollar has engineering chops in her DNA. Born to two engineer parents — her mother worked at the EPA on groundwater and air pollution, and her father worked on a nuclear cleanup site — she visited a lot of engine research labs growing up. Her favorite class in college? Of course, it was a supremely geeky one: heat transfer. When Cashdollar isn't at work, she said she spends her spare time jogging the open spaces of the Bay Area.

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Claire Castleman, Eaton

9. Claire Castleman, 27

Sustainability Analyst, Eaton; Cleveland, United States

As a mechanical engineering student at Carnegie Mellon University, Claire Castleman read Donella Meadows's book, "Thinking in Systems," which touts the benefits of tackling large-scale problems systematically rather than piecemeal.

"It blew my mind about how we should think about sustainability and engineering. The whole concept is to think more broadly and think about long-term factors," said Castleman, who became the first person overseeing sustainability initiatives at Eaton, a $20 billion maker of gear for managing electrical and mechanical power in buildings and transportation.

Castleman started there as a circuit breaker engineer. Then a plan to take on another engineering role through a leadership training program fell through, prompting her to ask her manager to create a new role in corporate sustainability. She was told the position was likely to be temporary. The company since has built a sustainability team, of which Castleman is a part.

Castleman's love to "geek out about how to redesign systems to be more sustainable" serves her well as she tackles a variety of projects, from changing employees' recycling behavior to analyzing energy consumption at manufacturing sites to developing a calculator to quantify the positive social or environmental impacts of new Eaton products.

"I want to redesign the way business thinks about value and using the societal and environmental values that an organization is providing as metrics for success," she said.

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Andrea Chu, Campbell Soup
10. Andrea Chu, 26

Sustainable agriculture analyst, Campbell Soup; Camden, New Jersey, United States

Andrea Chu wants to build a more resilient food system.

Growing up in New Jersey — "most people forget it's called the ‘Garden State,'" she said — Chu's time outdoors, especially national park trips with her family, fostered a love of nature. She honed in on agriculture when she spent time working on both urban and rural family farms during her college summers.

"Getting your hands in the dirt really gives you a lot of appreciation for the food you eat every day," she said. And when people in the community ate the food that Chu grew, she realized just how food can connect people.

At Campbell's, she has a direct influence on driving change in the food system. Coming from tackling environmental issues in the agricultural commodity supply chain at EDF, Chu took on this newly created role about 16 months ago. Chu quickly developed Campbell's first enterprise-wide sustainable agriculture strategy to meet consumer demand for purpose and transparency from the food they buy.

Focusing on raising standards for suppliers, setting sustainable sourcing goals and tackling specific ingredients, Chu said she feels "very aspirational about what we can do as a company." She’s excited to "support farmers and on-farm conservation and reconnect consumers to how their food is grown, showing that agriculture can be a force for good."

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Kayla Fenton, Amazon

11. Kayla Fenton, 29

Senior program manager, sustainability, Amazon; Seattle, United States

Determined to fight the sort of suburban sprawl that defined her Houston childhood, Kayla Fenton started her career in urban planning, digging into community development projects throughout Portland, Oregon, and even developing a flood resilience plan there.

She jumped to the private sector a year ago, armed with a master's thesis analyzing the energy consumption and emissions profile of meal-kit delivery services and on-the-job experience at Nestlé Waters North America and Amazon. The first was thanks to an internship with EDF Climate Corps. The latter connection led Fenton to her current job as part of the team that helped Amazon eliminate more than 305 million shipping boxes in 2017 by researching and designing smaller, more flexible ways to deliver goods safely and efficiently.

"A lot of where the rubber hits the road is in operations," she said. "This is where we have the most opportunity to influence outcomes from an energy perspective, from a waste reduction perspective, lots of elements of sustainability that are usually both economical and a win when it comes to sustainable outcomes."

Fenton is an enthusiastic hiker and camper who vividly recalls her first glimpse of the majestic Columbia River Gorge. She is also an EDF Climate Corps mentor eager to guide her peers toward meaningful and rewarding careers in sustainability. "We're missing out on really smart people that want to work in this space."  

