Their dreams are bright: Walkable, equitable cities. Clean energy for Native American communities. Planet-healing fast food. Circular outdoor gear. Decarbonized buildings. Electrified mobility. That’s only a sampling of the ambitions of the sixth class of the GreenBiz 30 Under 30.
Our honorees for 2021 are intrepid startup founders, tenacious corporate innovators and determined public servants. The corporations among them include Credit Suisse, Deloitte, Foodstuffs, Gensler, Google, Ignitis Group, National Grid, Starbucks, Unilever and UPS. Other professionals in this group work at values-driven brands, such as Amy’s Kitchen, East West Tea Company, REI and Timberland. Still others are driving sustainability at nonprofit organizations and consultancies.
All combined, this year’s cohort reports to offices in 12 nations across six continents, including Brazil, Canada, China, India, Lithuania, New Zealand and Rwanda. In the United States, they hail from 15 cities, from Albuquerque, New Mexico to New York City — and several emigrated to the U.S. in childhood.
In addition, most of the honorees find the time to exercise global citizenship beyond their day jobs, mentoring youth, hosting a podcast and launching peer networking groups. Some have helped with disaster relief. Others have lost their own homes to natural disasters.
The GreenBiz 30 Under 30 candidates for 2021 were nominated by GreenBiz readers and community members around the world and selected by the GreenBiz editorial team. We’d like to express our appreciation to the World Business Council for Sustainable Business and Net Impact for helping to cast a global net for this year’s nominees.
Please share our delight as we introduce this promising group of young leaders below, in alphabetical order.
Zack Angelini, 29
Senior Environmental Stewardship Manager, Timberland; Malden, Massachusetts
Growing up outside of Boston, Zack Angelini spent summers swimming, but one polluted river was off limits.
"I just remember being super mad about knowing that the way society was operating could ruin something that should be so beautiful and fun," he says of his first encounter with the idea that human activities negatively affect the environment.
Decades later, at iconic apparel company Timberland, Angelini works closely with product teams to mitigate the environmental impact of its boots, jackets and accessories.
In five years, he has moved up from an internship to lead the company’s global product sustainability strategy. Angelini was instrumental in setting two signature goals for 2030. The first is for 100 percent of products to be designed with the circular economy in mind. The second is a commitment to sourcing 100 percent of the natural materials Timberland uses from regenerative agriculture, such as leather for boots.
Angelini manages the sustainability aspects of both Timberland’s partnership with Other Half Processing to build a more responsible leather supply chain, and its partnership with Terra Genesis International to build the world’s first regenerative rubber supply system for footwear.
"The opportunity with regenerative agriculture is that we can go beyond just reducing the negative impact of a product creation and actually restore the environment that we're sourcing from and potentially have this net positive impact," Angelini says.
And that’s his hope for the apparel and footwear industry as a whole.
Vartan Badalian, 28
EV100 Program Manager for North America, The Climate Group; New York City
Vartan Badalian’s mother has a favorite story to prove that being born on Earth Day imbued him with an innate concern for the environment. One day while sitting in the car, she attempted to toss a piece of gum into a nearby trash can and missed. Before she had a chance to pick it up, 4-year-old Vartan scolded her.
Today, he makes his living nudging others — namely corporate executives — toward a decarbonized sustainable future. As the North American program manager for the Climate Group’s EV100 program, Badalian works to get large companies to commit to 100 percent electric mobility by 2030, then helps them replace global fleets with electric vehicles, deploy charging stations and affect government policy. As of the latest count, 102 corporations have committed to the 2030 (or better) goal — including Ikea, Genentech and Lyft — and more than 170,000 EVs have been deployed.
Badalian received an environmental law degree from Lewis & Clark Law School, which helped shape his policy work, he says. He served as corporate counsel on policy at Greenspot Smart Mobility, an EV charging startup, after clerking at various organizations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Natural Resources Defense Council.
"One thing I’ve noticed is when you’re extremely passionate about something and it’s genuine, you don’t need to do so much convincing," Badalian says. "Just keep doing what you’re doing, and others can recognize that passion. They pick up on it."
Mayane Barudin, 27
Regional Director and Tribal Liaison, Vote Solar; Albuquerque, New Mexico
Mayane Barudin’s inspiration and calling come from the same place: her culture.
"Everything we do follows the sun," says Barudin, who grew up in the Kewa Pueblo (formerly Santo Domingo) in New Mexico. "Solar is a new technology to be able to do so."
Today, Barudin works on state clean energy policy, collaborating closely with tribal leaders to ensure community buy-in and outcomes that are equitable. Most recently, Barudin led a tribal task force with the nonprofit group Vote Solar to support New Mexico's new law enabling tribes and pueblos to access community solar programs. She came to Vote Solar following an internship with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and after earning a master’s in environmental change and management at the University of Oxford.
"I come from a close-knit pueblo where we each have our own skills and ability to help our community," says Barudin, who also has worked with the nonprofit Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council and still volunteers with the National Indian Law Library. "I've always been an energy nerd and I just knew that was my place. So it feels good to give back in a way that I know I can help."
Connecting her heritage with future opportunities is threaded throughout her work. Among the challenges is advocating the complexity of the regulatory patchwork among utilities, states and tribes, which are sovereign nations.
