The 2019 GreenBiz 30 Under 30
They work in the worlds of technology and tires, finance and forestry, retail and recovery operations. They hail from Tokyo and Toronto, London and Lima, Mexico and Manhattan. They toil in data centers and diversity, conservation and conservative politics — and generally making the world greener and more just.
Together, they represent all that makes us hopeful about sustainability during these uncertain times.
They are the 2019 class of "GreenBiz 30 Under 30" honorees.
We are proud to introduce our fourth annual cohort of twentysomethings who are sustainability leaders in their companies, nonprofits and communities. The honorees were nominated by GreenBiz readers around the world and selected by the GreenBiz editorial team. Grateful appreciation to our partners at the World Business Council for Sustainable Business and BSR in helping us cast a global net. The Class of 2019 come from 10 countries, from India to Japan to Peru.
Seven members of this year’s cohort work within some of the world’s largest companies, including Ernst & Young, Goodyear, Microsoft, Rabobank, Sainsbury's, TPG Capital and Unilever. Others are making waves in the business world from other perches, including government, startups and advocacy groups.
Please join us in congratulating and celebrating the best and brightest of 2019. Here they are, in alphabetical order:
Giana Amador, 25
Co-founder and Managing Director, Carbon180; Oakland, California
Raised in a conservative farming community in the Central Valley of California, where her father taught agricultural education, Giana Amador felt an obligation to find a career in the field — she was even involved in Future Farmers of America.
She "disconnected" to dig into environmental economics at the University of California, Berkeley. There, Amador dove into climate law and policy after an internship at a sustainable development nonprofit in Nicaragua, where she witnessed the impact of rising sea levels and deforestation on indigenous communities.
It was at Berkeley that she met Noah Deich, with whom she later co-founded Carbon180 (formerly the Center for Carbon Removal). Now, Amador pulls on her agricultural roots every day to shape the nonprofit’s quest to support natural and technological solutions for drawing down carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere.
"I really see the opportunity around carbon removal not only as a way to engage the agriculture industry around being part of the climate solution but also to drive this huge opportunity for people in the area to create better lives, to create jobs and economic opportunity, and better air and water for these communities that are traditionally disregarded and underserved," she says.
These days, Amador is busy helping to shape an incubator dedicated to nurturing carbontech startups. Her long-term ambition: to help cultivate carbontech policy at the federal level.
— Heather Clancy
Benji Backer, 21
Co-founder, American Conservation Coalition; Seattle
Benji Backer believes that conservation and conservatism go hand in hand. To that end, as a college freshman, he and other young conservatives launched a group that’s exercising political muscle and fostering civil dialogue between Republicans and Democrats about environmental challenges.
The American Conservation Coalition (ACC) has grown in less than two years to thousands of participants across 125 college campuses. It has already consulted on policy with the White House and Environmental Protection Agency, and helped to launch the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus among Republicans in Congress.
The ACC recently partnered with HVAC giant Rheem, The Nature Conservancy and Audubon on its own "30 Under 30" launch calling out young environmentalist pioneers.
Despite "unnecessary political polarization" across the United States, Backer sees room for hope even in Washington, citing as evidence the recent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The White House "may have done more things we disagree with than agree with … but I don’t think it’s a lost cause," Backer says.
A University of Washington business major, Backer praises corporate leadership in sustainability and aspires to make an impact there. What about working in politics? Too negative an environment, he says, at least for now.
— Elsa Wenzel
Holly Beale, 26
Program Manager of Datacenter Community Environmental Sustainability and Founder of Worldwide Sustainability Community, Microsoft; Seattle
After college, Holly Beale had a moral dilemma: Work at an environmental nonprofit or "sell" her soul at a company. Then she realized it wasn't an either-or decision.
"It turns out, you can do a lot of good within large corporations — some could argue even more good as the world looks to large companies to fill the vacuum where our current policies aren't stepping up," she says.
Beale leads Microsoft's Datacenter Community Environmental Sustainability program, which she created. With colleague support, she recognized the datacenter community development team — which focused on social and economic improvements in the local community — was overlooking sustainability. She made the case for that missing piece and wrote her own job description.
Now, Beale is trying to get fired.
"If I do my job well enough and sustainability were embedded into the culture of what we do, my job would be unnecessary," she says.
Beale also founded and co-leads the Worldwide Sustainability Community network that connects Microsoft workers across the globe. She gained a reputation at Microsoft in sustainability long before she joined a team with that focus, because of projects she introduced in her previous roles. "You don't have to have sustainability in your title to be driving environmental change in your life."
