By Alis Arditi and Pianpian Wang
Standing on the 6th floor balcony of the Singer Building located in SOHO, New York, Olivia looks at the crowd while she says, “I love this neighborhood. It is always full of surprises and changes, and it is exactly how I feel in the field of environmental issues.”
Real Estate as Her Career?
Olivia has been active in the environmental space since 2006, yet she was not engaged with the field at the beginning.
After graduating from Harvard, Olivia was offered a job in New York City as a real estate developer and she decided to take the chance as she thought it was a great opportunity for her career. She started to work on the development of a 7 million square foot waterfront property, and then became the construction manager of other projects because of her outstanding performance. Later, Olivia came to own her real estate development management company after some years of experience. During that time, Olivia’s story has appeared in many news articles, because the real estate industry was considered men’s business, yet she made great achievements as a businesswoman.
Being successful and aggressive was the tone in the real estate industry. People were chasing each other on how to boost the value of a property and then sell it for building a taller and bigger one. In this context, it was difficult to be proactive on environmental issues. “My gut told me that it is not right. Our natural resources are limited, including the land. I was telling myself that we needed to do the real estate business in a more sustainable way,” Olivia said and she did turn the thought into actions.
She went to Columbia University to attend a Master program on Environmental Policy Finance and Economics. After graduating, Olivia worked as an advisor on carbon sequestration projects in Africa as a part of her research for the University. “Many people found it was unbelievable that I grew up in Central East Africa and had lived there for 10 years.” Olivia points out the area on the map while she is talking. “I had a wonderful childhood when I was there. Abundant sunshine and lots of animals are the most unforgettable things to me,” she added.
The Environmental Field: Her New Adventure
While Olivia was back to Africa for the carbon sequestration projects, she found that droughts were severe in many parts of Africa, mainly on the eastern and southern side of the continent. Several inland lakes that played an important role in supporting local people’s daily life have dried up, which posed severe impacts on communities that lived around the lakes.
“If there is one thing that got me through till this day, I think it is the love for our Mother Nature. It is human instinct and you cannot avoid it.”
Local people thought the droughts were just a bad luck of the year, yet Olivia assumed that the droughts had likely resulted from carbon emissions due to environment degradation, even though the 5th IPCC report has not yet existed at that time. “If we restored the balance of the environment, then we could find the key to solve the real problem.” Therefore, she firmly believed that carbon sequestration would be a way to mitigate the severe situation in Africa.
During Olivia’s stay in Africa, she helped develop carbon sequestration projects, such as planting trees, and other programs that reduced carbon emissions. Olivia affirmed that there would be a possible market for carbon sequestration in Africa that would help eventually grow the economy.
In 2006, Olivia founded Carbon Credit Capital with focus on supporting low carbon project development, after she came back from Africa. “It was a brand new field to the world and there were not many companies like us at that time.” Carbon Credit Capital has been active in the voluntary market since it was born. No governmental incentives, little knowledge that the public had, were the main barriers that the business had to tackle. When she was asked about the challenges at the early stage of establishing the company, Olivia smiled, “it certainly had some and we still face a lot, but you would never get bored in this field and you learn new things every day.” Indeed, ten years later, the concepts of carbon markets and carbon credits have obtained more and more attention. The emergence of the California cap-and-trade and other carbon trading systems in the world also implied that a new era of carbon pricing is forming.
Ugastove Project and Her Goal
Among the low carbon projects listed on Carbon Credit Capital’s portfolio, a project called Ugastove Efficient Cook Stoves can capture your attention easily. “This project is in Uganda,” Olivia said. “Believe it or not, people in Africa still use very outdated cooking tools. They wanted to get rid of hunger, but they ignored that the poor situation with indoor pollution generated from the outdated facilities can cause more people’s death. People need help there.”
Olivia’s parents had a great deal of respect for the countryside when they lived in Africa. She has deep attachment to the land, the nature, the animals, and the people. “If there is one thing that got me through till this day, I think it is the love for our Mother Nature. It is human instinct and you cannot avoid it.”