As a Sustainability Manager for Google, Joel Cesare is in a position to affect real estate and building decisions in locations around the world. As part of a company with more than 70 offices and 119,000 employees globally, the impact of those decisions quickly adds up.
“My team works on a global portfolio,” Joel explains. “Thinking about sustainability with regard to real estate is in the DNA of the company. We not only seek to innovate but try to demonstrate next-frontier green building concepts can be done in a replicable way. Ultimately, our goal is to maximize the reuse of finite resources across our operations, products, and supply chains and enable others to do the same.”
Getting to a position with such a far-reaching scope took some time, but Joel’s commitment to international environmental problem solving dates back to being at Bren. Before entering the Master of Environmental Science and Management program, he worked in the financial industry as a specialist in environmental insurance. As he thought about how to take the next steps in life and career, earning a graduate degree at Bren topped the list of his choices.
“I had managers and colleagues at that job who were Bren alumni, and I had a lot of respect for those people,” he says. “I applied to a couple of other places, but I don’t even know if I would have gone to grad school if I didn’t get into Bren. When I got in, it was kind of a dream come true.”
That dream might have struck some as unusual because Joel’s main interest, green building, wasn’t offered as a specialized track within the MESM program. But Joel saw the potential. “What’s cool about Bren is you can pursue anything you want to that is related to environmental issues,” he says. He found an internship and group project that helped confirm his interest in green building, and the Bren Career Services team helped him make connections to the industry.
“These were people that they knew personally who would be happy to meet me,” he says. “Some were alumni, others were group project sponsors. I was always welcomed with open arms to these conversations. The reputation of previous Bren students and their good work spoke for me even before I arrived at these conversations.”
I think there’s an appetite for bold thinking, and that’s only going to increase as we move forward. Don’t be afraid to be the person in the room some might think is crazy.
Joel’s internship and group project also gave him international work experience that he still draws lessons and skills from today. The internship was in London, where he worked as a consultant at a small company. “I wasn’t really an intern, even; I got really good, practical green building experience in the UK,” he says. For the group project, his team collaborated with a group of students at Nanjing University; they traveled to China at the end of the project to share results and do group presentations with the Nanjing team.
“That project gave me a perspective on China most people never see,” he says. “I worked collaboratively with people who cared about the environment and wanted to solve the same problems we do. So I would encourage students to really take advantage of what Bren provides when it comes to getting out there, seeing the world.”
After graduation, Joel’s first position was with a contractor. “I shortly realized it wasn’t exactly my dream job,” he says, “but I stayed because I knew I needed the experience. And it helped set me on the course to find a perfect job. It elevated my resume. For my next position with the City of Santa Monica, they liked that construction background combined with my environmental experience.”
After several years working on an ambitious project with the City of Santa Monica—a building that is completely water self-sufficient and is under consideration for the title of the world’s greenest building—Joel made his next step to Google. The networking skills he had learned at Bren helped him to make the transition from the public sector to the tech industry.
“My mindset was to always be using whatever tools I could to expand my network,” he says. “I started making connections, and it turned out Google was working on a lot of the same problems that we were. By the time the job I’m now in came up, I knew the team that was hiring, and it ended up being a perfect fit.”
Beyond networking, Joel has a few words of advice of his own for those looking for careers in sustainability, in real estate and beyond.
“Be bold,” he says. “When I have found success it’s been when I’ve been the boldest voice in the room and the loudest about how we need to push innovation harder. I think there’s an appetite for bold thinking, and that’s only going to increase as we move forward. Don’t be afraid to be the person in the room some might think is crazy. We need more of those people.”
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