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How a psychology major is on the frontlines of decarbonizing a global industry

If you want to make the world a better place, it might be surprising, but a huge industry — like concrete or construction — might be the perfect fit. You see, if concrete were its own nation, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the world — behind the US and China. Talk about impact.

Yesh talks with Christie Gamble, the Senior Sustainability Director at a clean tech company called CarbonCure Technologies, an XPrize winner, that’s on a mission to decarbonize the concrete industry.


Original release date: Sept 14, 2022

This transcript was auto-generated from an audio recording. Please excuse any typos or grammatical errors

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 00:03

I live in Chicago and we have two seasons here: winter and construction. From April to October, there’s no shortage of steamrollers re-paving I-94 and cement trucks pouring foundations for yet another building.

I love this city. I want people to have places to live and safe streets to drive on. But I feel conflicted. New building construction accounts for nearly 40% -- 40 percent! -- of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. 

Do we really need all this construction? It’s a big climate conundrum. 

Well, I recently found some hope by talking with Christie Gamble. She’s the sustainability director at a clean tech company called CarbonCure. They are doing something that at first, sounded impossible to me – making concrete green. Really.

Christie Gamble 01:14

So concrete can be used as a solution in the global climate challenge, because it can actually get rid of carbon dioxide.

Read more

Music 01:23

Change is coming, oh yeah

Ain’t no holding it back

Ain't no running 

Change is coming, oh yeah!

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 01:39

This is Degrees: Real talk about planet-saving careers from Environmental Defense Fund. I’m your host, Yesh Pavlik Slenk. For the better part of the last decade, it’s been my job and my honor to help students use their talent and passion to get experience and jobs that serve the planet.

Today, I'm talking with Christie Gamble. Because reducing the carbon footprint of the construction industry is VITAL to saving the planet. And there is no better place to start than with concrete. 

Back in 2021, CarbonCure won an Xprize. They capture carbon dioxide from the air and then store it in concrete -- FOREVER. XPrize judes called it a -- quote -- GAME CHANGER for global decarbonization. 

This is huge for two reasons. One, Concrete is the most abundant man-made material on the planet.

Two, CarbonCure is crossing what can feel like chasms between people like us, fighting climate change, and those in traditional, conservative industries.

Christie’s role in all of this, is as a self described bridge builder. She has to show the  architects, engineers, policy makers and contractors the benefits of Carbon Cure’s technology -- for the planet and for their bottom line. 

And it’s working. In just a decade, CarbonCure has grown from just a few employees to 160 – and their products are now used by 600 concrete producers in 25 countries! 

They are on a mission to remove 500 million metric tons of carbon emissions by the year 2030. That’s right around the corner. And this is huge, because concrete is used in apartment buildings, sidewalks, roads…It’s everywhere.And as Christie says, there’s only one material that’s more common in our world than concrete. 

Christie Gamble 03:41

So it's actually the second most abundant material period after water. And because of its abundance, it has such this massive impact on the environment. 

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 03:51

First things first, we need to talk about the difference between concrete…and cement. The two are NOT the same. And I have to admit, I was confused. 

Christie Gamble 04:01

Cement is like the glue that holds concrete together. Concrete is what we see everywhere -- in our buildings and in our sidewalks.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 04:09

So cement is an ingredient in concrete -- and a super toxic one. It accounts for about 7 percent of the world's CO2 emissions. So the magic of CarbonCure’s technology is that it makes concrete with way less cement, in order to slash greenhouse gasses.

Yeah, when I heard about CarbonCure, I was like…wait…what?! So, here’s how it works. First they buy captured CO2 from other companies. 

Christie Gamble 04:38

CarbonCure's technology takes the CO2 that is captured from the atmosphere and injects it into concrete, where the concrete happens to chemically convert the CO2 into a stone. And so we are trapping that CO2 forever because we're actually getting rid of it. We're turning it into something else. 

We're rethinking carbon dioxide, not as this greenhouse gas pollution, but as an ingredient that makes concrete stronger. 

