Hampton grad makes Forbes’ 30 Under 30

Thursday, January 2, 2020 | 12:01 AM


Zachary Smith, a 2009 Hampton graduate, was named in Forbes Magazine’s annual 30 Under 30 in its Energy category for 2020.

Smith, 29, is founder and chief visionary officer of Zauben, a design firm based in Chicago that specializes in green, energy-efficient designs utilizing living walls, green roofs, and other sustainable measures.

He discovered he was selected as a Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree in December. Forbes 30 Under 30 is an annual list that features 600 honorees in 20 industries, according to Forbes.com.

“I was pretty excited. We were happy and surprised,” said Smith.

His firm had applied for the competition previously, so he said it was great to be recognized.

But starting a business that specializes in green building design wasn’t anything he set out to do at Hampton or at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated in 2013 with a degree in Business Management and Entrepreneurship.

While he enjoyed business in college, Zach said he “got really lucky” obtaining an internship at a Chicago-based company which eventually led to full-time position there. He then began working at a living wall design company, which grew his own interest in green building design.

This led to him founding Zauben in 2019, a green product and service company.

“Zauben brings life into cities, promoting green and smarter, energy efficient designs,” he said.

Living walls and green roofs are specialties of the firm.

Their self-sustaining green roofs create longevity to rooftops, reduce storm water runoff and noise pollution, help purify the air, and earn tax credits among other benefits. The roofs and walls incorporate plant growth in its framework..

Though their headquarters are in Chicago, Zach said he is still a Pittsburgher at heart, especially when it comes to the Steelers.

As far as being a student at Hampton, he was more into athletics at the time, including basketball, football and track. He said Hampton was definitely a benefit in his educational career. And, though he considered himself a bit of a “lazy student,” his parents think differently.

“I expected it from him. He always tried and has a good personality,” said Gregory Smith, who still lives in Hampton with Zach’s mother Debra.

“Zach’s always been an inspiration, a positive person and a people person,” said Debra. “I pray for him everyday.”

Smith credits the faculty and “top-talent teachers” for making a good impression on him and other students.

“They took a lot of pride in having a Blue Ribbon School. They prepared me for college,” he said.

And many Hampton teachers motivated him along the way. Just a few he recalled were high school physical education teacher Derek Brinkley; high school history teacher Thomas Gleason; and an English teacher Andrew Halter who “really made me want to do well.” He even remembers motivating projects Halter gave to his students.

Zach also recently reached out to Joe Afflerbach, who was his physics teacher at Hampton. Though the former alumni was probably close to 1,400 students ago, Afflerbach still recalls the very friendly student.

“He always had a smile. He was also very creative,” said Afflerbach.

He has an older and younger brother that both live in Chicago. His older sister lives in Pittsburgh. All are Hampton graduates.

Smith said he enjoys living in Chicago, though it’s definitely more busy than Pittsburgh. He makes it a point to always self-educate, so he reads a lot of biographies of people he admires and listens to podcasts.

Advice to students is “It’s OK to fail. It’s OK not to know what you want to do. Failure is part of the process.”

He’s a testament to that idea as he didn’t think he’d be doing what he is doing now when he entered IUP, but it’s about exploring and evolving.

“You’ll eventually find it,” he said.

Afflerbach said as a teacher it’s important “to motivate students to reach beyond themselves, to learn to problem solve and to grow as people.”

“Honestly, when I read Zach’s e-mail, I was shocked and, then proud of him. Shocked because I wasn’t sure Zach was listening and then proud when I realized that he was,” said Afflerbach.