GreenBiz Emerging Leaders share their sustainable business passions

GreenBiz 18 Emerging Leaders speaking on the stage
Emerging Leaders joined GreenBiz Group Executive Editor Joel Makower on the stage at GreenBiz 18 to talk about their sustainable business passion.

What is your sustainable business passion? That’s what we asked 10 recipients of our Emerging Leaders Scholarship on the GreenBiz 18 stage in Phoenix last month. As you might expect, their answers were as diverse and varied as each of their backgrounds and career aspirations.

Passion drives sustainable business professionals, yet sometimes-impassable barriers exist to entering such a competitive field.

Those barriers often intensify for people of color, women and individuals from underserved communities, who are less likely to gain equal access to cultural capital, peer support and mentorship opportunities.

Bringing in the most capable, passionate people is key to the success of any industry, which is why GreenBiz Group launched the Emerging Leaders Scholarship — empowering the future generation of sustainable business leaders and addressing some of the barriers mentioned above.

Now in its third iteration — having welcomed previous cohorts to GreenBiz 17 and VERGE 17 — the Emerging Leaders scholarship continues to provide opportunities for students and young leaders to connect with the GreenBiz community, identify mentors and find a career entry-point.

We also seek to welcome perspectives and backgrounds that are underrepresented at sustainability events, yet critical to a more equitable and inclusive future. 

PwC sponsored the GreenBiz 18 scholarship, providing an all-expenses-paid trip to Phoenix. "Bringing diverse voices into the sustainability conversation is crucial to our success — not just in business, but as a society," said PwC Senior Director Jeff Senne. "The rising leaders represent new perspectives to old problems and increased innovation, which positions us for a better world. The chance to give these leaders a platform that will help enable their future successes is an invaluable opportunity for the future of our work."

We checked in with each Emerging Leader to hear how their sustainable business passion had been shaped by the event, if it had changed and what they learned. Their answers, below, are edited for length and clarity:

Oforiwaa Pee Agyei-Boakye

"Coming from an urban planning background, GreenBiz 18 was my first exposure to the varied perspectives held by stakeholders across industries regarding sustainability. I was motivated by how progressive companies were in their efforts to protect the environment by using innovative ideas. This gave me hope for industry responses to development, urban changes and environmental regulation. GreenBiz 18 also helped to grow my network and gave me confidence to shape my career path."  Oforiwaa Pee Agyei-Boakye, regional transportation planner, East Alabama Regional Planning Commission

Jorge Campana Paez

"At GreenBiz 18, I was able to expand and deepen my interests within corporate sustainability. The sustainable business community in attendance guided my sights to new problems and possible solutions that I was not aware existed. It was particularly engaging to hear how different companies go about tackling similar challenges, and I was impressed to find a variety of tactics being employed to solve the varied challenges that sustainable business leaders face."  Jorge Campana Paez, undergraduate, Indiana University

Alex Co

"For me, GreenBiz 18 provided an opportunity and platform to put my finger on the pulse of where sustainability is now and where it is heading next. Gaining this perspective within my industry was particularly invaluable, and convening representatives from multiple industries allows ideas to cross-pollinate, inform and inspire further efforts. In addition, being able to contribute my voice to the growing movement of sustainability professionals pushing for increases in diversity, inclusion and representation — both internal and external to our organizations — led to a number of conversations that I am excited to continue beyond the event."  Alex Co, Pittsburgh Living Product Hub coordinator, International Living Future Institute

Faryal Diwan

"I’m fairly new to sustainable business and there were certainly times where I wasn’t as familiar with certain concepts as I would have liked to have been. However, the talk by Christina Mittermeier, a photographer from National Geographic, opened my eyes to the impact I could have and made me realize I was meant to be sitting in that audience. As an artist, I appreciate how pictures can be a great way to communicate the brevity of the challenges the world is facing due to climate change."  Faryal Diwan, Implementation Specialist & Data Analyst, Figbytes

Sarah Fischer

"Most of my past experience has centered around alternative fuels and new transportation technologies. GreenBiz 18 helped me see the connection between transportation and energy, in which I’m now very interested. My eyes were also opened to the challenges we face to ensure that diversity and inclusion are integrated into sustainability programs. As I near graduation, I look forward to finding a position in which I can improve livelihoods and reduce environmental impacts in an economically sustainable way. GreenBiz 18 showed me that there are many paths to achieving that goal."  Sarah Fischer, undergraduate, The Ohio State University

Cassandra Fong

"Reflecting on my time at GreenBiz 18, I am overwhelmingly optimistic about the changes that both organizations and individuals are driving for our future. Besides broadening my perspective on what sustainability encompasses and providing incredible depth and color to the work being done, I am in awe of the people I heard from or spoke with and see them as role models that I aspire to. Going forward, I seek to bring this diverse perspective into my career on the corporate side of things to try to build on the work being done in sustainability."  Cassandra Fong, MBA student, The Wharton School

Nicole Gaetjens

"It was incredibly heartening to announce in front of 1,000 business leaders that I was obsessed with trash and actually have folks come up to me to share the same passion — and advice. That’s not something that happens every day. As I learned about the diversity of journeys people and companies took to sustainable business leadership, I was impressed to find down-to-earth perspectives in even the largest of companies. GreenBiz reinforced my dedication to integrating sustainability into both business operations and culture, and in the individuals that organization touches."  Nicole Gaetjens, energy and sustainability analyst, JLL

Emma Kurihara

“GreenBiz 18 is a unique place to be, especially for a recent college graduate looking to pursue a career in green building. Understanding the trajectory of the sustainability world is extremely important. Aside from the content of the conference, I loved being surrounded by bright and driven people who care so much about the same issues that I do. I’ve always been amazed by the kind and down-to-earth nature of people in the sustainability field and GreenBiz 18 only reaffirmed these impressions. Because of GreenBiz 18, I am even more excited to work alongside the sustainable business leaders that I met towards a cleaner and healthier environment.” — Emma Kurihara, Recent Graduate, Brown University

Michael MacMiller

"My goal is to teach underserved communities in the mid-south region of the United States basic sustainable principles and practices to create a new jobs pipeline, which would address critical environmental, social and economic problems in my community. After sharing this vision with GreenBiz 18 attendees on the mainstage, I met many people who saw the same needs and shared strategies for how best to accomplish this, as well as offering ongoing mentorship to develop my business acumen. This gives me hope in the effectiveness of my efforts within the West Tennessee Community."  Michael MacMiller, environmental advocate, Doxicom Global

Iberia Zafira

"At GreenBiz 18, I grew professionally and intellectually by connecting with people passionate about green business. It was fascinating to learn about where global companies are in the SDG process and the challenges they face — from collecting metrics to defining the scope of their impact. I also had the opportunity to delve into topics I never would have otherwise explored, such as green bonds. Finally, I enjoyed meeting the other GreenBiz Emerging Leaders and being surrounded by such an engaging and talented group of peers." —  Iberia Zafira - senior analyst, UC Berkeley

Interested in sponsoring the Emerging Leaders Scholarship at a future event? Please contact [email protected].