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Joseph Gale, RS&H
12. Joseph Gale, 26

Aviation environmental specialist, RS&H; San Francisco, United States

Joseph Gale saw firsthand the amount of resources required to keep an airport humming when an internship took him to the busy Seattle-Tacoma Airport, where he worked on recycling, composting, water conservation and other environmental efforts.

That opportunity grounded his interest in sustainability issues facing airport managers and made a fitting prologue for his current work in the aviation practice of the environmental consulting firm RS&H.

Gale gathers and analyzes a bevy of data, from air quality to noise, to assess the environmental impact of airport construction projects. His current projects include a new terminal at the Hollywood Burbank Airport in California.

Gale was part of the winning team of the 2017 Young Professionals Innovation Competition, held by the Airports Consultants Council. The team, which included an architect and a scientist specializing in aircraft noise modeling, proposed the use of remote-controlled vehicles to tow airplanes into gates. These electric tugs would save time and cost by replacing manned vehicles running on fossil fuels and allowing pilots to operate them.

Gale is pursuing a master's in sustainable management at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay. He hopes to create more sustainability initiatives for airports and perhaps land abroad someday.

"I would love to work internationally, doing climate-related sustainability stuff. Somewhere in Europe," said Gale, who counts Amsterdam and its airport as among his favorites.

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Thibault Geeradyn, Rikolto

13. Thibault Geerardyn, 25

Social entrepreneurship coordinator, Wanted: Food for the Future; Bruges, Belgium

During an eye-opening, six-month internship working alongside farmers in West Africa, Thibault Geerardyn abandoned his safe, intended career in data visualization for one centered on social entrepreneurship. He was inspired by the farmers' eagerness to learn from one another and wanted to drink in more of that culture.

Today, this self-described agroecologist — a role more global food companies are starting to cultivate — coordinates grassroots workshops that team students, young smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs in Belgium, Indonesia, Peru and Tanzania to consider this question: How can we feed 9 billion-plus people in 2050 in a sustainable way?

His work is part of "Wanted: Food for the Future," an award-winning initiative recognized by the U.N. Environment Program's sustainable food systems program. Partners include the Belgian province of Brabant, non-governmental organization Rikolto, Belgium's biggest food retailer Colruyt Group, and two Belgian universities.

Geerardyn's job is to teach the teachers: to introduce the workshops to specific communities so they can be replicated at local high schools and universities. The crop focus is narrow: seawood, legumes and quinoa — foods with a high nutritional value that could play a bigger role in human diets with the proper cultivation, and that catalyze economic growth for local communities.

His own diet, he said, consists of far fewer meats, and far more local and seasonal ingredients.

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Nora Sophie Griefahn, C2C
14. Nora Sophie Griefahn, 26

Co-founder and executive director, Cradle to Cradle Association; Berlin, Germany

How do you create a movement to bring a great concept into the mainstream? That's the challenge Nora Sophie Griefahn wakes up to as the leader of the Cradle to Cradle Association, a nonprofit in Berlin that promotes the closed-loop philosophy through government, business and academia.

Griefahn is honing her multitasking skill in a small organization that mobilizes people through its network of 700 volunteers in Germany. She and her staff of 10 organize workshops and meetings with lawmakers, business executives and researchers to help them to incorporate the circular concept. Its annual Cradle to Cradle Congress, which will feature a special track on textiles this year, attracts about 1,000 attendees from around the world.

Griefahn had a headstart in the advocacy field. Her father, Michael Braungart, co-authored the 1992 book that defined Cradle to Cradle, a nontoxic, zero-waste approach to design and manufacturing. Her mother, Monika Griefahn, is the nonprofit's chairwoman and a former member of the German parliament.

The younger Griefahn said her parents provided inspiration but not the motivation for her career path. She played saxophone in high school and thought about becoming a musician.

"For me," she said, "I had a feeling that I wanted to use my skills to do something for the world. I decided to learn how the world works, to study chemistry and natural science and the connections of these fields."