It's also the most carbon intensive ingredient and the most expensive ingredient. So by being able to use less cement, the concrete producer is able to reduce its carbon footprint even further because cement is what gave it its carbon footprint in the first place. But also the concrete producer is able to realize cost savings that make this whole process financially beneficial for, for the industry. 

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 05:26

It’s win-win-win…a win for the product, the planet, and for the bottom line. 

At first, CarbonCure had to prove their product is just as durable as the traditional concrete, whether it’s being used in a grocery store in Texas or a highway in Hawaii. Christie told me about one of CarbonCure’s first projects – a bus station in Halifax, Nova Scotia. That’s where the company was founded. 

Christie Gamble 05:53 

I recall back in February of 2015, pouring concrete in the winter in Nova Scotia at 5:00 AM, it was probably minus 30 degrees Celsius outside.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 06:05

I was just gonna say, it sounds cold. [laughs]

Christie Gamble 06:08

But it was one of the most exciting concrete pours to be on because this was a real life application of the use of CarbonCure. Fast forward, now we're pouring airport pavement, which is one of the most stringent kinds of concrete applications out there. 

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 06:23 

Airport concrete needs to meet a lot of requirements. Christie told me about  working with the international airport in Calgary, Alberta. 

Christie Gamble 06:31

I worked very closely with the Calgary airport authority, with the structural engineers who are part of this project to help answer their questions, to help assess whether the use of CarbonCure was appropriate for this particular application.

It has to be really strong for those planes, has to be really smooth, has to withstand all of the elements that it's facing between the weather and the chemicals.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 06:53  

Like, would this concrete fail under extreme summer heat? Or would the runway buckle in the frigid Canadian winters? And how would it interact with the de-icing chemicals? 

Christie Gamble 07:04

And it has performed not only to expectations but beyond. And I've personally sat on that tarmac in Calgary and been the most excited person on the plane. I remember the very first time it happened. I was sitting there, you know, we're getting our plane de-iced, it's December. And of course we have to wait for 30 minutes before we take off to go to Disneyland or wherever we're going. And <laugh>, I was looking up out at this, uh, concrete tarmac going, “This is our concrete, this is so exciting.” And I'm pretty sure all of the passengers are just looking at me like what's wrong with her. <Laugh>

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 07:37 

First time on a plane, just kidding. But does it look different? 

Christie Gamble 07:40

You could not tell the difference between CarbonCure concrete and the corresponding regular concrete. And that's one of the most important properties of our technology. This is so critical for the finishers of concrete, the engineers of buildings, the owners of these pavements, is that it looks like concrete. It performs like concrete. It smells like concrete. It is just the normal concrete, but with a reduced carbon footprint.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 08:06 

That success story might make Christie’s job sound pretty easy. I’m sure you’ve heard more than your fair share of stories about startups that have grown big, FAST. It can sound so simple. 

But CarbonCure’s success didn’t happen overnight. Over the last nine years, Christie’s job has been to address concerns about this new-fangled concrete. To convince an engineer or a contractor -- whether they care about climate change…or not  -- to use CarbonCure. To be a bridge between the sustainable design minds and the players in the global concrete industry. 

Christie Gamble 08:45 

Traditionally, these two industries operate in different spaces, they're in different political spectrums, they're in different kinds of conferences and organizations. And so the role that CarbonCure has played has been to bring these conversations together.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 08:59 

Part of this is also working with policy makers, to allow for new kinds of concrete to be used. 

Christie Gamble 09:05

The reverse side of it is that the concrete industry itself has a lot of innovation in the space, but has faced a number of barriers with traditional engineering specifications. The concrete that's poured on sidewalks, for example, that is procured by government organizations, it has these requirements that are so outdated and so prohibitive of any kind of sustainable innovation that it, it doesn't allow for the use of technologies like CarbonCure.

And so your typical sidewalk, has way more cement than it needs to perform the way we would expect a sidewalk to perform. And that’s just due to the legacy of the way governments build. 

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 09:47 

It frustrates me to think that SIDEWALKS POLICY is what’s stopping sustainable adaptations in concrete. 