— Sarah Golden
Apoorv Bhargava, 29
CEO & Co-Founder, Weave Grid; San Mateo, California
When Apoorv Bhargava was an 8-year-old on the island of Cyprus, the Mediterranean nation experienced a drought so severe that running water was only available two or three days a week. Rationing as a child “leaves an indelible mark on you,” the India-born Bhargava says.
But it also led the entrepreneur down a path to investigate the relationships among natural resources, energy systems and climate change. Years later, poised to graduate from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Bhargava was eager to explore how electric vehicles fit into the resource-and-climate equation. If the world's fossil-fuel-burning vehicles switched over to battery power, how would the power grid, and the utilities that manage it, deal with a boom of charging EVs?
To address that problem, Bhargava and his co-founder John Taggart — aTesla alum and Stanford Ph.D. — created a unique machine-learning tool that can help utilities predict and manage a rapid influx of EVs and help them avoid overloading expensive electrical gear in neighborhoods with a disproportionate number of Teslas or Leafs in their driveways. Their startup, Weave Grid, recently completed Silicon Valley's prestigious Plug and Play accelerator program and is working on its first pilot projects with utilities.
— Katie Fehrenbacher
Janely Abigail "Abby" Bonita, 27
Group Sustainability Leader, Transnational Diversified Group; Taguig, Philippines
Abby Bonita says she was not a natural environmentalist, but after Typhoon Ondoy ravaged Manila in 2009, she changed her career path.
"When I saw the devastation and suffering that Ondoy inflicted on my community, I realized it's more important to do something for the environment than to create profit for oneself," Bonita explains.
She works to educate others through speaking engagements and various media platforms under the "Little Miss Sustainability" nickname. While head of sustainability for the UnionBank of the Philippines, it obtained multiple LEED certifications for its properties, transitioned the headquarters entirely to geothermal energy sourcing, and — in a first for a bank in that nation — published a sustainability report.
Now, Bonita is working to formalize the sustainability agenda at Transnational Diversified Group. She and her colleagues are charged with bringing TDG's various business operations under one sustainability umbrella. Bonita is fairly new to her role, so she is occupied largely with research. Her primary focus is on finding innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from TDG's logistics and shipping management, its two biggest areas of operation.
"If businesses realized how to use their resources properly," Bonita says, "we could solve climate change."
— Sara Murphy
HY William Chan, 29
Urban Designer and Planner, Cox Architecture and Research Affiliate, Columbia University; Sydney, Australia
HY William Chan’s design work has spanned Olympic stadiums, metro systems and new-city master plans. He’s inspired to reinvent the construction sector.
"Sustainability and the circular economy can’t just take place at the end of a building’s life, but should be part of the design process," Chan says.
A transformational experience at refugee camps outside of Athens motivated Chan to engage in education and advocacy. As a fellow of the World Innovation Summit for Education, he worked with local Greek architects to create maker spaces containing 3D printers, computers and laser cutters, and using discarded plastic bottles as source material. The goal: Teach refugees new skills. This work, which Chan has presented both to the U.N. General Assembly and via a TEDx talk, informed his goal to "shift the idea of a material’s value to what it can do for somebody’s future, skills and immediate economic opportunities."
Chan believes architects and designers can transform public opinion. "We draw stories to tell a different future," he says. "When we talk about the future of cities, it’s about creating the future we want — one that is sustainable and resilient for all."
— Gregory Heilers
Elaine Chow, 29
Co-founder, Lingrove, San Francisco
Elaine Chow aims to save trees by mimicking them. Her startup, Lingrove, makes a biomaterial that looks, feels and even sounds like wood, but with compelling sustainability and design advantages. The product, Ekoa, blends Canada-grown flax fiber with a cashew-based bioresin. It's lighter than carbon fiber and stiffer than aerospace-grade fiberglass, and can replicate the look of old-growth redwood. It bends easily and holds an array of colors.
Ekoa is already used in guitars and ukuleles by Blackbird Guitars and in projects by Steelcase, but Chow aspires to enter other markets worth billions of dollars, including sports gear (surfboards, fishing poles); transportation (car interiors); and construction and interiors (wall and floor coverings, plumbing fixtures, prefab tiles). Beyond that are bicycles, snowboards, skateboards, cars, carpets and prefab housing.
Her ultimate fantasy? Making Ekoa a household name, manufacturing across the world tapping local flora. Chow seeks to explore circular potential eventually, perhaps using waste from flax fields, as well as regrinding used products for use in new ones.