"I envision a day where all of the tribes stand to benefit the most from the clean energy transition," she says. "It's kind of a long-lived dream."
Brock Battochio, 28
Co-Founder & Lead Engineer, Planetary Hydrogen; Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Brock Battochio originally aspired to play ice hockey competitively, and served as defenseman on the team at Carleton University in Ottawa. However, after suffering his 12th concussion in a national championship, he decided to find value in another cause.
"What really resonated with me was the fact that I would always have conversations with friends or family about climate change, and I would either be given one of two answers: that either it doesn’t exist, or that someday either technology or ‘they’ would solve the problem," Battochio says.
An entrepreneurial spirit led him to become the theoretical "they" to address the climate crisis, starting with studying sustainable and renewable energy engineering.
Battochio hoped to become a CEO by age 26 — and he did just that, leveraging business aptitude with technical skills to co-found Planetary Hydrogen. The Ottawa-based startup is bringing to scale a process that generates hydrogen by capturing carbon dioxide from the air, then storing it within seawater, mimicking the ocean’s natural processes to create a carbon sink. It’s seeking to capture no less than a gigaton of CO2 per year by 2035.
Battochio has leveraged his business aptitude and engineering skills to help generate $4.5 million in funding and to develop the company’s first-generation plant. The company also snagged a partnership with Shopify, which has agreed to purchase all the negative emissions produced from Planetary Hydrogen’s pilot plant, set to come online in 2022.
Stacia Betley, 29
Sustainability Integration Manager, Amy’s Kitchen; Petaluma, California
Amy’s Kitchen, whose pot pies helped warm the public to organic food in the 1980s, has set its sights on healing the planet. It’s Stacia Betley’s job to co-author that recipe within the three-person sustainability team at the 2,700-person company.
Lately, they’ve been diving deep to understand the company's impacts and responsibilities as a purveyor of vegan canned soups, frozen burritos and gluten-free grain bowls.
Betley’s mantra — to work hard and be kind — reflects the image projected by the values-driven vegetarian brand, offered by most grocery store brands and at its own California drive-through eateries. As COVID came to dominate 2020, she helped donate more than 600,000 meals and 100,000 pounds of packaging to food banks.
After college at the University of Vermont, Betley twisted a marketing role at merino wool clothier Point6 into a sustainability-focused one, which included implementing the Higg Index, a suite of tools for measuring supply-chain sustainability.
One current project involves working with MBA students at the University of Oregon, where she completed the same degree, to help Amy’s Kitchen understand how it saves on emissions by selling plant-based products. Betley feels heartened to see a young generation taking a stand on climate change.
"Individual impact is important, but when I come to work every day I get to have impact at scale," she says. "Originally, we did these things because it was the right thing to do. But now the reasons are endless, right? There's a business case, it's in our DNA. Our consumers are not only asking for it, but expecting it."
Briana Buckles, 29
Sustainability Manager, East West Tea Company; Eugene, Oregon
Serving as a United States Marine in the Asia Pacific region, Briana Buckles often witnessed extreme poverty. The first lieutenant managed logistics and transportation for humanitarian missions and exercises, including typhoon relief in Fiji and Saipan.
"The combination of these experiences really fueled my desire to continue a career path where I could focus on viable solutions to global poverty ... while mitigating impacts of climate change," Buckles says.
During a stint in East Timor supporting a training exercise with the Timorese military, Buckles was searching for locally grown coffee in its cafés. But she noticed they only served pre-packaged, mass-produced, instant coffee grown elsewhere. Coffee beans have been grown in East Timor for more than 400 years.
"To me, this really magnified the fact that there’s a huge global disconnect between the people who grow large-scale agricultural commodity crops and those who consume them," Buckles says.
While earning an MBA at the University of Oregon, with an emphasis on sustainable business practices, she worked part time at East West Tea, the company behind Yogi Tea, before serving as its first full-time sustainability manager.
The aspect of the job that excites Buckles most is working with farmers and wild harvesters (those who harvest plants from their natural and "wild" habitat), who provide ingredients in more than 40 countries.
"There's so much opportunity to support them, to support the human beings who grow these crops," she says. "If you pick up a box of our tea and there are 16 different ingredients on it, those ingredients in many cases will have come from 16 different countries and countless different villages and communities around the world."
Maria Eduarda Camargo, 24
Founder, Pantys; São Paulo, Brazil
Maria Eduarda Camargo wants to talk about menstruating. The 24-year-old from São Paulo is working to destigmatize the subject and make it comfortable, fashionable and sustainable in the process.
Periods can be a taboo topic, but Camargo sees an opportunity for innovation. Her family has long worked in the lingerie industry, so women’s underwear is second nature to her. Modernizing the space, though, would require a new approach. She took matters into her own hands in 2017, when she founded the reusable underwear line Pantys, the first of its kind in Latin America. Essentially, sustainable fashion meets women’s health.
Camargo and her partner developed absorbent underwear with natural, biodegradable fabric that maintains functionality for an average of 50 washes, or about two years. The company claims to be carbon-neutral, investing in reforestation and offshore wind to offset the emissions associated with its products and operations.