That’s far from the only frustration that Christie experiences…although, she professes to liking the conflict inherent in her job. Like the time a client told her climate change wasn’t real.

Christie Gamble 10:08  

One time very early in my career, I think it was about 2014, when I was sitting with one of our new concrete partners. And I was talking about the Paris Agreement and climate change and trying to showcase why this was important that we work together. And the one person in the room stopped me and said, wait a minute, do not use the word climate change in front of me. This is not real. It is a hoax, and I'm not interested, but tell me more about this business opportunity.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 10:36 


Christie Gamble 10:37 

And that was really interesting to me to learn how to speak the language that would resonate. What I did really find is the same person, even though they did not believe in climate change science, they were very committed to serving their community. And so when we spoke about it in the context of minimizing the pollution within their community and making sure that the air was cleaner in the communities that they served, to them, it really resonated. They wanted to do the right thing. They just weren't necessarily educated on all of the science behind climate change in itself. And so what I've learned over time is to really adapt the language to what motivates individuals. And most individuals that I have encountered are motivated to help other people. 

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 11:20  

I agree. I think everyone cares about climate change because everyone has at least one other person they care about and their future they care about.So if you can tap into that. 

Christie Gamble 11:30 

Exactly. I'm a very big believer in understanding personal motivations. My undergraduate degree was in anthropology and psychology. At the time, I didn't really know what I was wanting to achieve with that particular degree, but the reason I studied those subjects was because I was so interested in learning about human behavior. And so I apply those same kind of principles to every discussion that I have of understanding what are the motivators for this individual person. And so I tend to talk about the individual community impact that the adoption of a technology can have with that organization.

Also, a lot of businesses are really looking at the dollars and cents. We talk about the dollars and cents. I'm a firm believer that sustainable innovation needs to make business sense in order for it to be scaled across the globe. These two go hand in hand.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 12:35 

Now, Christie didn't grow up dreaming of peacemaking between climate deniers and environmentalists. But first a short break. 

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 12:58 

As a kid Christe grew up in rural Saskatchewan. Her community was traditional. Conservative. They certainly wouldn’t call themselves environmentalists, she said. But still, Christie felt a strong connection to nature -- thanks to her grandmother.  

Christie Gamble 13:14 

She had this most magnificent garden. And I can still taste how raspberries taste off the bush and peas when you pick them out of the pod. And I think that for me, that was my first real connection of just being out in the garden for hours and, and being appreciative of how fresh these vegetables and fruit were when you, when you grow them and, and give them this tender, loving care.

And my grandmother was the kind of person who would reuse every margarine container, who would pickle her vegetables and use them all year. And she did that in order to save costs as somebody who grew up during the great depression. But as I got older and became more educated on the climate challenge that we're all facing, I began to see how much that lifestyle really makes a difference in terms of an individual human environmental impact. And so that was really a motivating factor for me to become more in tune with my own personal impacts on the environment, but also to position myself to be in a career where I can make a difference.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 14:22 

Just wanting to make a difference…Does this resonate with you? It’s something I hear all the time from folks looking for jobs tackling climate change. 

And trust me, when Christie was picking raspberries and dreaming about making a difference in the world, she had NO idea be she be doing it at a company like CarbonCure.

Christie Gamble 14:42 

I can definitely tell you that if you asked me 10 years ago, what industry I was going to be in, I probably would not have said concrete.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 14:49 

What would you have said?

Christie Gamble 14:50

I would have said something that was saving the world. I know that, uh, many listeners are trying to figure out what their own career path is going to look like. Like many people who are in sustainability, it was not a straight line. I originally went to university with the intention of being a doctor. I wanted to be a doctor because I wanted to help people, but it turns out the study of medicine itself was not something I really loved. And so I had one of those 3:00 AM decisions where I switched from a pre-med path to all of a sudden embracing what I loved, which was anthropology and psychology and the study of people.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 15:25  

After working for a few years, she got a Masters in Business in a program at Dalhousie University. The program focused on ESG -- environmental and social governance in business. When she started looking for jobs, she ended up at a career cocktail hour, where she met the founder of CarbonCure. At that point, it was a small start up working on an enormous problem -- a problem she knew nothing about. 