And to think the San Francisco State University industrial design graduate once feared a career making "throwaway products."
— Elsa Wenzel
Alexandra Criscuolo, 29
Environmental Impact Consultant, Kickstarter, New York City
Alexandra Criscuolo knows the power of knowledge in sustainability. She’s developed an information hub to help product creators on Kickstarter, the crowdfunding kingmaker, design for sustainability. Criscuolo originally worked on the project during an EDF Climate Corps fellowship. She oversaw the creation and launch of the Kickstarter Environmental Resources Center and still works part-time on its maintenance, even as a full-time MBA student in sustainability at Bard College.
With a background that includes energy project finance and environmental risk at GE Capital, Criscuolo has analyzed environmental frameworks and conducted research with entrepreneurs to determine startups’ critical details — including circularity, materials, production and distribution. Now, all creators seeking funding on Kickstarter will have the opportunity to bake sustainability into their inventions — such as sunglasses upcycled from water bottles out of Flint, Michigan, and coffee cups molded from the waste husks of coffee beans. Hundreds already have tapped into the hub.
As innovators and problem-solvers use Kickstarter’s resource center, the data collected can help to make tools more effective and amplify their impact.
One of the most important things she’s learned? Her role as a connector. "I love to find mutually beneficial relationships," she says.
— Holly Secon
Madeleine Cuff, 29
Deputy Editor, BusinessGreen, London, United Kingdom
Madeleine Cuff considers herself a "translator" — but not in the traditional linguistic sense. She's a sustainable business journalist, and her job is to analyze business trends, dissect scientific discoveries and succinctly report it all to the general public.
Cuff combines her background as a business analyst, experience in journalism school and longtime passion for the environment. When she was in grade school in the British countryside, in a class project students presented posters on something they really cared about. Most of her peers chose their pets, families or hobbies. Cuff chose the ozone-layer damaging greenhouse gas chlorofluorocarbons, also known as CFCs.
These days, Cuff is still working on climate-related projects. She covers global environmental issues, European climate policy and business' sustainability efforts daily. Last year, she was named "Business Sustainability Journalist 2018" by the U.K. Press Gazette, which covers the journalism trade.
In addition, Cuff produces long-term investigative journalism on the palm oil supply chain, specific brands' efforts and, most recently, on the relationship between gender and climate change impacts. That one hits home for her, she says: "When I can connect climate change impacts to broader societal trends — and to show them to the world — it matters."
— Holly Secon
Phil De Luna, 27
Program Director, Energy Materials Challenge Program, National Research Council Canada; Toronto
Phil De Luna doesn't believe in a silver bullet for climate change, but he's banking hard on silver buckshot. Technology he developed while completing his Ph.D. in Materials Science at the University of Toronto takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and converts it into renewable fuels and feedstocks that may someday heat buildings and power vehicles. He describes the process as a sort of "artificial photosynthesis" using machine learning. It’s promising enough to make him one of 10 finalists in the Carbon XPRIZE, a $20 million competition to capture and convert CO2 into useful products and materials.
De Luna's family emigrated to Canada from the Philippines when he was five. His family landed in Windsor, Ontario, near Detroit. Seeing the economic fallout of the auto industry helped De Luna recognize the need for new low-carbon technologies.
"We need to be working together with energy companies to help them reduce their emissions, rather than being adversarial to them," he says.
Ultimately, De Luna says he's an optimist and an environmentalist. If he could choose a superpower it would be flight, not just to experience the wind in his wings and a bird's-eye view, but to reduce his carbon footprint. "I have to travel a lot," he explains, chuckling.
— Jen Boynton
Jonas De Schaepmeester, 27
Sustainability and Closed Loop Manager, Umicore; Gent, Belgium
Giant factories around the world are churning out ever more batteries to power electric vehicles and cell phones, and it's important that the materials that go into these batteries are sourced sustainably and responsibly. That's the purview of Jonas De Schaepmeester, sustainability and closed-loop manager for the battery department of Belgian materials giant Umicore.
De Schaepmeester — who grew up in the Belgian countryside and studied bioscience engineering in college — spends a lot of his time working with Umicore's suppliers around responsible sourcing of the battery material cobalt. Much of the world's cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been plagued by child labor concerns.
He also works with Umicore's partners, including automakers, around developing closed-loop models for batteries, making them easier to be recycled and reused.
