Emerging Leaders find inspiration in sustainability veterans, and one another
This year's Emerging Leaders "are the game changers that this industry needs — critical, compassionate, and tremendously capable."
Young people increasingly are leading the way on climate change and environmental justice by pushing governments and companies to take stronger action to address the climate crisis.
Some are working in advocacy and organizing. Others are pursuing sustainability-focused careers. Whatever their method, it’s vital for young people to be in the room where the connections and partnerships are made to mitigate the effects of climate change.
"I think among Gen-Zers like myself, there is a growing sense of frustration that this message of urgency and personal responsibility isn't heard from these groups," said Denise Lee, a GreenBiz 20 Emerging Leader who hopes to amplify youth voices and incentivize governments and industry to increase their commitment to counteracting climate change. "It was not only eye-opening but uplifting to meet people at GreenBiz within the private sector who felt the same way as me."
This year’s Emerging Leaders Scholarship, sponsored by PwC, brought 10 young people to GreenBiz 20 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
PwC explains that it decided to sponsor the program "to bring awareness to the lack of representation of diverse leaders in corporate responsibility and responsible business leadership and to encourage efforts to help break down barriers that have historically held back diverse talent — we know we need to work across industries," according to Jeff Senne, responsible business strategy and implementation leader at PwC.There is a growing understanding around the intersection of issues of belonging and parity, and social and environmental performance.
"I was encouraged to see mainstage discussions around diversity and inclusion two years in a row at GreenBiz," Seene wrote by email. "It shows me that there is a growing understanding around the intersection of issues of belonging and parity, and social and environmental performance — illustrating the growing connections across industries to build a more inclusive vision of the change we are working to drive."
That was the intent when GreenBiz launched the Emerging Leaders program three years ago at GreenBiz 17.
After the GreenBiz 20 Emerging Leaders’ three days in Scottdale, we asked them a set of questions:
How has attending GreenBiz 20 helped you learn about the sustainable business career path, from navigating to overcoming the barriers that exist for you and your peers?
Was there anything particularly impactful that happened during your time at the conference?
What made you feel hopeful or inspired at GreenBiz 20?
Some answered one, two or all three questions. But one theme rings through: As much as this year’s Emerging Leaders were inspired by the speakers and industry veterans at GreenBiz 20, they also found inspiration in one another.
Their answers, below, are edited for length and clarity.
Oluwaseyi Adaghe, Master of Environment and Business Candidate, University of Waterloo; Sustainability Coordinator, Javelin Technologies
Sydney A. Covey, Sustainability Solutions Manager, STRUCTR Advisors
For me, the most impactful thing that happened at GreenBiz 20 was the cohort of Emerging Leaders. Often in sustainability, but especially in the built environment, sustainability professionals are a one or two-person team, which is both empowering and daunting. By the nature of my work, I become isolated from my peers or have problems reaching out to my counterparts at nearby firms because of the nature of "competition." When I look back on GreenBiz 20, the lasting relationships with professionals that align with my morals and understand what it is like to be in isolation on a high pedestal will have a lasting impact on my outlook on sustainability as a movement and my capacity to be an agent of change.
What left me inspired during GreenBiz 20 is the collective effort to push the sustainability movement forward. So much of the world of business is driven by having the competitive advantage over the next company that progress forward is stifled. In hearing corporations come together to learn from and celebrate one another gave me hope that "business as usual" in regard to CSR can become a collective movement, not a race to the top.
Nidhi Shastri, Social Media Outreach Manager, Plitzie
It was very promising to see how receptive most people are in the industry to make tangible change for connecting social equity and environmental sustainability in the corporate workplace. I still believe we have a long way to go in terms of really making our workplaces holistically diverse and sustainable. However, many people are making very strong strides in the right direction, such as executives like Daniel Lee [the corporate philanthropy leader] from Levi Strauss and Bill Wiehl from [ClimateVoice], both of whom gave wonderfully thoughtful panel presentations during the event. Seeing professionals question how we get materials for our consumers, whether it’s examining the dairy industry and economy with Chobani, or looking at how we source clothing material with Levi Strauss, the connections are being made, and it is incredibly inspiring to see.