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Balaji Gurumurthy, Yes Bank

15. Balaji Gurumurthy, 29

Vice president, Yes Bank; Mumbai, India

As a chemical engineering student in college, Balaji Gurumurthy worked on projects that reflected his interest in environmental protection, such as developing nanocrystals to better purify industrial wastewater. But the banking field truly merges his interest in business and sustainability.

Gurumurthy is vice president of Yes Bank, the fourth-largest private bank in India. He's in charge of sustainability initiatives, including the company's internal social and environmental projects as well as the products and services it offers to customers, many of whom are small and midsize companies.

"Banks have a lot of influence in their communities," Gurumurthy said. "My goal is to help develop the mechanisms for reaching sustainable development goals and financial inclusion. Without financial inclusion, you can't eliminate poverty or fight climate change."

Gurumurthy worked on the team that enabled Yes in 2015 to become the first bank in India to issue a green bond. He also helped to develop loans to increase access to finance for women and rural residents.

Over the years, he's honed his skill in making a business case for investing in practices such as installing energy-efficient equipment and improving workplace safety. He passes on that skill by training customer relations managers at the bank to demonstrate how these efforts can affect profitability, from lowering energy costs to reducing sick leave among employees.

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Annel Hernandez, New York City Environmental Justice Alliance

16. Annel Hernandez, 29

Associate director, New York City Environmental Justice Alliance; Brooklyn, New York City; United States

After Superstorm Sandy surged through her beloved Brooklyn in 2012, civil rights champion Annel Hernandez invested in a career change.

"Everything I did stopped mattering," she recalled.

Hernandez left her job in New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office, earned a master's in public administration, energy and the environment at Columbia University, then followed up with a stint as researcher with Columbia's well-respected Earth Institute.  

Her current role at the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance —  a nonprofit collaboration that supports "grassroots struggles against environmental burdens" — merges two passions: fighting climate change and economic inequity.

A New York native born to Dominican immigrants, Hernandez specializes in resilience projects, such as coastal protections or renewables installations meant for backup power. One of her proudest moments so far was New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's decision to close a policy loophole that had enabled high-polluting "peaking" power plants to dodge participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. These facilities are often sited in low-income, minority communities, and Hernandez was an especially vocal advocate for the change.

An amateur photographer, Hernandez expresses her fascination with green infrastructure by capturing structures such as bioswales on camera when she visits other cities.

She recharges from hours negotiating at the policy table and speaking at public events by helping with neighborhood cleanup and composting events. "Sometimes it's important to take a step back and realize what it is you're working towards."

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Dana Hou, FarmFriend

17. Dana Hou, 25

Co-founder, FarmFriend; Beijing, China

An image from childhood still struck her today: farmers who toiled in heavy manual labor in her grandparents' village in China, at a time when the internet and mobile phones were becoming indispensable for everyday life elsewhere.

"I found it so astonishing that farming could be so manually intensive," said Dana Hou in an urgent voice that shows she's still bewildered. "I was disappointed and surprised by the fact that technology had not reached people in rural areas as much as it could have."

That childhood memory is a driving force behind her work at FarmFriend, which she co-founded in 2016 to help farmers automate what has remained largely manual work. The startup has raised $20 million from investors such as Shunwei Capital, co-founded by the founder of Xiaomi.

FarmFriend connects farmers in roughly 10 Chinese provinces with pilots that control drones to spray fertilizers and pesticides more efficiently, minimizing human contact with toxic chemicals.

Her two co-founders were drone developers who pivoted to team up with Hou. She researched the changing demographics in China while an analyst at Goldman Sachs, helping to pinpoint agriculture as their first market.

"I was convinced that replacing manual workers with drones was going to happen because we are running out of farmers," said Hou, who will return to Beijing, where FarmFriend is based, after completing her MBA at Stanford University this month.