Pantys’ products cut down on plastic waste — one person uses up to 15,000 pads and tampons over a lifetime, most of which wind up in landfills, estimates show. Sustainability is important to Camargo’s belief that "the health of the planet impacts our health," she says. "In Brazil, we are really connected to nature and the Amazon, so I have this conscience that we must take care of it."
Meanwhile, up to 500 million women and girls globally experience "period poverty," a lack of access to sanitary products and facilities. Pantys has donated over 10,000 pairs to help tackle that problem, including for the Shanekaya and Yawanawa indigenous communities in Brazil.
Camargo is proud to improve women’s quality of life. "You can feel pretty and confident and comfortable using the product," she says.
Haseena Charania, 29
ESG Communications Strategy Supervisor, UPS; Atlanta
The potential of the logistics giant UPS to move the needle in transportation — one of the largest contributors to climate change — is a way for Haseena Charania to protect those who may not have the voice and platform that she does.
In leading a piece of the communications strategy for one of the most dynamic companies in the sustainability space, she’s making sure the world knows about its climate work, which includes committing to buy 10,000 electric delivery vehicles, investing heavily in renewable natural gas and working toward a circular economy.
A big piece of Charania’s job is sustainability reporting, which helps to hold the company publicly accountable to its goals. Her work also covers diversity initiatives at UPS, including leading publicity for its internal publication, "Black Voices from Big Brown."
The seeds of Charania’s passion for sustainability were planted early in life in New York City, where she moved from India as a toddler, by an environmentally focused magnet school and a mother who instilled values beyond money.
During graduate school for environmental management and an internship with the United Nations that focused on climate-vulnerable countries, Charania's passions for sustainability and equity crystallized. She launched a consulting firm to help companies launch their sustainability journeys and worked with PwC on supporting underserved populations.
"It’s really work from the ground up; that’s what I try to go in and help with," Charania says.
—Mike De Socio
Morgan Collins, 28
Head of Sustainable Finance, Starbucks; Seattle
Born in Seoul before immigrating to the United States at age 2, Morgan Collins followed his father into a career in finance, working with hedge funds and private equity firms including BlackRock, making the leap to the Starbucks treasury department in 2016.
His first taste of the potential for sustainable finance came in 2017 when he led Starbucks in issuing the company’s first sustainability bond issue in a foreign market, Japan. "But what really got me interested in sustainability was back in investments," Collins recalls.
Challenged by the treasurer to find something creative to do with the company’s newly raised funds, he created a ESG corporate cash investment program. "It was the first time I was really in the driver seat for a sustainable finance initiative and showed me that not only could we be doing more by blending sustainability and finance, but that we should be doing more."
Now part of the Starbucks sustainability team, Collins created his unique corporate role basically from scratch. Over the past three years, he helped Starbucks create its first ESG money market fund, authored the sustainability team’s first submission for the company’s enterprise risk management process, and successfully petitioned the UN PRI to allow companies to join as signatories. He also co-managed the development of Starbucks’ 2030 sustainability goals and is deeply involved with the team’s environmental justice strategy.
"It’s harder, especially at first, to develop initiatives that have a good value proposition for every stakeholder," Collins says. "It takes more work, more time, more understanding. But that’s how we’re going to make lasting change."
Chris Dowd, 26
Strategic Partnerships, Social Impact, Google; San Francisco
As the youngest member of Google’s Global Product Partnerships team, Chris Dowd has made an impact as an internal diplomat, translating the goals of external stakeholders, including cities, NGOs and startups, for internal development teams from Israel to Singapore to Silicon Valley.
His interest in environmental resilience was born in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, after accompanying his father to the region to help with reconstruction.
In his three years with the tech giant, Dowd already has been part of the founding team for Google’s Environmental Insights Exploration, which helps midsize cities run emissions analyses, and negotiated an initiative for the Street View fleet to collect more granular air pollution data. More recently, he’s been working on a crisis response tool for wildfires and extreme weather impacts, such as flooding. The project is personal: his childhood home in Santa Rosa, California, burned in the 2020 Glass Fire.
"Just seeing how difficult that is and how quickly an extreme climate change event can rip through a community was extremely powerful for me and a validation of my professional purpose to play a role in this work," he says.
While at Tufts University, from which he received a bachelor’s in international relations and economics, Dowd was involved with the school’s fossil fuels divestment campaign and interned in the Obama White House. That experience was core to his conviction that addressing climate change will take collaboration from myriad stakeholders across the private and public sectors. "You have to be aware of what others are doing to do your best within your own lane."
Francesca Goodman-Smith, 27
Transform Program Leader, Fight Food Waste Co-op Research Center; Brisbane, Australia
Growing up with a chef father in seaside New Zealand, where neighbors shared vegetables from their gardens, Francesca Goodman-Smith knew where her food came from.
While studying to be a dietitian, she disliked the curriculum’s focus on illness rather than wellness. Goodman-Smith started seeing the crossover between the environmental impacts of how the food system works. Her thesis for a master’s in human nutrition focused on quantifying food waste at supermarkets.
"I felt like with food waste, I could really work at the prevention side and contribute to something much more global that has a touchpoint for everybody," Goodman-Smith says.
