Speaking from Google’s offices at 111 Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, Molly Zinzi’s voice swells with enthusiasm as she talks about her employer’s latest sustainability efforts: reducing storm-water runoff, using ice storage tanks to alleviate strain on the city’s electricity grid, and driving efforts to reduce its carbon footprint from 30 percent down to 50 percent by 2050. “We’re aligning our sustainability goals with the sustainability goals of the city,” she says.
Five years after first joining Google, Zinzi has risen to become facilities manager for the tech company’s three-building, 1.2-million-sq-ft Manhattan campus. But getting to where she is today started more than a decade ago, sitting around a table and clinking glasses with other sustainability-minded peers at a Mexican restaurant in the West Village. “We were really just trying to connect some of the dots and get people who were thinking about the same things in the same room,” she says.
Those were the early days of what became New York City’s Emerging Professionals program. Since its inception in the early 2000s, the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) community-based program has been connecting emerging and young professionals from across industries, giving sustainability-curious newcomers access to education, networking opportunities, and project experience. And for the first generation of Manhattan-based Emerging Professionals, the skills and relationships from those early days have been a springboard to becoming today’s green building leaders. “A large part of my career’s success was tied to my involvement as an EPer,” says Audi Banny, director of corporate sustainability initiatives at Estée Lauder Companies and one of the co-founders of Emerging Professionals in New York City.
In 2004, Banny was still a student at the School of Visual Arts when she attended a quarterly meeting of the USGBC’s New York chapter, Urban Green. Sustainability was a burgeoning movement, and Banny was eager to soak up all the knowledge she could, but she had a hard time deciphering the terminology peppering sentences—and she suspected that some of her peers were scratching their heads too. She raised her hand and asked about programs aimed at individuals like her, whose passion for green building surpassed their fluency in the industry dialect. “To this day, [sustainability] is consistently evolving,” Banny says. “Back around 2003 through 2006, so much was happening and there was so much to share that we really thought, ‘How can we share this information in a way that’s fun, engaging, and it doesn’t necessarily limit who our audience is?’”