Christie Gamble 15:48

And I do recall sitting with Rob Nivan, our CEO and founder, in a job interview where he said, what do you know about concrete? And I looked at him and said, probably nothing <laugh>. And he asked me, well, let's start with the basics. What's the difference between cement and concrete? And I kind of gave him this blank stare and said, I thought they were the same thing. [laughs] 

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 16:08 

Even though Christie didn’t know much about the industry, her people skills got her the job. Soon, she was one of a handful of people at CarbonCure trying to reinvent the concrete industry. 

Christie Gamble 16:19

The office that I sat in was about 12 feet by 12 feet. And there were anywhere between four to six of us at any given time, basically sitting around this table, working away. And it was sweaty and hot because it was cramped, but we, we did have a beer fridge that really helped spur the innovation and keep us cool…

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 16:39 

[laughs] Creativity.

Christie Gamble 16:40

Yeah, get some creativity. I remember the day that our first revenue check came in, it was $142. It was a big day. And so it was very exciting to be part of a team that had the same unbridled optimism of looking at this extremely hard to abate industry and thinking, you know, we're gonna make an impact on this. We're gonna do this. In many ways, we were so naive because I think if we knew how hard it would be, we might have been persuaded from choosing a different industry.

But it turns out that I think that optimism and that naivety was our biggest strength, our superpower, because we just, we went for it. And we worked with some of the best architects and some of the best engineers and the producers, the concrete producers who were leading the industry. We talked to government policy makers who were influencing the way that concrete was being procured. 

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 17:33

To try and revolutionize an industry like concrete, you have to have Christie’s unbridled optimism. Because, let’s get real. Cleaning up concrete is a mammoth task. If concrete were its own nation, it would be the third largest emitter in the world -- behind the US and China. 

At the same time… highways are not going to stop needing repair. People aren’t going to stop needing homes and schools. Buildings are not going to stop being built. CarbonCure predicts that the world’s buildings are expected to double by 2060. This means, we’re on track to building a new New York City every month!

The unstoppable construction… was weighing on me. I told Christie.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 18:20

So even though CarbonCure is reducing concrete emissions, all of this development is still making climate change worse. How do you square helping companies build more buildings -- that are more environmentally friendly -- with the need to clean up industry, especially with the rate of growth that we're facing?

Christie Gamble 18:38

One of the things we know for sure is that global population is growing. And if we want to live more sustainably as a global community, we need to//build more dense urban centers. That is the most sustainable way, is to minimize, uh, the amount of transportation people do on a regular basis, to minimize the number of buildings that people are living in. And so that requires more construction and that requires more concrete. 

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 19:05 

MORE concrete. Ugh. Remember…it’s already the most abundant man made material on earth. Christie says there’s a good reason for this. 

Christie Gamble 19:14 

It allows these buildings to// be safe, to help people withstand the impacts of a changing climate. 

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 19:21 

She’s not wrong. All people need a safe, sustainable place to live. Not all development is a bad thing. BUT it has to be done sustainability.

This means, thinking about emissions from the START -- not just after that new office is open for business or the new apartments are open for rent. The amount of carbon it takes to make a building is called embodied carbon. It's a way to measure emissions that developers are just catching onto. If you want a job in design or urban planning, you definitely need to know about it.

Christie Gamble 19:55 

We also know that once the embodied carbon footprint has been emitted -- so once that building has been built, that CO2 is up in the atmosphere. There's no going back and fixing it short of pulling that CO2 from the atmosphere. We could take a look at any building, for example, that has been constructed and we can in theory, go back and retrofit it with energy efficient type of systems in order to minimize and reduce and potentially eliminate its operational impact. But we can't do anything about the embodied carbon impact other than building it right the first time.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 20:30 

So, like with all emissions goals – there’s no time to waste. That prediction that global buildings will double by 2060? Christie says a good chunk of those will be built in the next ten years…NOT the next 40. The next 10. So next time you go on a walk around your neighborhood, I’ll bet you can see it happening.