After earning her degree, she led programs to help Foodstuffs, one of New Zealand’s largest supermarket chains, separate its food waste for use in upcycled products. Goodman-Smith facilitated a program using Foodstuffs’ leftover bread to make beer that was sold back to the store. She also created a certification process and consumer label for upcycled foods that has just launched as a trial in New Zealand; she hopes this approach will expand to grocery stores in the U.S.
In April, Goodman-Smith moved to Brisbane, Australia, to start a new job leading transformational change in waste at the research center Fight Food Waste Cooperative. It works to help the Australian food industry become more competitive and sustainable by funding projects to better understand how to reduce supply-chain losses, transform waste resources and educate consumers. As she advances in her career from a regional role to a national one, Goodman-Smith hopes to make change some day at the global level.
Ghislain Irakoze, 21
CEO and Founder, Wastezon; Kigali, Rwanda
If you survived a garbage landslide, what would your next move be?
For Ghislain Irakoze, it was a startup helping boost electronics waste reuse and recycling in Rwanda. It wasn’t his next move, exactly — he survived the accident at a landfill during a school assignment when he was 12 and launched the company at age 18 — but that incident had a lasting impact.
"It inspired me to explore solutions that can be introduced in the community to reduce the waste that goes to landfill," he says. "[E-waste] is somehow concentrated here in our community, especially in Rwanda and other East African countries."
While building his company, which connects e-waste sellers to buyers who are often from the recycling industry, Irakoze has served as an adviser and researcher, including with the European Commission and Mastercard Foundation. He recently started as a research fellow at Sustainable Partners, a nonprofit think tank, where he investigates climate justice, circular economy and climate finance issues while laying out policy recommendations for change in the Global South.
For a long time, waste traders in Rwanda have struggled to get a fair price for their materials. When a user downloads Wastezon, they can upload photos of their e-waste and the app will help them determine how to set their price by detecting mineralogical content; the app also connects them with potential buyers.
"We are providing a platform where people can actually get transparency in e-waste trading," says Irakoze, noting that over 460 tons of e-waste have been transacted on the Wastezon app.
Adrienne Johnson, 29
Associate Engineer, Point Energy Innovations, San Francisco
Whether it’s helping schoolgirls build a house of cards for a gummy bear family or engineering decarbonized homes for underserved communities, Adrienne Johnson is advancing some of the most creative and equitable solutions in the built environment.
"What we're trying to do ... is show that building and designing in this sustainable way that is healthy for the people who are ultimately going to live there is something that is affordable and can be done for anyone," she says of working at the consultancy Point Energy Innovations.
Johnson is leading the energy strategy for a one-of-a-kind development breaking ground later this year in a once-redlined, now-gentrifying part of Oakland, California. The complex, 7th and Campbell, features a grocery store, a restaurant and a farm, clustered with 79 affordable, mostly solar-powered homes.
Johnson’s earlier work, a few years ago and 10,000 miles away in Cape Town, South Africa, brought to life another area’s long-deferred hopes. She led design and construction for the award-winning, net-positive-energy Parkwood Technology Centre community hub in a previously "coloureds only" neighborhood.
The former Girl Scout and once-fellow at the U.S. Green Building Council still makes time to volunteer at STEM workshops for youth and was involved with a nonprofit nudging Oakland middle schoolers into the outdoors. "Play in engineering and education is really important for inspiring creativity and connections for young people," she says.
Johnson is also helping to develop a course about decarbonizing buildings for Howard University, which ultimately will feed into an online resource for all schools developed by her employer along with her alma mater, Stanford University.
Jamario Jackson, 29
Senior Community Planner, TransForm; Oakland, California
California native Jamario Jackson has built his young career on public service. He already has more than a decade of experience in the legislative process and community engagement, from working for a local official in the Bay Area community of Concord during college to interning with hometown public transportation agency AC Transit alongside graduate studies in urban affairs at the University of San Francisco. After a brief stint with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Jackson joined Transform, an Oakland nonprofit supporting mobility and transportation services toward creating walkable communities.
His work includes two high-profile programs facilitating relationships among private companies developing mobility services, community based-organizations and local officials. The first is a collaboration with Lyft bringing ride-sharing and bike-sharing to underserved East Oakland neighborhoods. The second is a partnership with app developer Remix, centered on rethinking the transportation planning decision-making process to become more equitable.
Raised in a low-income, single-parent household, Jackson says he feels a weight on his shoulders to make a difference to underserved communities. He draws immense satisfaction from his ability to amplify voices that the private sector might not always hear, at least not directly. "As individuals, as people of color, no matter how you look at it, I have power, we have power. We might make all the decisions in our neighborhoods, but we have power. That voice is powerful."
Lina Khan, 29
Senior Sustainability Specialist and Global Design Resilience Practice Area Leader — Government + Defense, Gensler; San Francisco
Lina Khan hopes that her job — leading sustainability at global design and architecture firm Gensler — eventually will become obsolete. That’s a tall order; the company already counts 100 million square feet of LEED-certified projects and seeks to wipe out all emissions related to its work in the next decade.
Khan helps architects understand and apply energy metrics and carbon modeling to their designs, and also to better consider sustainability attributes on their own.
