Traci Rose Rider, LEED AP, was working as an intern at HOK in Houston in 2002 when she decided to drive over to Austin, Texas, for the afternoon to attend the U.S. Green Building Council-sponsored Greenbuild conference. Energized by the overwhelming turnout of students and young professionals—and alarmed by the lack of networking available to them—she and several cohorts founded Emerging Green Builders, a branch of USGBC. Firms can join USGBC but individuals cannot, she explains, so there was no way to include students and interns stuck in status-quo firms. “Some firms still perceive sustainability as a fad, and young professionals don't get paid for their research,” Rider says. “We wanted to offer them not only access to discounts through USGBC but also to national resources.”

To draw people in, one of the first orders of business was to launch a Natural Talent Design Competition. But as the founding members soon discovered, recent graduates need funding support to participate. Thus, in 2006 the competition went local. EGB groups, most of them tied to USGBC chapters, sponsored their own competition and sent the first-place winners to Greenbuild Denver for a Best in Show judging. Out of 11 entries, the jury picked three winners: USGBC's National Capital Region chapter for its temporary school modules, the New York chapter for a nature center, and the North Carolina Triangle chapter's Habitat for Humanity house. Honorable mention was given to a sustainable campus designed by the Colorado chapter.

What began in 2003 with eight members scattered across the country has now burgeoned to more than 80 groups. Officially, EGB is open to students and those within five years of graduation. But Rider says most groups welcome anyone; many members are in the over-30 crowd and include a broad net of professionals, from educators to ecosystem managers. For more information, visit www.usgbc.org/egb.

Download PDFs of the winning entries.

Renderings: Courtesy USGBC's Emerging Green Builders Committee