De Schaepmeester says he's trying to apply his engineering background to make sustainability "less fuzzy" and more practical. He explains: "We need to think, make calculations and use an engineering approach to find solutions for the difficult challenges that we're seeing today, including climate change and a transition to a circular economy."
— Katie Fehrenbacher
Ashley Fahey, 29
Sustainability Principal, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company; Akron, Ohio
For Ashley Fahey, growing up in Grand Haven, Michigan, was a little rough. She was picked on a lot as a young kid. But she says the experience, along with transitioning into a transgender woman as an adult, has helped make her a more empathetic person who can celebrate different perspectives.
As a sustainability leader, Fahey has used this empathy to develop projects that have helped co-workers and have also made systems sustainable. For example, at Steelcase, where she worked for seven years, she created a bike storage room to ease the commute for cyclists.
Now as a sustainability principal with tire maker Goodyear, Fahey works on environmental and business strategy and is helping the company make a deeper impact. In her first six months, she helped establish 60 new sustainability and corporate responsibility goals and became vice president of an employee resource group focused on LGBTQ+ advocacy.
Meanwhile, to reduce her own impact, she purchased her first electric car, a Tesla Model 3.
For Fahey, empathy and sustainability work together. "I think in the future if we were better able to understand each other as well as our planet, we'd be in a much better place."
— Katie Fehrenbacher
Pratik Gauri, 28
India CEO, 5th Element Group and Chairman, India Needs You; Delhi, India
For Pratik Gauri, addressing environmental impacts is personal: He had a persistent cough as a child in Delhi, one of the world's most polluted cities.
Today, Gauri leads the India operation for the 5th Element Group, which produces high-profile galas and other live events. There, he connects corporate advertising dollars with social causes. The strategy simultaneously raises awareness about underfunded initiatives and consumer products.
The result creates what Gauri calls "brand warmth" by showcasing how companies support the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
"Until now, if companies wanted to give their shareholders a large financial return, it had to come at the cost of climate crisis, polluting the environment and killing humanity," Gauri says. "We help companies go from 'for profit' to 'for benefit.'"
Gauri has a background in marketing, business, social causes and leadership. At age 18 he co-founded India Needs You, an organization providing youth education. He has been a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, a Climate Reality Leader, a Startup Leadership Program fellow and an Asian Youth Inspiration awardee.
Gauri is disheartened by how many people fail to recognize climate change. Through leveraging the power of brands, he sees an opportunity to transform that mindset.
— Sarah Golden
Carla Grados Villamar, 29
General Director, Kunan; Lima, Peru
As a business student in Paris, Pennsylvania and Peru, Carla Grados Villamar felt torn between a healthy competitive impulse and the desire to do good. The two intersected when she co-founded two social enterprises: Proa, kind of "an EventBrite for NGOs"; and Khana by Reciclando, a recycled-plastic-bottle fashion line engaging local artisans.
Now she's spearheading the Kunan network, Peru's first comprehensive effort to connect social entrepreneurs with resources within private companies, government, media and academia. Kunan works with 30 corporations, including some of the largest in Peru, such as Coca-Cola, IBM and Telefónica. Kunan — which means "now" in Quecha — is also a local branch of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
The 164 fledgling firms engaged with Kunan traverse agriculture, consulting, art, retail and education. Two examples: Laboratoria, which supports professional women in technology; and Recidar, a store for used home goods donated by businesses. Kunan links startups with accelerators and incubators, helps to measure their growth, and makes crucial introductions, such as bringing a promising manufacturer to a corporate supply-chain director.
Grados Villamar find that some large companies treat social enterprises as "nice to have" but not serious business. Yet when the passion of an entrepreneur infects a corporate manager, "they become social intrapreneurs inside the company, and once that happens that's amazing."
— Elsa Wenzel
Alexsandra Guerra, 29
Co-founder and Board Member, Nori; Seattle
Less than two years ago, Alexsandra Guerra left a great job as a renewable energy engineer at a utility to build something big enough to help reverse climate change. To the Miami native, it wasn't a minute too soon.
The startup she co-launched, Nori, is a blockchain marketplace that seeks to enable carbon dioxide emissions reductions at a vast scale. Although not yet off the ground — probably by 2020 — it's attracting headlines for sheer moxy and potential.
Nori works like this: Companies or individuals can buy a NORI token, a cryptocurrency, to get a Carbon Removal Certificate representing one ton of CO2 sequestered through a verified method, such as regenerative agriculture or planting trees. Privately funded Nori takes a cut of each sale through a fee on the buyer side.