"My own goal at Gensler is to make sure everyone that works there feels like they are sustainability specialists in their job," Khan says.
While a large portion of her work includes leading project management across commercial architecture projects, Khan also dedicates time to her passion in clean energy and energy efficiency. She gained hands-on environmental science experience at the University of California at San Diego before completing a master’s in environmental management at Duke University, during which she worked for REI and Apple.
As a woman and a first-generation Pakistani-American, Khan believes it’s important to involve diverse voices.
"We don't exactly have the roadmap to solve this global problem of climate change but at least we're all having conversations in the room about it, and it’s important to make sure that multiple voices are involved as well," she says.
Erik Landry, 29
Climate Change Specialist, GRESB; Amsterdam, Netherlands
Erik Landry is versatile. He’s been a competitive tennis player and gymnast, he plays piano and guitar, and his career has taken interesting turns. "It's the interconnections that I find really interesting," he says. "The more fields I can cover, the more I can bring insights from those fields into other fields."
A chemistry major in college, Landry first worked at Argonne National Laboratory on the material science behind organic photovoltaics, a branch of electronics that deals with conductive organic polymers or small organic molecules. Wanting to see impact beyond a single solar technology, he next learned about the policy side of renewable energy while working in the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative. Yet he felt he was still missing a key element of the trifecta for renewable energy development: economics.
So, Landry went for a master’s in technology and policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was drawn to the topic of energy consumption. "I came to realize that if you give people more energy, it doesn't matter if that energy is renewable; they're going to use more energy," he says. "We have to get our consumption under control."
At MIT, Landry led a working group on climate-related scenario planning to support the goals of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. When the job at GRESB opened, he thought it was ideal.
At GRESB (founded as the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark), Landry manages research, projects and partnerships related to climate-risk and resiliency, and develops tools to help real estate asset managers and investors align their portfolios with international climate goals.
"It’s a dream job," he says.
Bonia Leung, 28
Sustainability Consultant, Environmental Resources Management (ERM); London
Bonia Leung didn’t set out to spend four years immersed in Hong Kong’s garbage. She originally applied for a job at the consultancy ERM in environmental health and safety, but it required someone with more experience than the recent college grad had at the time. She needed a proverbial foot in the door.
"The [sustainability consulting] industry in Hong Kong is quite small and it’s difficult to get in without connections," explains Leung, who grew up there. She was inspired to study environmental science and get a master’s degree in environmental engineering and management after a school trip to Singapore showed how the city became one of the most sustainable in the world.
Luckily, the folks at ERM thought she’d be more suited for another open position — in waste policy and strategy.
"It was the waste team that wanted me," Leung says with a laugh.
Since then, she’s grown fascinated with the work and has led a number of notable projects, including two with the Hong Kong government. The densely packed metropolis recycles only about 30 percent of its waste and its landfills have been bursting for years. Leung helped the city devise a plan to separate and collect food waste, and to create a regulatory program to eliminate single-use plastic tableware.
Leung, meanwhile, recently decided she was ready to see more of the world, so she spoke with ERM’s waste team in the United Kingdom about transferring to London.
"They said, ‘Yeah, we’ll take you on,'" she says. "I guess they just really like me."
Laurence Lloyd Lumagbas, 29
Sustainability and Strategic Risk Advisory Services Manager, Deloitte Southeast Asia; Taguig City, Manila, Philippines
Ten years ago, Tropical Storm Washi destroyed Laurence Lloyd Lumagbas’ hometown on the Philippines island of Mindanao. Seeing his city in shambles was, he says, a "very personal experience of what could happen if we don't live in a sustainable world."
It set Lumagbas on his path. "I was already very interested in the world of business, but that life event made me realize it's important for businesses not just to be commercially focused but to also … create a positive impact in society and the environment."
Lumagbas studied management economics and took a one-year course in social entrepreneurship. For his capstone project, he created a company to connect smallholder farmers in distant rural communities with urban markets for organically grown meat.
Today, at Deloitte Southeast Asia, Lumagbas helps some of the largest public companies in the world advance their sustainability and ESG objectives, such as by developing strategies that transform their culture.
Previously, he was branch founder and former Philippine president of 180 Degrees Consulting, a consultancy for nonprofits and social enterprises.
Lumagbas also cofounded Green Impact Global, his self-described "passion project" and winner of the Enactus Action Accelerator Global Award for student entrepreneurs. His initiative connects reforestation and climate mitigation with green financing and local economic development — all efforts that would buffer the types of destruction that Washi wrought.
Akshay Makar, 27
Founder and CEO, Climatenza Solar; Delhi, India
When most people think about solar, they think about electricity. But for Akshay Makar, that ignores a huge piece of solar energy’s potential to fight climate change. That’s why, after graduating college in 2015 with a mechanical engineering degree, he looked at India’s saturated photovoltaic industry and decided to go in a different direction.
"My vision was to be a part of something that would revolutionize," Makar says.
That something is Climatenza Solar, the company he founded that is developing solar thermal technology for large-scale clients, including H&M and Nestlé factories. Solar thermal plants capture thermal energy that can be used for hot water or steam, some of the largest energy needs in industrial settings that currently rely on fossil fuels.