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Una Hrnjak-Hadziahmetovic, Gap

18. Una Hrnjak-Hadziahmetovic, 28

Program manager, Gap; San Francisco, United States

Una Hrnjak-Hadziahmetovic was 4 when her family left war-torn former Yugoslavia as refugees and emigrated first to Europe and eventually to Columbus, Ohio. It "was quite the adjustment," she said of landing in the Midwest in middle school without knowing English.

But that experience has helped shape her commitment to issues of human rights, empowering women and sustainability. Hrnjak-Hadziahmetovic oversees a program that gives a voice to factory workers and improves conditions within Gap's supply chain across six countries. Another program she manages focuses on educating and creating opportunities for women around water issues and the apparel sector in India.

"I'm really motivated by a lot of personal stories that I've heard, many that I can relate to as a refugee myself," she said.

Beyond Gap, Hrnjak-Hadziahmetovic volunteers with organizations that are helping Bosnians, such as Jericho Foundation, which funds college education and international internships for Bosnian youth, and Women for Women International, which provides training and education for women in post-conflict countries.

Through her career and volunteer work, and her own story, she said she's experienced the "power that businesses have to promote equality and advancement all over the world." When she's not giving back, you can find her playing with her dog Tucker and exploring new restaurants and cities.

LinkedIn

Kumar Jensen, City of Evanston, Illinois

19. Kumar Jensen, 29

Sustainability coordinator, city of Evanston, Illinois, United States

Despite having had only two hours of sleep and no caffeine, fresh from a rugged two-week vacation in the mountains of northern India, Kumar Jensen musters the energy to bicycle 30 minutes from Chicago to his desk in Evanston.

The sustainability coordinator for the lakefront suburb of 74,000 grew up on an Ohio commune in a manner other nature lovers might envy: growing vegetables, roaming outdoors in a pack until the dinner bell literally rang.

"It just seemed like that was the way things were supposed to be done," he recalled. In college, Jensen realized "there were a lot of other things happening." He became fascinated by how social systems work and how public and private institutions make decisions: "Why did they put the power plant here versus next to this other community?"

In the Chicago area, Jensen helped to kickstart the local Environmentalists of Color group, which seeks to expand diversity in sustainability circles, and he's active in the Urban Sustainability Directors Network.

He dreams about advocating for highly energy-efficient buildings in ways that appeal to local advocates of affordable housing as well as emergency services. (He once helped a friend build a passive house back in Ohio.) Jensen also hopes to help expand Evanston's renewable energy options beyond residential properties. (It already offers residents some choices.)

Despite the threat of budget cuts, Jensen describes Evanston’s sustainability leadership as "tremendous," noting participation in scores of climate pledges including #WeAreStillIn.

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Danielle Joseph, Closed Loop Ventures

20. Danielle Joseph, 29

Investment officer, Closed Loop Partners; New York City, United States

Growing up in Greenwich, Connecticut, surrounded by hedge fund managers and investment bankers, Danielle Joseph was determined to stay out of the finance industry. However, after college and stints at a nonprofit and a startup, Joseph eventually became captivated by how "capital flows can really affect change," as she described it.

In her role at Closed Loop Partners — an investment firm that backs recycling infrastructure and early-stage circular economy startups — Joseph has been able to use her finance background for good. The firm offers debt financing to cities and service providers to roll out recycling technology and tools, and also invests in young companies.

Joseph works closely with the firm's portfolio companies such as AMP Robotics, a startup that makes robotics for recycling, and The Renewal Workshop, which revamps and resells apparel. She's particularly excited about startups in the food and agriculture industry as well as textile and apparel companies.  

Investing in circular economy startups and infrastructure isn't just about meeting sustainability goals. It's an area where companies and investors actually can make money, Joseph said: "The returns in the industry are reminiscent of the early days of clean energy investing. It's a really exciting space to be in right now."

LinkedIn

Ridhima Kapur, Novozymes

21. Ridhima Kapur, 29

Senior sustainability analyst, Novozymes; Bangalore, India

Ridhima Kapur watched her native India change rapidly during the 1990s, and saw firsthand how businesses could help people.

Her father ran a local affiliate of a pharmaceutical company that manufactured insulin, which wasn't readily available, and his approach had a moral component.