Nori's methodology is being proven out in a pilot with partner COMET-Farm, through which farmers can upload data. It's under peer review by a committee that includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Yale.
Nori isn't a carbon offset technology, in that it actually removes CO2 from the atmosphere. But it could make it simpler for organizations small and large to support carbon removal projects. Guerra cites the company motto, "Emit less, remove the rest."
— Elsa Wenzel
Owen Keogh, 29
Sustainable Sourcing Manager, Sainsbury's; London, United Kingdom
For Owen Keogh, working at a London-based multinational supermarket chain isn't much of a leap from growing up on a small Irish sheep farm. Forget the quaint green pastures you might imagine. "The agri-food sector is fast-moving, innovative," he says.
From working on his family's ranch to pursuing agricultural science and research degrees to launching Ireland's first agriculture podcast, Keogh knows firsthand that farmers are the stewards of the land. "You need to have experience working with farmers in order to be successful in sustainability, especially in the food industry."
Keogh's drive to improve the livelihoods of farmers and reduce the environmental impact of raw materials has driven his leadership in sustainable sourcing at Mars and McDonald's. Now at Sainsbury's, Keogh leads global efforts related to key commodities such as palm oil, cocoa and soy. He's stewarding new practices for supply chains that are high-risk and vulnerable, ensuring his company sources from sustainability-practicing, deforestation-fighting and cruelty-free farmers around the world.
Keogh’s key to driving impact? Effective collaboration, which hinges on bringing "the farm-level mindset" into communications with suppliers and manufacturers in the fast-paced retail environment.
And he doesn't forget where he came from — on the weekends, you can find him happily outdoors on his family farm.
— Holly Secon
Kamillah Knight, 27
Associate Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Unilever United States, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey
Kamillah Amaris Imani Knight embodies the promise of her blended Arabic-Hebrew-Swahili-English moniker, which literally means "one chosen by the creator, with faith, to be a warrior."
Schooled at Cornell University, Knight earned her bachelor's degree in economics and sociology, and a master's in environmental policy. Unilever wasn't on her list of prospective employers, but Knight was inspired by its commitment to sustainability.
At the company's U.S. headquarters, Knight has been at the center of programs such as Perfect Cities, where she fostered initiatives such as urban gardens — stimulating small, diverse businesses along the way. Other highlights: She advised a student project related to the U.N. SDGs and represented her employer twice at One Young World leadership gatherings.
Last summer, Knight joined the company's human resources team to champion diversity and inclusion, helping managers understand the "black experience" in corporate America, as she puts it. She educates employees about Unilever's global sustainability ideals and uses connections from her previous role in the supply-chain operations to help Unilever's partners improve their own diversity programs.
"I believe my purpose is to be a change advocate, or to be a change superhero, which is what my daughter calls me," she says. In 2018, the single mom was named Unilever's working mother of the year.
— Heather Clancy
Alison Larkins, 28
Director of Environmental Social Governance, TPG Capital; San Francisco
Alison Larkins has built a career around a quote by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone: "We all do better when we all do better." As director of environmental and social governance (ESG) at private equity firm TPG Global, Larkins works to develop and amplify sustainability and social impact efforts across TPG's portfolio to ensure positive, real-world results for investors, companies and communities.
For instance, Larkins guided J. Crew in developing and launching Fair Trade certification programs for factories across its Asia supply chain. She also worked with Uber as it created a taxonomy and standards to address sexual violence and assault on its ridesharing service.
According to a colleague who nominated her, Larkins stands out for "her fervent pursuit of the ripple effect," wherein she targets key leverage points for sustainability impact. As corporate attention to ESG continues to mature, Larkins hopes to help inject the broader value of natural capital, people and the planet into the financial system.
She views her role as creating sustainable, long-term value for TPG's investors — who include teacher and firefighter pension funds — to secure their retirement, which necessarily entails protecting the planet. "We're making investments on behalf of regular people who care about sustainability," Larkins says.
— Sara Murphy
Idicula Mathew, 23
Co-founder and CEO, Hera Health Solutions; Memphis, Tennessee
Idicula Mathew never dreamed a class project would give rise to a highly watched startup in sustainable medicine. The Georgia Institute of Technology undergrad was pondering how to improve birth control implants, which can be awkward to remove from the arm.
Conversations with some high-profile nonprofits and personal memories of traveling in rural India underscored the need for contraception that's reliable and private — particularly in conservative, developing regions. What if the implant could be absorbed into the body instead of needing to be removed surgically?