Makar launched his company in Delhi with the help of governmental and nonprofit grants, and has since expanded to Chile, where solar radiation is abundant and the government is eager to accelerate energy companies through Start-Up Chile, a startup accelerator
Makar is getting assistance from a mentorship and investment program run by BP. In the near term, he’s focused on improving efficiency, reducing cost and developing local supply chains to make solar thermal more feasible for the industrial sector, including textile, food processing and chemical plants.
"We want to scale up in megawatts, not in kilowatts," Makar says.
—Mike De Socio
Marta Misiulaitytė, 29
Sustainability Manager, Ignitis Group; Vilnius, Lithuania
Marta Misiulaitytė works at the core of Lithuania’s sustainability evolution at state-owned energy supplier Ignitis Group.
"It used to be all about the players with the big oil and natural gas reserves," says Misiulaitytė of the clean-energy shift in the Baltic nation, population 2.7 million. "And now it's about well, anybody can build a wind turbine and put solar panels on the roof. So, we can be completely independent and kind of innovate and adapt those practices very quickly."
The energy holding company is adopting renewable energy and smart meters, seeking to satisfy global science-based emissions targets alongside the European Green Deal.
Misiulaitytė attended Bowdoin College in Maine, studied in Jordan, completed a master’s in sociology in Berlin and did a stint at the European Commission before returning home to Lithuania to work in the public sector.
The Ignitis Group satisfies her desire to dig deep on difficult sustainability goals, and meets her two criteria for a vocation: making an impact and driving personal growth. On the side, Misiulaitytė mentors sustainable businesses, and is nurturing an effort that provides Lithuanian NGOs with acceleration tools that are usually only available for for-profit startups.
Growing up in the newly independent nation in the 1990s, she recalls her family reusing, repurposing and repairing clothes and other items, and pickling homegrown vegetables for the winter.
"When I tried to explain to my grandma, my babushka, what I do professionally, she doesn't really get it, because she's like, ‘Well, isn't that kind of how things used to work?’ What the hipsters now are doing is very much like the original Lithuanian babushka way."
Alex Mitoma, 28
Environmental Specialist Associate, Port of Long Beach; Long Beach, California
Alex Mitoma works in energy management, in which he likes to say the career path isn’t yet defined, but the issue certainly is: transitioning entire industries away from fossil fuels. He’s helping to lead one piece of that transition at the Port of Long Beach, the second-busiest container port in the United States.
Mitoma came to the role after stints at a sustainability education nonprofit and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. From there, he launched a career in environmental consulting, where he worked with factories, military bases and lumber mills to address remediation, compliance and air, soil and water health.
"Despite growing up in a landlocked state, water has always been my thing," says the native Coloradan, an avid swimmer.
Mitoma’s signature project at Long Beach is developing a microgrid, which would allow critical operations to continue even during a major power outage. He calls it a "trial by fire" that will test a mix of renewable energy technologies, including solar arrays and battery storage. This work, mirrored at other ports in California, will be crucial to boosting reliability as states fully electrify their infrastructure. Mitoma is also managing an ambitious study in energy resiliency as the port rushes to reach zero-emissions by 2030.
"It’s inspiring to see that even a monolithic industry like this can turn their heads," he says.
—Mike De Socio
Sripriya Navalpakam, 27
Sustainability Manager for North America, Unilever; New York City
When Unilever announces a sustainability commitment — such as to collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells by 2025 — it’s Sripriya Navalpakam’s job to make sure the consumer goods giant delivers in North America.
To do that, she works with everyone in the business, from procurement and R&D to the brands and customer development teams, "to really help bring the strategy to life internally and actually drive action," she says.
Navalpakam is part of corporate affairs for Unilever North America and the only sustainability manager on the team.
Studying marketing and strategy at the University of Michigan, she did not imagine this career. "I was really interested in poverty in the U.S. and solutions, like microfinancing and small business loans, to really help bring people out of poverty," Navalpakam says.
But after hearing Unilever’s vice president of sales speak during a "positive business" course where she was a teaching assistant, she applied for Unilever's Future Leaders Program.
Since starting in 2015, Navalpakam has been climbing the ranks at Unilever, bouncing among various divisions and functions, from foods to beauty and personal care, and gaining exposure to a wide variety of leaders there.
A recent project she is proud to be a part of is the launch of the Farm Powered Strategic Alliance, which repurposes "unavoidable food waste" into renewable energy, in partnership with Starbucks and Dairy Farmers of America.
Taylor Price, 29
Manager of Global Sustainability, AptarGroup; Charlotte, North Carolina
When Taylor Price began a master’s in environmental management, she assumed she would finish and work in government to write sweeping national environmental policies. But the 2016 presidential election forced her to pivot to creating change in the private sector.
"One of the things I’ve learned is the government moves pretty slowly," she says. "Something that’s actually really exciting to me about business is that you can do multiple things all the time and move so much faster."
While at Duke University, Price earned national recognition as one of eight members of the 2018 class of Energy Scholars, a program designed to help empower a new generation of renewable energy leaders. And she was trained as a climate leader by The Climate Reality Project.