"It was about raising awareness, getting people diagnosed, working with doctors and hospitals," she recalled. "It wasn't just selling insulin, it was doing so much more."

Her "aha" moment about corporate sustainability came in 2008, during a business school lecture at the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill, where she was an undergraduate exchange student from the Copenhagen Business School.

The professor stated that the value of any company could be determined using a few simple figures entered into an Excel spreadsheet, she remembered. "To me, that did not seem quite right, that you could put a price on something without understanding the actual impact it had on people and people's lives."

At Novozymes, Kapur executes reporting and compliance of sustainability and ESG-related information for the company, and also does business analyses for different parts of the company. She has helped develop an internal carbon pricing model and proposed new environmental targets for Novozymes.

Her passion is persuading potential customers to buy Novozymes products for business reasons, and not just because they are better for the environment than competitors' products.

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Ivana Kesten, RobecoSAM

22. Ivana Kesten, 29

Sustainability operations manager, RobecoSAM; Zurich, Switzerland

Ivana Kesten works on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, which, at age 19, was the first of its kind in the world of corporate sustainability ratings.

"I feel very proud of being part of that story," said Kesten, who monitors and analyzes large companies in select industries for new developments and trends and also works with RobecoSAM's IT department to develop better sustainable investing products and services.

Kesten, who started her career in the nonprofit world, knows all about overcoming obstacles.

She was born in Travnik, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1989. Three years later, war broke out and she fled with her parents to nearby Croatia. Then her mother died and Kesten ended up in an orphanage.

"It was a very difficult time," she said. "One of the things that really inspired me back then was the response of the international community. My desire to be involved in that area started very early on. I wanted to be part of the initiatives I was witnessing."

After finishing her bachelor's degree in economics, Kesten coordinated marketing activities and fundraising for Carmelite NGO, a humanitarian organization that operates orphanages around the world and funds projects such as community water wells in Nigeria.

With master's degrees in sociology and environmental science, Kesten said knowing the social and environmental aspects of business "are important to really understanding sustainability for a corporation."

LinkedIn 

Ding Li, Cundall

23. Ding Li, 26

Senior sustainability consultant, Cundall; Hong Kong, China 

Ding Li wasn't aware that corporate sustainability was a profession until she started working in the field. Now, her pioneering work is helping to marry environmental science, engineering and management — three fields in which she was trained — in Asia.

With Cundall, a U.K.-based engineering consultancy, Li helps large corporations to drive forward Paris Agreement goals, fine-tuning strategies for climate risk and supply-chain management, and advocating things such as science-based targets and RE100 membership.

Volunteering as a teacher in Ghana opened Li's eyes to a less materialistic pace of life, which was transformative. Traveling in Europe and Australia as well, she observed how "each different continent is approaching sustainability very differently."

For Li, who speaks five languages, translating the business case for sustainability is especially important in Asia, home to so many manufacturers. She hopes that honing her public speaking skills will help her persuade more companies to create shared environmental and social value that pencils out on balance sheets.

In bustling Hong Kong, where she grew up, Li enjoys getting outside with her three dogs, as well as cycling and swimming. "It always amazes me how nature works, and when I'm in nature I feel like I'm so small."

She remains optimistic about promoting solutions on a large scale, saying, "Climate change is not something that is inevitable, even though it seems so."

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Ricardo Magallon, San Francisco International Airport

24. Ricardo Magallon, 26

Green operations specialist, San Francisco International Airport; San Francisco, United States

San Francisco International Airport — with its 55 million annual passengers, dozens of shops and restaurants and almost 42,800 jobs — is like its own little city. It's even got a museum and a yoga room. And of course, like every boomtown, it needs a sustainability plan.

Last year, Ricardo Magallon worked on a big waste study at the airport, examining how much of the compost and recycled items it collects actually were going into landfill. The results will help the airport reach its goal of zero waste (90 percent diversion from landfill) by 2021, which would make SFO the world's first "zero waste airport."

