This interview introduces my friend and ex-colleague Karina Cady, who has moved from environmental consulting to now working in the circular economy. She recently told me about a project she’s working on, which is about converting airplanes into electric vehicles. We couldn’t find a name for what she now does. It mostly involves developing an investment case and pulling together all of the people you’d need – but for scalable solutions to environmental problems. So I took to calling it a fixer – an ‘eco-fixer’!
Karina is based in Singapore.
- What is this interview series about?
- Why are ‘eco-fixers’ important in the transition to a circular economy and to climate action?
- What problems / which SDGs do an ‘eco-fixer’ solve?
- What do you do as an ‘eco-fixer’? What does a typical week look like?
- Best thing about being an ‘eco-fixer’?
- Worst thing about being an ‘eco-fixer’?
- How much can someone earn as an ‘eco-fixer’?
- What are the future career prospects for an ‘eco-fixer’?
- How did you get into deal-making for sustainability?
- What kind of person is good at being an ‘eco-fixer’?
- Suggested further reading / learning for an aspiring ‘eco-fixer’:
What is this interview series about?
The 21st century will inevitably be a century of change. The excesses of systems we invented throughout the Industrial Age to solve the problems of the past, amplified in the 20th century. This resulted in instability of the Earth’s climate systems, as well as of the living systems of the planet through biodiversity loss, which are known as the Climate Crisis and the Biodiversity Crisis.
Reversing these planetary crises requires changing those systems to become sustainable, ideally without reviving the pre-industrial age problems that spurred its unchecked growth to begin with, such as lower food production & availability, limited access to healthcare, and reduced quality of life due to the poverty trap. In order to do so, we need to understand which jobs must be created, and which ones must change.
This interview is intended to give some insight to people looking for employment in the landscape of the future sustainable world. It is not meant to be career advice; not all jobs explored in this series are common today, or in your location. Rather, it is to expand your mindset on new job possibilities on the horizon, and what livelihood can mean in the future. For a more detailed description of this interview series, go to the Jobs on the Horizon archive.
I asked Karina to describe to me the work that she does against a series of questions. Here’s what she said about being an ‘eco-fixer’.
Why are ‘eco-fixers’ important in the transition to a circular economy and to climate action?
We need to remove the many barriers to implementation in order to achieve net zero. Improving the way problem owners connect with solution providers helps to remove such barriers. We then accelerate at scale through providing the financing to adopt such changes across supply chains. No one company can do this alone.
What problems / which SDGs do an ‘eco-fixer’ solve?
I subscribe to the Brundtland theory of sustainable development. Meaning, if we do not put inequality at the heart of the global development agenda, we will fail. Our linear consumption patterns drive unequal order and incentivizes the market to profit from continual exploitation of people and the environment.
Removing the friction for companies and investors seeking to grasp at opportunities to move to a low carbon circular economy is an avenue to rectifying these inequalities. The incumbent beneficiaries of the unequal order are fighting every step of the way to block this shift. The ‘fixer’ role evolved from addressing the needs of early market adopters willing to take on the transition risks for their industries. If we can achieve a wholesale paradigm shift towards an economy that values sustainable patterns of growth – then in theory the level of market friction we work with should be resolved.
If we do not put inequality at the heart of the global development agenda, we will fail.
– Karina Cady
What do you do as an ‘eco-fixer’? What does a typical week look like?
I lead a highly collaborative team that creates low-carbon supply chain solutions for growth industries critical to the net zero transition. In simple terms we are removing 30% of emissions from the manufacturing footprint. We work cross-discipline, with multiple industries and sectors.
In the past, when building new teams or solutions I was too focused on fire fighting what was in front of me. I’d be diving straight into replying to emails or accepting back to back calls. This compromised my ability to be strategic, or learn new skills and perspectives that can support our mission to create innovative solutions. To avoid falling into this behaviour again, I start my week with a ‘priority review’. I adjust my schedule accordingly, and aim to delegate aggressively.
Mondays are typically with the product team, reviewing questions/issues/status. Tuesdays to Thursdays are supplier and partnership engagements, both virtually and on site at manufacturing locations. Fridays are intentionally unstructured to allow for new meet-ups and connections. Saturday mornings, I’m catching our investors at the end of their week so I can incorporate any actions in my Monday kick-offs.
Proactive communication and disciplined follow up skills are important in our team. Just having the market intelligence on what can deliver impact is not of value, if it’s not in the hands of someone who can actually implement and do something about it.
Best thing about being an ‘eco-fixer’?
The people! Specifically my team, industry partners and investors. They entrust me with full creative control on how we structure our delivery and design solutions. Working with a partnership network has been a fantastic model to run a lean operations centre while delivering exponential value. I love how much I learn from those around me every week. It’s been a much needed recharge after nearly two decades in an environmental career.
Worst thing about being an ‘eco-fixer’?
Ruthless prioritisation is essential so that I am only involved in the highest value tasks. I find it hard to stick to. I have a tendency to say yes to every opportunity and every ask. But beyond the basic practicalities, the more we grow, the more important it is that we serve our core strategic imperative. When we stretch ourselves to try and serve all issues/challenges we end up solving for nothing. But this is also a great problem to have – so watch this space. Maybe we figure out this balance soon!
How much can someone earn as an ‘eco-fixer’?
This is the highest risk/reward role I have had in my career. Conventional salary-based deal sourcing or business opportunity management roles focusing on carbon reduction, net zero, circularity, etc. within a corporate or institutional investment firm typically range from US$150k-$220k, with various benefits/bonuses. So it’s very attractive to stay in these sectors. However, after twenty years with a steady income addressing the negative environmental impact from corporate activity, I was looking for something different. I needed flexibility to provide care for my family and my own health. And I wanted to challenge myself to create projects and investments where my skill sets would be of greatest value. This meant creating the circumstances I wanted to be in.