Christie Gamble 20:49 

We cannot afford to wait a decade before significantly reducing the embodied carbon impact of these buildings. If we do that, it's going to be too late.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 20:57 

To Christie, it’s an urgent environmental justice issue. Like a lot of things we talk about here, Christie says concrete emissions disproportionately affect people who live in developing nations and poorer communities.  

Christie Gamble 21:10

And so it's really critical to ensure that these industries that are part of the global carbon emissions are now developing solutions to reduce their emissions and to reduce them quickly, because we are at risk of putting a lot of people into very dangerous situations due to rising sea levels and increased climate events. And so we have a moral responsibility to minimize those impacts as much as possible, and also to adapt to them, to ensure that these communities are developing infrastructure that can keep people safe and dry in these various types of climate events.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 21:51  

Drought and wildfires, melting ice caps, hurricanes… As you know, climate change is here -- and our infrastructure is not ready. 

Christie told me about a CarbonCure project with Hawaii, a state that’s facing a huge threat from rising sea-levels. 

Christie Gamble 22:08 

The Hawaii government is going to have to rebuild most of the highways across Hawaii because the island of Oahu, the highway runs right along the coast. And within 20 years, that highway will be underwater. So they know they need to rebuild the highways, and they are also committed to doing that in a way that is not going to further exacerbate the problem. And so they are asking for the most innovative solutions out there to be as sustainable as possible. But at the same time, you think about this impact that it's having of these rising sea levels and how this is going to destroy homes and upend people from the communities that they have known their entire lives. And it just really provides a very tangible motivation to take action and minimize these impacts as much as we humanly can right now.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 23:00   

Key to solving this is going to be a lot of collaboration.

Christie Gamble 23:04

So one of the hardest challenges the construction industry faces is the complexity, that it evolves a lot of different stakeholders. If we look at a concrete building, for example, we need the concrete producer to adopt the sustainable technology. We also need the engineer to write design specifications that allow or encourage the use of the sustainable technology in order to be allowed in the infrastructure. We need governments who procure 40% of the world's concrete to change the way that they build concrete structures, because government structures are using some of the most outdated design methods out there. 

So we need all of these different kinds of organizations, governments, the builders of buildings, and, um, organizations who are construction, manufacturing, plants, for example, or data centers to change the way that they are designing and procuring concrete. And the hardest part about all of this is aligning everybody in the same mission in time.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 24:04  

So we are going to need business leaders willing to forge new relationships. 

Christie also says, this challenge of cleaning up industry presents endless opportunities for scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs. The year CarbonCure co-won the XPrize, there were 2,500 applications with ideas reimagining CO2 to save the planet. Imagine all the new jobs and skills these innovations in sustainability will bring. 

Christie Gamble 24:34

I think what's exciting about these careers is that they really could come from any corner, any kind of skill set. One particular skill set that I really see being in high demand over the coming years is carbon accounting, data management. You can't manage what you can't measure. The carbon accounting as it exists today is an imperfect science. And that's okay. We're working off of the information we have to make it better, but the better the information is the better those solutions will be.

What's really interesting is that the path to sustainability is not always a direct line. One of the many opportunities I see in sustainability careers is something we haven't even really conceptualized. We need experts in all these different fields that impact the environment who are aligned on this mission to reduce the carbon impact of these industries, but who have industry and product expertise to now come up with practical solutions.

If you look at concrete, as a great example, the best solutions for concrete sustainability are going to come from those with concrete production expertise. And so if you come from an engineering background or a business background, a software background, and figure out how to marry whatever skill sets and industry knowledge you have with that objective: How does your industry impact climate? What can you do about it? 

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 26:00 

I think those are the exact questions people need to be asking themselves. It's a look inward more than looking outward to figure out how you in your moment with your experience and your passion and knowledge can make an impact.