AptarGroup, a global consumer packaging company that makes bottles for Kraft Heinz ketchup and others, connects household brands such as Estee Lauder and Nestlé to large plastic resin manufacturers such as Exxon, SABIC and KW Plastics for their bottles, caps and pumps. As manager of global sustainability, Price led a program that looked at Aptar’s procurement chain and turned the product team’s focus to post-consumer recycled content for its packaging products, including bottles and caps.
Her role after graduating college in helping high school students find their path to college led Price to look at everything through a social equity lens. At Aptar, she tries to inject more "social" into its environmental, social and governance program. That included helping launch the Aptar Women’s Network as its youngest member.
Yangshengjing "UB" Qiu, 27
Partnership Development Executive, Green Monday; Shanghai
Yangshengjing "UB" Qiu loves making connections. As sustainability lead for North Asia at flooring company Interface, she was responsible for educating sometimes reluctant colleagues and business partners across Japan, China and South Korea about the value of taking action on climate change.
Since March, in a new role as partnership development executive in Shanghai for Hong Kong-based food startup Green Monday, she’s parlaying her corporate experience — including with the sustainability consulting group at EY — into convincing companies, schools and restaurants in China to support a shift to plant-based diets. Qiu herself is a flexitarian, an advantage in convincing organizations to support adopting plant-based menus at least one day per week.
"Not everyone buys into the idea of eating less meat, especially in China," she says, pointing to the relatively recent rise of the country’s middle class and associated changes in food consumption.
Qiu, who studied psychology and environmental policy at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, was drawn to a career in sustainability during a study-abroad program in Iceland, where she lived in an ecovillage and climbed her first mountain. She recalls reading dire pollution news from home, and being struck by how little attention climate change received in China at the time..
Even now, with China’s more enlightened populace, Qui says it’s not easy selling the value of sustainability. But she’s determined. At EY, she co-founded an informal local network of young sustainability professionals — inspiring them to share best practices to buoy their collective missions. More recently, she’s started a podcast in Mandarin titled "What the Heck Is Sustainability?"
Brittany Regner, 28
Assistant Vice President, Environmental and Social Risk, Credit Suisse; New York City
Ask Brittany Regner what word best describes her and she quickly answers, "Resilient." Yet to hear her speak, "optimist" or "influencer" are also what come to mind. "People shine when they feel inspired by causes, and my cause is climate change," she says.
As a child, Regner loved watching "Bill Nye the Science Guy." She was also influenced by her father, an economist and entrepreneur, who started a landscaping business and shared his passion for gardening. "Growing up with a dad that understood both numbers and the environment very well, I fell in love with both at an early age and it doesn't surprise me that I use both every day now."
At Credit Suisse, Regner works with clients in climate-sensitive industries — oil, gas, coal and power generation — to identify their physical and financial climate risks and assess their transition-readiness prior to the bank doing transactions with them. She also advises corporations on the materials and technologies they should adopt to transition to low-carbon operations.
Previously, Regner worked on Superstorm Sandy recovery for New York City, promoting inclusion of minority- and women-owned businesses. She has a master’s in environmental policy and sustainability management from The New School.
Puerto Rico holds a special place in Regner’s heart. She has family there and worries about climate change’s threat to the island. Last year, when Regner learned Puerto Rico imports 90 percent of its food, she developed a pilot program connecting domestic farmers with local consumers.
"I think we're fighting to protect the places we love, and the people we love along the way."
Elisabeth Anna Resch, 29
Advisor, Global Impact Initiatives, United Nations Global Compact; Santiago, Chile
Austria-born Elisabeth Anna Resch has known she wanted to work in global development and sustainability since age 19 during an internship with an NGO, where she interviewed HIV patients.
"My eyes were completely opened to how sex workers were treated in Austria and the stigma and legal barriers that exist in even developed countries around HIV/AIDS," she says. "So, it's always been little challenges everywhere that I've encountered that have inspired me to work in this space."
A decade later, Resch has worked across five continents on issues ranging from human rights to sanitation policy to youth engagement. Along the way, she obtained a law degree from the University of Vienna and a master’s in International Law from Georgetown University. Resch sees her common career thread as what she calls "social sustainability."
Her United Nations path started in 2015 when she supported the Sustainable Development Goals at the Executive Office of the U.N. Secretary-General. At the U.N. Global Compact, Resch pioneers the "Target Gender Equality" project, which engages more than 300 companies in meeting ambitious goals for women's leadership in 40 countries.
"When we talk about women representation in leadership, we don’t just need that for climate action, we need it for everything," she says. "More diverse teams would be engaged in different decision-making, [and] we would have more meaningful, sustainable and long-term solutions."
In her free time, Resch — fluent in English, German and Spanish — is learning Swahili and advocates for endangered languages.
Harold Rickenbacker, 29
Manager, Clean Air and Innovation, EDF; Washington, D.C.
For Harold Rickenbacker, managing clean air and innovation at the Environmental Defense Fund isn’t really about the environment but the communities of people who live in it. Attending the historically Black South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, where he grew up, he witnessed chemical runoff from farms into area waterways, and the need for sustainable agriculture.