That notion led to the development of a medical implant that biodegrades after a year or so, and the launch of Hera Health Solutions. Its first product, Eucontra, uses a "nanofiber method" to combine the hormone etonogestrel with cornstarch derived from biodegradable biomass.
With a patent pending, Hera is readying a request for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization. Global application is where Mathew seeks to make a big difference — and where the sustainability potential is magnified, with family planning core to several U.N. SDGs and crucial for empowering women.
Mathew eyes room for improvement in the $10 billion global market for long-lasting, reversible contraception. Treatments for opioid withdrawal and hormone replacement therapy could be another natural fit for Hera's technology.
— Elsa Wenzel
Ana Sophia Mifsud, 24
Senior Associate, Rocky Mountain Institute; New York City
Ana Sophia Mifsud's days often start in the dark with a too-early flight out of New York to an exotic island destination. While onlookers might question her work ethic, she's actually hard at work in the Caribbean, accelerating the transition to clean energy as a senior associate for the Rocky Mountain Institute.
Clean energy adoption looks a little different in each island community. In Belize, she works on long-term energy planning. The solutions she is championing in Puerto Rico are focused on recovering from Hurricane Maria, which wiped out the island's electric grid, by deploying solar and battery systems at schools so children can learn.
Whatever the challenge, Mifsud works to bring stakeholders together to advance solutions that create a win-win for local communities.
Intersectional work comes naturally to Mifsud, thanks to a childhood split between urban Miami and the beautiful volcanoes of Guatemala, where she saw inequality firsthand. "That led to a deep passion for economic development," she explains. After college at Stanford she found a natural home at RMI in the Islands Energy Program. "This job for me was a perfect fit, where I'm both promoting economic development, being a responsible global citizen, and mitigating climate change."
— Jen Boynton
Isabel Mogstad, 28
Senior Manager, EDF+Business Energy; Washington, D.C.
Isabel Mogstad has an unlikely ally at the Environmental Defense Fund in her mission to reduce methane emissions: the oil and gas industry.
Mogstad, who leads EDF's Global Methane Solutions initiative, says the two parties share a common goal: "There has to be a better, faster, safer, cheaper way of finding methane leaks."
Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is invisible and odorless, making it hard to detect. Mogstad's division is racing against the clock to deploy leak-detection technologies across hundreds of thousands of U.S. natural gas extraction operations.
Mogstad didn't buy into the binary good-or-bad debate about fracking. Following college, Mogstad headed to Texas to work at an oil and gas company to understand the nuances and figure out how to decarbonize the industry itself.
She asks: "Don't we, as pragmatic, responsible stewards of the environment, owe it to ourselves to be real about oil and gas production and try to manage this industry as carefully and as safely as we can?"
Mogstad, a voracious reader and a vegetable gardener, hopes to find her way back to the oil industry — ideally in the C-suite of a supermajor. Her goal: helping companies adapt in a decarbonizing world.
— Sarah Golden
Alhassan Muniru, 28
Co-founder, Recycle Up! Ghana; Berlin, Germany
Ghana's population is young, with 44 percent of residents under age 35. Alhassan Baba Muniru founded Recycle Up! Ghana to channel that youthful energy to address plastic pollution.
The organization hosts intensive summer camps to educate youth about waste management. Since 2014, it has trained more than 150 Ghanian change-makers and helped to implement almost 30 projects, such as a waste-segregation awareness campaign at the University of Ghana. Recycle Up! Ghana now offers programming in schools and startup accelerator weekends.
"We actually want young people to see waste as an opportunity," Muniru explains.
He was named a Global Citizen Fellow by the Ban Ki-moon Center for Global Citizens in recognition for his contributions towards the SDGs. He's also a member of the Children and Youth constituency to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, also known as YOUNGO.
Muniru, the eldest of seven children, was raised Muslim in a predominantly Christian community, which taught him about tolerance and diversity. After receiving a bachelor's degree in materials engineering, he's pursuing a master's degree from Leipzig University in sustainable development, studying in South Africa, Germany and Amsterdam. Muniru is looking to raise the funds to build a permanent home for Recycle Up! Ghana.
— Jen Boynton
Laura Patiño, 28
Recovery Office Chief of Staff, City of Houston
Laura Patiño wasn't in Houston when Hurricane Harvey hit. She was finishing her masters degree in Integrated Water Resources Management at McGill University in Montreal.
When she returned, homes were indiscriminately destroyed, belongings stacked in the street.