Christie Gamble 26:13 

If you ask my seven-year-old daughter, we need to invent the BeeBot, which is going to replicate the bee flying around to pollinate the different, uh, flowers and, and plants. We need to invent more technologies that are going to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and somehow find something beneficial to do with that CO2 so that we can get rid of it forever. We need to find ways to turn waste into valuable products. So I think what's really exciting is just the concept of reimagining waste, reimagining carbon dioxide, reimagining garbage landfill, uh, food consumption, and figuring out, what can we do with this? And how can we reuse, recycle these types of materials or these greenhouse gas emissions for something that can be beneficial for another purpose?

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 27:08 

Christie’s daughter, and her BeeBot? (Which I’m a big fan of, by the way). Well, it has a lot to do with how Christie has navigated this job with all of the challenges along the way. Why she’s as inspired now -- if not more so, than she was nine years ago in that little office with the beer fridge. 

Christie Gamble 27:25

I joined CarbonCure before I had children with this intense desire to be able to, uh, decarbonize the concrete industry and to be able to provide a social good through my career. When I had children, it became more personal to me. It became something that I realized I'm not just operating on behalf of all humans. I'm operating on behalf of my own children. 

My daughter has become a champion for the environment. 

Uh, she might have learned from her mom, maybe that’s possible. 

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 27:57

I think so.

Christie Gamble 27:58

What's so exciting is how she just comes up with these solutions. She likes to invent new technologies that are just gonna save the planet. And she says, well, why don't we do this? She's also invented, uh, drones that sucks CO2 out of the atmosphere. And she has -- recently were in the car and she said, I'm going to be the mayor. And I'm going to declare that nothing can ever be thrown out. Everything has to be, uh, recycled. And I just love how her optimism and determinism is not marred by any kind of pragmatism. You know, why wouldn't we be able to do these things?

Even within our own community two years ago, uh, Regina Saskatchewan, which is where I live, elected our first female mayor. And my daughter came with me to the polling booth. She was a little bit upset that she wasn't allowed to vote either, but she was there for me while I cast my vote. And she was very excited when the woman that we had voted for won the election. And so she's growing up now where her world perspective is that she can be anything.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 29:00

Well, what a different world they're growing up in than, than we did to have that idea that this could be a career path, number one, that you could be a woman leading in it and that the possibilities are endless and that solutions are necessary. 

I'm excited for you and your daughter to be the first, uh, mother-daughter XPRIZE winners in XPRIZE history someday with the Beebot and other innovations.

Christie Gamble 29:24

I love that. challenge accepted.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 29:26 

Christie talking about her daughter made me think of my own girls. It makes me feel so so good  that they will see more women leading in business, sustainability, and politics than I or Christie did when we were they’re age.  

Because it will come as no surprise that Christie’s journey to becoming a powerful female leader in the concrete industry, wasn't always easy. 

Christie Gamble 29:52

I have personally found that I have made an extra effort to make sure that I am technically sound in terms of my own knowledge. I do find that I've encountered situations where it might surprise people on the other end of the line that I know how to talk shop when it comes to concrete. And those same people wouldn't necessarily have been surprised at my ability to talk shop if I were male. 

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 30:14  

Throughout her career, she has seen more and more women enter the field… which is spurring change in the industry. 

Christie Gamble 30:21

We’re seeing more female leaders. We're seeing people with more diverse backgrounds and profiles coming into the industry, and this is critical for the industry succeeding. And you know, it can be challenging at times. You have to, uh, certainly be confident in the direction that you're going.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 30:40 

It may have taken Christie several years to build up her own confidence – but it’s a lesson she’s teaching both her kids from an early age. That -- and many of the skills that are vital to saving the planet.  

Christie Gamble 30:53

One of the things that my husband and I are both very keen on teaching our kids is, A, to have that kind of optimism and determination to do anything but, B, to realize that these kinds of ambitions are not just going to be presented to them on a silver platter. That they have to understand the value of hard work, and they have to learn how to read material and understand the facts and also listen to different perspectives. I think one of the things that I really have found in my own career has been so important is being able to understand and relate to different people who come from different backgrounds, who might be sitting in different political spectrums, but find alignment in terms of where we want to accomplish things together. And so I think if, uh, we can do anything it's to help our children develop empathy for other humans, develop the ability to reason, but also to acknowledge when maybe they were wrong. Maybe they are -- Maybe they do have a misperception about how something's operating. And I think that's something that's very missing a lot of times in conversations, is this acknowledgement of, maybe I'm not right. And how do I learn? How do I grow from this? And how do I adapt?