"I’ve seen firsthand how those impacts have detrimentally impacted or disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities by environmental hazards, whether that's air pollution, energy, insecurity, water quality," he says.
After completing a Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh followed by a few years in academia, Rickenbacker wanted to make a more direct impact. At EDF, he has worked with corporate partners, including helping install air quality sensors on Google’s Street View vehicle fleet to increase pollution detection in underserved communities.
The sensors collect data on a block-by-block, granular level to give the public important air-quality information, and which Rickenbacker’s team can research. He led air quality monitoring after Hurricane Harvey in Texas, during wildfires in California and in hotspots near factories, waste management plants and shipping ports.
"We want the most impacted communities to have a seat at the table so that their voices are heard," he says. "But most importantly, they demonstrate and represent a lived experience, where they can speak to the impact of environmental contamination in their backyard, and the impact that it has on quality of life and health and well-being in their surrounding community."
Yashi Shreshta, 29
Director, Science and Research, Novi; Santa Monica, California
Until recently, the personal care industry has prioritized the look and feel of its lotions, lacquers and lipsticks. "But the overall safety and sustainability part has been looked at almost as a cherry on top," says Yashi Shreshta, who is helping to clean up beauty at Novi, a startup infusing product design with artificial intelligence to help brands improve their beauty product formulations.
Shreshta works with Novi’s engineers on software that decodes chemical data in ways that its clients, often hampered by spreadsheets, databases and email threads, cannot. The company helps Sephora, Target, Credo and others find alternatives to questionable ingredients — stuff such as parabens, benzophenones and dimethicone. That enables Novi to meet a brand’s unique standards, such as vegan, petroleum-free or biodegradable.
CEO Kimberly Shenk brought on Shreshta as the first hire from makeup retailer Naked Poppy, where they had also worked together.
In her previous role spearheading health and safety at Beautycounter, Shreshta dabbled in product development, regulatory matters, sourcing and operations.
The MBA hopeful wants beauty and personal care companies to advance beyond filling in the "black boxes" around suspect ingredients. She envisions a process for holistic product creation that reduces water and energy waste while embracing circular flows for ingredients and packaging, especially plastics.
Lessons from being raised in bustling Kathmandu, the capital of developing nation Nepal, inform Shreshta’s work: "My dad always said, ‘Simple living, high thinking.’ I always think of that as, how do we innovate to occupy little space in the environment but also have a great impact while doing so?"
Dawnielle Tellez, 29
Senior Sustainability Analyst, REI, Seattle
Sustainability and environmentalism are a natural fit for outdoor gear companies, and Dawnielle Tellez has worked at that intersection at two of the best-known players, Patagonia and REI.
"[Love of the outdoors] is a natural starting point that people understand," she says. "They’re used to the ‘leave no trace’ concept in the outdoors. So how can you think about applying some of that to your own life and your own consumption decisions?"
At Patagonia, Tellez looked inward, helping create its first zero-waste strategy, including devoting a week around that theme for its U.S. employees. At REI, as a senior sustainability analyst, she is looking externally at the supply chain for its branded products and the footprint of the 1,400 brands it stocks.
"Quantifying the environmental impact of REI is basically quantifying the environmental impact of the entire outdoor industry," Tellez says.
Her dream project is to focus on rental gear as a way of creating circular practices and reducing environmental impacts in the outdoor recreation supply chain. If Tellez had unlimited resources, she would create Amazon-like lockers at national parks, pre-packed with tents, backpacks and anything else an outdoorswoman would need.
"I'm really excited about the idea of how businesses can start to derive value from products and services differently," she says. "And a lot of that is through unlocking opportunities in the circular economy. Seeing that momentum build and being at this intersection of environment and business, I think is super exciting. [My job] touches on climate, it touches on waste, it touches on water, all these things that are vitally important to the environment."
Cassandra Vickers, 28
Clean Transportation Product Developer, National Grid; Boston
Cassandra Vickers migrated to the United States from Jamaica when she was 2. Growing up in Boston, she adopted the career mindset of "doctor, lawyer, engineer," to ensure she could care for her family.
"Working in the environmental sustainability space was just not on my radar," she says.
That changed during her third year as a pre-med at the University of Pennsylvania. Vickers enrolled in an environmental policy class and got involved in Fossil Free Penn. Finding herself the only Black person in the student divestment group, everything clicked. "I knew that this is where I needed to be," she says.
At National Grid, where Vickers focuses on innovating new business models to establish vehicle charging infrastructure for commercial customers with large fleets, equity is at the top of her agenda.
"We've been really intentional about the programs that we're building and being sure that they’re actually going to impact disadvantaged communities," she says, noting that utility rebate programs have typically benefited wealthier customers.
Vickers sees opportunity with electric vehicle fleets: "If we can target putting electric school buses in predominantly Black and brown communities, we can start to clean up the air" and improve the health of those communities, she says.
Looking forward, Vickers wants to mesh her two passions, working with youth and energy education. Previously, she helped start a STEM initiative with the Boston Green Academy middle and high school. During college, Vickers worked with City Step, a program that builds self-understanding through dance in Philadelphia schools.
"I think we should be exposing students to careers in energy and sustainability in middle school," Vickers says.