"That was a difficult thing to see," Patiño recalls. "It affected everyone in Houston."
It wasn't Patiño's first experience in a region recovering from disaster; as an environmental engineer with Shell in New Orleans, she contributed to sustainability reporting and coastal restoration efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.
Two years after Harvey, one of the country's costliest hurricanes, Patiño supports Houston's efforts to repair and rebuild homes and update infrastructure, coordinating with local, state and national agencies to see what can be funded.
With a background in engineering and environmental studies, Patiño also helps the city identify climate adaptation projects. She's leading a study of green infrastructure incentives to encourage the private sector to use low-impact development techniques. She also engages the public through a program called Adopt-a-Drain, where community members help to prevent flooding.
"We have the opportunity to build back to exactly how Houston was before Harvey, but we also have an even greater opportunity to think about our system as a whole and how to become more resilient," she says.
— Sarah Golden
Guillermo Peralta, 29
Director of Partnership Development of Energy & Utilities, Corvias; Washington, D.C.
Water and energy management are sources of big potential financial savings for Corvias, a housing portfolio management company, and Guillermo Peralta's job is uncovering the opportunities. He's known for "making a splash," as a colleague describes.
Some of Peralta's recent projects include a $100 million Clean Water Partnership aimed at improving stormwater and economic development initiatives in Prince George's County, Maryland; and a geothermal upgrade for the U.S. Army at Fort Polk in west-central Louisiana that will create 9 million kilowatt-hours per year of emissions-free electricity and save the Army $40 million in energy costs over the life of the project.
While his day-to-day work varies, most of it boils down to reviewing the company's existing portfolio of clients to identify potential energy- or utility-related savings. The solution either "saves them money, generates capital or creates some type of investment that they can come back and use as assets," he explains.
Peralta was born in Los Angeles and raised in Detroit. When he's not at work he teaches violin at the Sitar Arts Center, a community music school.
— Jen Boynton
Nils Rage, 27
Sustainable Design and Innovation Manager, Landsec; London, United Kingdom
Nils Rage grew up wanting to be an engineer like his mother. Using his master's degree in architectural engineering, Rage leads sustainable design for Landsec, the world's first property company to have its carbon-reduction targets approved by the Science Based Targets Initiative. For all new developments in rapidly greening Central London, Rage oversees multiple project dimensions — from efficient use of natural resources such as energy and materials to sustainable design issues such as occupant well-being and urban biodiversity.
"We often forget that we build buildings for people," Rage says. His design process considers how the building will affect occupants and surrounding communities. He focuses on how to make buildings healthful places where people are productive and replenished at the end of the day, and how to do so affordably.
Rage also notes that more than 60 percent of modern buildings' lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions happen during manufacturing and construction, part of an industry-wide paradigm he aims to change.
"We have to rethink how we build," Rage says. "I design buildings as performance ecosystems, integrated into their local environment, actively participating in replenishing their local area, and constructed using sustainable materials in a quick, efficient and waste-free way."
— Sara Murphy
Michael Rinaldi, 28
Vice President of Sustainable Business Development, Rabobank; Brooklyn, New York
Banking and agriculture are both big business. At Netherlands-based Rabobank, a global leader in financing food and agriculture, Michael Rinaldi helps clients identify and pursue sustainability projects.
"We really want to utilize our seat at the table to focus on the overall sustainability performance of those companies," he explains.
Consider, for example, grains such as corn and soy. The organic version can sell for three times the price of the conventional version. That's a boon to farmers, but the three-year transition from conventional to organic agriculture can be cost-prohibitive. Rabobank connects stakeholders who want to support regenerative ag with those that have the funds to finance it. Rinaldi's role is to build internal and external coalitions to help make these big projects happen.
He cultivated his passion for the environment early on, playing in creeks in the suburbs of Cincinnati. In grad school at Duke, he studied environmental management and found comfort in the "uncomfortable" middle at the intersection of ecology and economics. Rinaldi hopes his career trajectory will involve more of the same: getting more capital to finance the solutions the agriculture industry needs to feed the world sustainably.
— Jen Boynton
Alexis Rocamora, 28
Senior Consultant, Climate Change and Sustainability Services, Ernst & Young; Tokyo, Japan
Alexis Rocamora's fascination with the Japanese language and culture began as a schoolboy in an agricultural region in southern France, and it blossomed after a post-university exchange program in Asia.