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 32:25

Now it’s time for Ask Yesh, where I help you with your biggest green career challenges. Send me your questions on Twitter, at Yesh Says, with the hashtag Ask Yesh. 

Today – How to balance mission and money! Here’s THE BIG question from an anxious jobseeker: 

I really want to get a job fighting climate change, but I’m worried that I’ll be broke. I want to have a family and I have whopping student loan debt. Can you really make any money with a green career? 

Well first of all, thank you for sharing this. It’s sooo hard to talk about money. There is definitely a perception about green jobs that you can’t do what you’re passionate about and live the lifestyle you want. 

But that is not true! Heck yes you can make great money with a green career! Seven of the top 10 in-demand green jobs -- according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- pay over $70,000 a year. 

The thing is, not all jobs, in all industries pay the same. We know this. As you figure out how to apply your passion for climate work to a career, you’ve gotta do your research.

For instance, if you want to work in community organizing, focused on Environmental Justice, you’re probably going to make less than someone starting out at a corporation in a sustainability role. Same goes for working for city government versus a large consulting firm. There’s just a huge spectrum for salaries -- but I know that the money is there. 

I do want to say this, though. Regardless of the pay, if you’re even remotely considering a green career…you need to listen to that inner voice. 

You’ll be more likely to be happy in your work, have job stability and -- this is something really important to me -- have invaluable bonds with people who will work just as hard as you to save the planet. 

And you said you wanted a family? As a parent, I worry constantly about my kids. Using my career to fight climate change is one of the most important and fulfilling ways I advocate for their future.

If you don’t start on this path today, I can almost guarantee that you’ll waste time and energy when you finally decide you HAVE to work on this issue 10 years from now. That’s time and effort neither you, nor the planet, have to waste.

So good luck, anxious jobseeker. Your wallet doesn’t HAVE to suffer. You can get paid, and paid well, to save the planet. 

What’s the problem you’re facing? I really do want to hear from you! Again, send me your question on Twitter at Yesh Says and you might hear the answer right here, on Degrees. 

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 35:15 

And that's it for this episode! Make sure to listen and follow on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, or wherever you're listening now. And  share this podcast with a friend so you can both tune in each week and hear how you can help fight climate change. And learn where the jobs are and how you can make a difference. 

On the next episode of Degrees, can you use your MBA to fight climate change? Jenny McColloch, Chief Sustainability Officer at McDonald’s and a Climate Corps alum, doesn’t just say yes. She says big business NEEDS you. 

Degrees is presented by Environmental Defense Fund. Amy Morse is our producer. Podcast Allies is our production company. Tressa Versteeg, Elaine Grant, and Rye Taylor worked on this episode, with help from Elizabeth Miller. Our music is Shame, Shame, Shame from my favorite band, Lake Street Dive. And I’m your host, Yesh Pavlik Slenk. But the foundation of the show, my friends, is you. Stay fired up y’all.

Music 36:21

Change is coming, oh yeah

Ain’t no holding it back

Ain't no running 

Change is coming, oh yeah!

Christie Gamble 36:37

My first job was working in a curling rink. When I was 12 years old, I was busing tables in the curling rink bar.

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 36:45


Christie Gamble 36:46

Very exciting back when you were 12 years old to make 6 dollars an hour and you work for three hours and all of a sudden you have $18. What are you gonna do with that? Do you know how many beanie babies you can buy  when you're a 12 year old back in 1997?

Yesh Pavlik Slenk 


Christie Gamble 

I bought a lot of beanie babies. I later sold them for about a third of the price.

View credits

Degrees is produced with Podcast Allies. The artwork is by illustrator Bee Johnson. Degrees theme music is by the amazing band Lake Street Dive. We love their powerful video and song Making Do, all about climate change.

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