Magallon — an eager biology-major who grew up in a suburb of Chicago — wanted to make a major impact by working at an organization with a large greenhouse gas footprint. Before he joined the airport through the Climate Corps Bay Area fellowship, he interned at Chicago's Field Museum and conducted research on the invasive Asian clam in the Great Lakes.

Down the road Magallon, who sings in his spare time, hopes to lead a corporate sustainability department, helping make decisions about supply-chain purchasing and employee incentive programs. "If the organization has a huge say in what impacts the environment, I want to be there," he said.

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Katie Ross, Microsoft
25. Katie Ross, 29

Sustainability program manager for real estate and facilities, Microsoft; Seattle, United States

Katie Ross oversees sustainability for Microsoft's global real estate portfolio, which includes more than 32 million square feet of owned and leased space around the world. That's roughly equivalent to the floor space of 12 Empire State Buildings.

In addition, she tracks construction and other projects, ensures that the company's buildings are aligned with Microsoft's corporate sustainability initiatives, and coordinates with her counterparts at Microsoft's data center group, devices group and other divisions.

"I look at sustainability through the full life-cycle of an asset for Microsoft, from site selection and planning to construction, operations and facilities management, and the employee experience in the building," she said.

Now, Ross is developing a program to set sustainability goals at each of Microsoft's more than 550 sites around the world, no matter how small or how large.

Of course, the strategy includes Microsoft's Redmond, Washington, headquarters, which includes 14 million square feet of office space spread across 125 buildings in the Puget Sound region.

Up next: The renovation of Microsoft's Silicon Valley campus, which includes installing a wastewater treatment system to achieve net-zero non-potable water use.

"One of my favorite parts about the job is looking at how do we translate this to our employees so that it's impactful to them," she said.

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Tannis Thorlakson

26. Tannis Thorlakson, 29

Environmental lead for U.S. and Canada, Driscoll's; Palo Alto, California, United States

Years of working in agricultural consulting, impact investing and global development work left Tannis Thorlakson with one major question: What does the sustainable business movement mean for the people at the producing end of the agricultural supply chain?

For Thorlakson, supply chain integrity and academic integrity go hand in hand. She pursued a Ph.D in environment and resources at Stanford University to research diverse industries' agricultural supply chains, examining the impact of sustainability programs within them.

She delved into the successful land management practices of South African retailer Woolworths' farmers, on the one hand, and the unsuccessful deforestation and poverty mitigation efforts within the West African chocolate supply chain on the other. Thorlakson also completed a random sampling of 450 retailers and manufacturers to see how many had implemented sustainability programs into their business strategies. She found that 52 percent had — "glass half full," as she put it.

Thorlakson believes that the academic rigor of her research was incredibly important to creating her unbiased findings, which are valuable in demonstrating the impact of data analysis and collaboration in impactful sustainability programs. 

Next up for Thorlakson is environmental lead for the U.S. and Canada at Driscoll's. "I believe that business can do good, while still making a profit," she said.

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Devan Tracy, Lockheed Martin

27. Devan Tracy, 27

Senior energy engineer, Lockheed Martin; Washington, D.C., United States

Growing up in upstate New York, Devan Tracy lived with role models who put sustainability to work: her parents. They installed solar panels and a solar thermal system on their home, and they run a construction firm that renovates historic homes, which Tracy considers "the ultimate recycling project."

"I was brought up since day one with this sustainability mindset. It's exciting to come full circle; I ended up back in this industry where I focus on buildings," said Tracy, an avid cyclist who has circumnavigated Iceland by bike and pedaled across the United States.

Tracy works on energy efficiency and renewable energy projects across Lockheed Martin's roughly 500 manufacturing and other facilities worldwide. Her role involves assessing the cost and benefit of a project, developing the scope of work and selecting vendors.

One of her current projects is a 2.5-megawatt photovoltaic installation on eight acres in New Jersey that is the company's largest onsite solar project.

A mechanical engineer with a master's degree in sustainable system engineering from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Tracy said the defense giant offers her a chance to make a difference in an energy-intensive industry. Her career goals include developing products to help the military to use energy more efficiently.