"When I arrived in Japan, something that really shocked me was the strong difference between this normal, everyday urban society that was highly advanced — in terms of technology, in terms of efficiency, in terms of everything — but alongside that exists a traditional respect for harmony, simplicity and for nature," he observes.
At Ernst & Young in Tokyo, Rocamora defines and refines strategy with corporate social responsibility teams and engages with line-of-business executives to embed those ideas. While many Japanese companies are just starting to develop strategies for clean energy or carbon-neutral operations, the country's citizens are highly attuned to taking action on other issues, such as food waste, he says.
Previously, Rocamora developed benchmark studies on carbon pricing, green finance and climate change strategies as an analyst for a Japanese think tank.
He also put his academic background in environmental law and policy to work on a team that defined the specifics of an agreement signed at COP21 between the French and Japanese governments, aimed at aligning climate change and sustainable development policies — his two worlds coming together in service of the greater good.
— Heather Clancy
Alejandra Sánchez Ayala, 28
Sustainable Supply Chain Manager, C&A, Guadalajara, Mexico
Alejandra Sánchez Ayala is the youngest supply chain team leader in the 178-year history of retailer C&A. She leads a team of auditors and supplier consultants, engaging with 130 factories and 18,000 workers across Mexico and Colombia to ensure fair labor and safety standards are practiced while producing innovative products, such as C&A's Cradle to Cradle T-shirt, the world's first.
"In developing countries, it's hard [for many] to see the value in sustainability," she says. "You have to sell the idea and change the mindset of factory owners."
Sánchez Ayala has enjoyed measuring the changes in the past year and a half. Factories have grown since they began working with C&A, working conditions have improved and workers "know they can speak up, and they are safe," she says.
Sánchez Ayala is passionate about embedding sustainability throughout production and manufacturing across the fashion industry, especially as circular business models emerge and scale.
She grew up in a central Mexican city near the Rio Lerma, parts of which are considered "dead." Realizing that the river had been clean when her parents were young helped to awaken her environmental awareness — and reminds her how the biggest changes in sustainability, corporate or otherwise, involve negotiating numerous and sometimes conflicting stakeholders and interests.
— Elsa Wenzel
Inesh Singh, 28
Chief Sustainability Officer, Sula Vineyards; Nashik, India
As head of sustainability at Sula Vineyards, India's largest winemaker, Inesh Singh is planting the seeds of sustainability in the emerging "Napa Valley of India."
Singh oversees optimization on viticulture, winemaking and the supply chain. He has helped Sula reduce water consumption by using satellite imagery to study evaporation rates and soil moisture retention, and by installing rainwater harvesting infrastructure. He's helped slash chemical use through integrated pest management, increasing the use of cover crops and mulching, and using sheep to weed naturally.
Singh defined his expertise at PepsiCo, first as an EDF Climate Corps Fellow and then full-time after completing his MBA at the George Washington University.
In 2019, Sula crossed a major threshold, sourcing more than half of its energy use from onsite renewable energy. Its 2021 goal, to be recognized as the most sustainable winery in Asia, includes reaching more than 75 percent renewables usage. The company has developed a unique partnership with a local recycling company, which turns 1.5 tons of waste from Sula's fields into notebooks, stationery and other products for use in Sula's office.
For Singh, Sula's successes aren't solely onsite; he finds other local wineries witnessing the triple benefits of sustainability. "It increases your brand value, gives you a very loyal consumer base and reduces operational expenditures," he says.
— Gregory Heilers
Emi Wang, 29
Environmental Equity Senior Policy Manager, Greenlining; Oakland, California
Emi Wang is a change agent for the marginalized at the Greenlining Institute, an NGO that "uplifts and provides economic opportunities for communities of color in California."
A member of its policy team, she works on coalition-building to support legislation and its implementation. For example, California's landmark cap-and-trade policy directed some of the funds collected to local community development. Wang's team at Greenlining managed to increase the portion of the funds from 25 percent to 35 percent — and to direct the money to programs that have a climate or quality-of-life benefit, such as urban tree projects, bike lanes, affordable housing (which can reduce commuting) and solar installations.
Wang grew up in Brooklyn, the child of Japanese and Chinese parents, understanding "the general unfairness of the world," as she puts it, without having the language to describe the structural inequality she witnessed.
She came to work at Greenlining from a background in community development and realized that climate justice is a key component of equity. For Wang, people who have been the most sidelined, living in the most polluted neighborhoods, have to be at the center of the solutions and the decision-making. And every day, she works to encourage their participation.
— Jen Boynton