I am most hopeful and inspired by my cohort of Emerging Leaders. It is an understatement to say that the GreenBiz Group has brought together an amazingly accomplished and intelligent bunch of people. Over the course of merely 2.5 days, I have made myself a new family of young sustainability leaders all across the country. I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for the small- and large-scale change we will all bring to this world, especially after being inspired by GreenBiz 20.
Ryan Larson, Federal Risk Manager, KPMG US
The constant buzz of camaraderie and selflessness from the speakers, attendees and my fellow Emerging Leaders paired with the passion for protecting the planet while pushing forward industry was highly impactful for me. Coming from the national security and financial industry sectors, which are inherently competitive and often pit you against your peers, this network of people sharing ideas, best practices and pathways forward was constantly humbling and inspiring.
As a college student, you hear a lot of contextual information about the field, but oftentimes do not get the direct exposure into understanding how these large corporations handle and implement sustainability. I was able to see that [during GreenBiz 20] and get a very holistic view into this process. I specifically loved understanding the behavior and social change that companies are creating in their internal and external environment. I can't wait to take this back to my campus and see how I can influence people to change through small behavior changes over time.
I loved hearing from the leader of the Arizona Youth Climate Strikes. It brought tears to my eyes. I lead youth strikes on my college campus and felt his passion, fear and hope all at once. Knowing that there are people out there that care as much as I do was so so powerful.
Seeing how many individuals who think and care about the same things I do was so inspiring. I loved drawing inspiration from people in the field that are doing amazing work to change whole systems and ways of thinking. That is not an easy thing. People in sustainability are some of the most intelligent and brilliant in the world because they are working to change behavior, policy and consumer products all at once. I was so inspired by this holistic approach taken.
Denise Lee, Direct Air Capture Researcher, University of Toronto
In my research and nonprofits, I hope to amplify youth voices and incentivize governments and industry to increase their commitment to counteracting climate change...
As a space for businesses to discuss sustainable strategy implementation, it was fascinating as a researcher to see how the process takes place in person. Upon understanding the role of corporations in acting against climate change, what happens next? I learned in great detail how that initiative requires buy-in from stakeholders throughout your supply chain, partnerships with other driven firms and plenty of feedback loops to ensure accountability is maintained.
The greatest takeaway from those discussions was how once the motivation for making a company greener is established, the subsequent steps can be challenging, but by no means impossible. There was a consensus that sustainability is the new normal. It has verified my decision to work in green business post-graduation and renewed my hope for what comes next. Let's keep moving forward.
Bryan Lewis, Business Outreach Consultant, E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs)
The conversations with my fellow Emerging Leaders was easily the highlight of my experience at GreenBiz 20. These are some of the most authentic and well-rounded people I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know. In our brief time together, we set the stage for a bond that will last for years to come.
What gives me hope is seeing other equity- and justice-minded folks who have dedicated their careers to unraveling the institutions that pollute our economy and exclude those less fortunate and rethinking how we integrate new ideas towards a more sustainable future.
Akash Kapil Gulati, Master of Environmental Management and MBA Dual Degree Candidate
I was honored to be a part of the diverse cohort of 10 Emerging Leaders. This group opened my eyes to movements within corporate social responsibility and environmental justice that have fundamentally shifted my thinking. Moving forward, I will leverage technology, innovation and compassion as tools in addressing the impacts that some businesses are having on the communities that they operate in.
At GreenBiz 20, I was given the opportunity to learn from professionals who have been driving corporate sustainability for decades. Engaging in workshops facilitated by these thought leaders, I gained a deeper understanding of the history of the corporate social responsibility movement and left feeling deeply inspired to help shape its future and accelerate the clean economy.
Patrick King, Sustainable Households Manager, Urban Green Lab
Monica Gordon, Master's Student, University of California, Santa Barbara — Bren School of Environmental Science & Management
While the conference was nothing short of amazing, perhaps the most impactful experience was getting to meet the rest of this year's Emerging Leaders. They are the game changers that this industry needs — critical, compassionate and tremendously capable. I am more than excited to see more of their necessary work.
Interested in sponsoring the GreenBiz Emerging Leaders program at a future event? Please contact [email protected].