"The Defense Department is the single largest user of energy in the world. Its annual utility bill is almost $17 billion," she said. "That means there are opportunities for sustainable energy development and resource conservation."

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Rachana Vidi, NextEra

28. Rachana Vidhi, 29

Senior engineer, NextEra Energy; Juno Beach, Florida, United States

When Rachana Vidhi was growing up in Bihar State of northern India, she could count on about six hours of electricity each day from the local power company. Her family otherwise relied on a small lead-acid battery and kerosene lamps. That experience fueled her interest in energy when she first read about solar electricity in school.

Today, she works to integrate batteries into solar power plants for NextEra Energy, a Fortune 200 Florida-based clean-energy company. She joined NextEra after finishing her Ph.D. in chemical engineering at the University of South Florida in 2014.

Vidhi led the engineering work of several key projects for NextEra, including what the company said is the first large-scale, DC-coupled battery system in the United States to accompany a solar field. She designed inverters to capture a greater amount of DC power directly from solar panels, thereby reducing the energy losses that typically happen with the conventional solar-plus-battery design. The company commissioned the storage system for the 74.5MW solar field a few months back.

"I feel very fortunate to be working on exactly what I wanted to do when I was little," said Vidhi, whose volunteer work includes organizing the Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day at NextEra. "I'm working on new technologies that are going to shape the future of the energy. That's pretty cool."

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Audrey Vinant-Tang, CBS

29. Audrey Vinant-Tang, 25

Manager of supplier sustainability, CBS; Los Angeles, United States

At legacy media giant CBS, Audrey Vinant-Tang is anything but traditional. Her dual passions of sustainability and entertainment don't easily combine; in fact, with majors in environmental science and engineering, as well as a minor in film and television studies, she did not find a position that would allow her to pursue all of her interests. So, she helped create her own.

Growing up in the Southern California countryside without a television, and often outdoors, gave her a sense of the importance of the work.

Vinant-Tang began an internship at CBS in sourcing and procurement, where she enhanced the purchasing process to emphasize sustainability. When CBS created a supplier sustainability position, she got the call.

"It helps when you apply for the job you helped create," she said, laughing. "We hit the ground running."

Vinant-Tang started her full-time position with a big bang by transforming the company's annual one-day environmental event into a yearlong program.

Her engineering background, which instilled an interest in how systems work, was foundational. Vinant-Tang's implementing a CBS supplier sustainability program from scratch. She constantly considers "how humans impact the planet and how they've changed it," and is proud of the work she's done. At CBS, she said, "the scale is there" for real impact.

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Payton Wilkins, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists

30. Payton Wilkins, 29

Executive director, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists' Education Center; Detroit, United States

As a boy, Payton Wilkins knew he wanted to protect the environment.

"When I was 4 years old, my mom and I were driving through the East Side of Detroit, and I noticed tires and trash," he recalled. "I asked her, ‘Is this where black people live?' She hesitated and said, ‘Yes.' Ever since then, I've had this unique relationship with race, place and justice."

After college at Google, Wilkins designed a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, curriculum for high school students. Later, he turned to environmental justice initiatives.

The Education Center of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists works with organized labor to meet the aspirations of African-American and low-income workers. There, Wilkins is developing a social entrepreneurial incubator program that helps people to address climate change. In one project, high school students collect grass clippings from yard work to make paper, then bind that paper into journals that they sell.

Wilkins' group also trains communities in Flint, Michigan, in how to test tap water and how to respond to potential chemical exposures from a nearby industrial facility.

Wilkins is excited about the new Save the EPA campaign, organizing college students at historically black colleges and universities to pursue grassroots campaigns.

In his other job, as a consultant with Mandela Jones Consulting Group, he is working on a get-out-the-vote campaign at historically black colleges in the South, focusing on climate change and environmental justice.

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— Written by Heather Clancy, Katie Fehrenbacher, Holly Secon, Cassandra Sweet, Ucilia Wang and Elsa Wenzel

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