I launched my new venture with contracts structured for myself and my team to have ‘skin in the game’. In other words, it is to our financial interest that we deliver the impact our investors are seeking. The first year was rocky. I didn’t have a salary for a while and could only offer part-time contracts to my collaborators. But the risk paid off. Not only has it been the most financially rewarding role I’ve had, I am now in a position to hand pick the talent I need to support our ambitions.
Figuring this out required me to advance my own financial literacy and progress my own investment portfolio. I started this while I was still in the corporate space. And I encourage everyone within the corporate environmental sector to do so. Importantly, there isn’t just one way to structure your income regardless of your career. Know your ($$) burn, know the risks you can afford to take, know your ability to financially rebound if it doesn’t work.
What are the future career prospects for an ‘eco-fixer’?
Decarbonising the global economy is creating the greatest investment opportunity of our lifetime. This isn’t my opinion, it’s one that institutional investors are shifting their capital towards. We are only just at the beginning of an enormous shift in market forces that is seeing trillions of dollars backing the net zero economy. The pull I get from industry on the service we are providing to our customers increases daily – which is a very encouraging signal.
Beyond what it means for the prospects of our business and the new jobs we are seeking to create, this is hard evidence the market is understanding that climate risk is investment risk. We are creating the careers of the future.
I wanted to challenge myself to create projects and investments where my skill sets would be of greatest value. This meant creating the circumstances I wanted to be in.
– Karina Cady
How did you get into deal-making for sustainability?
Being curious and getting qualified.
I often explain the best way to get into this field is to identify an opportunity and go for it. But the reality of how I got here is built on two fundamentals:
I was recently reminded that I actually started creating this path for myself at university. I was on a UNEP project developing an eco-efficiency toolkit for the food industry. While piloting the toolkit, a few participants gave feedback that while they were open to spending the time and effort to identify solutions that reduce resource consumption and waste disposal, locating a provider who was fit for their business was very time consuming. This made me curious – was it just an excuse? How difficult was it really?
I remember sitting down with the Yellow Pages (sign of the times…) and spending hours ringing every single waste management operator listed. There were dozens. I made a spreadsheet of who handles what types of materials, where it goes to, how much they get for it, and pretty soon I had a database of solution providers. Then I offered that for free to the project participants.
But they instead counter-offered. They said if I was willing to make the arrangements then I can get a % fee for providing the service. I then negotiated the same with the solution providers. The income I made on these deals led to one of my first investments and an early lesson that being curious pays.
For those stuck on where to start – it is important to get qualified on a bankable aspect in this field. This means being credentialled in either environmental sciences or engineering. If you’re good at coding or product building then get a CS. If you want to lead deals or qualify in financing then get certified in finance, business or economics. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to get your CFA. But if you are interested in going deep into the investment space, it’s worth checking the various license requirements of your monetary authority to figure out how you can differentiate your skillset.
What kind of person is good at being an ‘eco-fixer’?
Delivery focused, collaborative, willingness to learn.
I used to think it’s surely something everyone can do. But as I started to grow my own team, I think of the skills we need in others in order to trust each other. It comes down to being able to deliver, collaborate and a willingness to learn. In specific terms this means:
Having worked with many strong project managers over the years (common in corporate sectors I previously worked with), I took for granted that it would be easy to find people with a similar understanding of the importance of following through with a deliverable, timelines and the basics of ‘how to implement’ a project or programme. It turned out this has been one of the most difficult skill sets for us to find. It is one we are not yet able to provide much flex around.
We work on strict timelines. If we cannot deliver for our customers we do not have a business. If working within a structured process does not lean to your strengths, then meeting the expectations of such a role will likely feel like a weight rather than a motivator for you. For the process-orientated GANTT loving folks – continue reading!
To me this fundamentally means the recognition that your work does not exist in isolation, and the ability for you to be successful is a team effort. Proactive communication is everything. If something arises that will impact a timeline, deliverable, the work of another team member – then people must take the initiative to inform. Simple things like not confirming/accepting meetings, only to inform others moments before that they’ve had a conflict the whole time – is not collaborative.
Of course such things happen once in a while, I’m referring to ingrained behaviour. The more we value each others time, the greater the likelihood we make the most of it when we’re together.
Willingness to learn
We deal with a lot of uncharted territory. There is no set way when the market is still developing. And even then it’s important to stay curious and understand why. I need to check myself on this a lot. It is easy to just get stuck in frustration of something not moving along, or someone approaching a solution from a perspective I’m just not seeing any link to. Especially having spent a career delivering environmental solutions, it’s far too easy to fall into the trap of ‘that doesn’t work’.
It’s brilliant having a team from a range of backgrounds and industries. Their ability to be curious and seek to understand why is a consistent reminder for me to challenge my own bias, and remember that a lot has moved on in the sector in the last decade. So something not working in the past doesn’t determine what will work in the future.
Suggested further reading / learning for an aspiring ‘eco-fixer’:
Feel free to get in contact on LinkedIn.
Climate action and working towards circularity can look like deal making! In fact, as Karina describes, it can also look like engineering, coding, finance, etc. These are all useful as an eco-fixer!
Interested in exploring the career path of an eco-fixer? Pin for your job inspiration. If you would like to share your Job of the Future, contact me here.
Environmentalist, but literate in all 17 SDGs. Promotes insightful travel & sustainable transitions with collaborative Global South worldviews.