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Green career spotlight: Karina Ibanez

Welcome to our interview series where we speak with purpose-driven and sustainability-focused professionals from around the globe. Every few weeks, we’ll dive into their journeys, learn about their wins and challenges, and the resources they couldn’t do without.

Prepare to be inspired and learn something new!

Today’s guest is Karina Ibanez, Geoconservation and Geoheritage researcher from Brazil.

Please tell us a little bit about who you are, your background, and your current job. What inspired you to start a career in sustainability and what was your journey to where you are

I’m a Brazilian geologist and currently pursuing my Master’s degree, focusing on Geoconservation and Geoheritage in the state of São Paulo. My passion for our planet and its diverse landscapes has been a driving force throughout my life. When I chose to study geology, I quickly realized that many traditional job opportunities in the field were centered around industries like oil and mining, which didn’t align with my personal interests. What truly fascinated me was the intricate beauty of our natural world and the interconnectedness of ecosystems. I wanted to understand the significance of these landscapes and their importance in sustaining life on Earth.

While acknowledging the necessity of extracting geological resources for societal needs, I also became acutely aware of the urgent need to manage these resources responsibly, especially in light of the current climate, environmental, and social crises we face.

This realization led me to explore a relatively new and evolving field within geosciences – one that focuses on the characterization, assessment, promotion, and conservation of geodiversity. This interdisciplinary approach to Geoconservation opened my eyes to the myriad ways in which geology intersects with sustainable development.

Geoconservation emphasizes the holistic understanding of geological resources within ecosystems, recognizing the intricate relationships between geodiversity, biodiversity, and society. It also deals with the importance of protecting and promoting key sites, known as geosites, which hold crucial insights into the Earth’s evolution.

I found inspiration in the potential for sustainable development within my own country, Brazil. Our rich geological heritage offers countless opportunities for meaningful engagement in this field. Motivated by this, I chose to pursue an academic career focused on research within the realm of geoconservation.

Currently, my research revolves around the characterization of geosites along the northern coast of São Paulo state. Through this work, I hope to contribute to the broader understanding and appreciation of our planet’s geological heritage while promoting sustainable practices that ensure its preservation for the ecosystems and future generations.

What’s your day-to-day like? 

Currently, I’m fully immersed in my dissertation thesis, which involves analyzing and discussing the results obtained from my research. This research encompasses a range of activities, from field trips for sample collection to detailed analysis using petrography, geochronology, and drone imagery. Additionally, I’m actively involved in a geosciences outreach project through an Instagram page. Our goal is to make geology accessible to the broader society, so I stay updated on the latest news and developments in the field of geosciences and explore how it intersects with various aspects of our society, raising awareness along the way.

What do you like the most about the work you do? 

I find immense fulfillment in the vast array of possibilities offered by working within the interdisciplinary realm of geosciences and geoconservation. Not only do I have the opportunity to explore diverse geological contexts and regions, but I can also integrate broader societal and environmental perspectives into my research. This includes delving into political dynamics, studying ecosystems, and also adopting an education and tourism approach to my work.

Another aspect I particularly enjoy is the autonomy I have in crafting my own routine and collaborating with a diverse array of MSc and PhD students, each specializing in their unique areas within geosciences. This collaborative environment fosters a rich exchange of ideas and approaches, enriching my research experience.

As a researcher in this field, I cherish the opportunity to conduct fieldworks, allowing me to immerse myself in the geological significance of unique and remarkable sites within my country or around the globe. Moreover, I take great pleasure in contributing to a field of research that is still evolving and expanding in various ways. I believe that fostering awareness for sustainability within geosciences is paramount, and I am passionate about contributing to this important endeavor. 

How does your work address societal and/or environmental issues?

My work addresses both societal and environmental issues through a multifaceted approach rooted in sustainable resource management and geoconservation principles. By emphasizing the value of geological resources without extraction, I contribute to a deeper understanding of geodiversity’s crucial role in maintaining ecosystems and comprehending Earth’s geological evolution. This involves promoting geological dissemination, education, and the adoption of sustainable tourism practices, such as geotourism.

Additionally, my involvement in geoscience outreach initiatives, including social media platforms, serves as a vital bridge between academia and the wider public. Through knowledge dissemination and dialogue facilitation, I empower individuals to take an active role in preserving our planet and inspire collective action towards a more sustainable future.

In your experience, what are the main challenges of working with mission-driven and sustainability-focused businesses? 

As a geology MSc student, I’ve encountered several challenges in integrating sustainability and environmental issues into academia and geological research. At my university, there’s a noticeable gap in addressing these topics within the curriculum, which requires individual initiative to seek out relevant information and incorporate it into research endeavors.

Furthermore, within my region, there are numerous pressing issues that could be addressed through geological research, requiring careful consideration of the most effective approaches. Additionally, there remains a prevalence of misinformation surrounding sustainability and environmental concerns within society, highlighting the importance of effective geoscience communication and dissemination efforts, an area that is still relatively underdeveloped within academia.

Is there anything that you do outside of your job that is driven by similar (sustainability) objectives?  

Absolutely! Living in the largest city in Brazil presents both responsibilities and opportunities to make more sustainable choices in my daily life. For instance, I prioritize opting for a vegan or vegetarian diet, utilizing public transportation to reduce carbon emissions, and actively working to minimize plastic consumption. Additionally, I make a concerted effort to stay informed about political issues, enabling me to make informed decisions when selecting government officials who prioritize sustainability initiatives.

In your opinion, what are the top skills necessary to be successful at a “green job”? 

To excel in a “green job,” it’s essential to begin by cultivating a deep understanding of the factual realities concerning environmental issues. This awareness serves as a catalyst for proactive engagement and the pursuit of meaningful change. Moreover, recognizing the myriad opportunities within sustainability and environmental sectors, spanning from industry to academia, is crucial.

Additionally, adopting an interdisciplinary approach is paramount, integrating scientific knowledge with insights from local communities and fostering meaningful dialogue. Ultimately, success in a “green job” requires a passion for effecting positive change, coupled with informed decision-making, creativity, and a forward-thinking vision that acknowledges our capacity to enact meaningful change while recognizing the urgency of acting swiftly with the resources at our disposal.

What green careers/sectors do you see growing the fastest right now and/or will become mainstream within the next 10 years?

In my view, the essential needs of an expanding society will increasingly align with sustainable practices, driving growth in sectors such as renewable energy and a more environmentally-conscious mining industry. This shift toward sustainability is poised to impact not only large industries but also small businesses, as well as academia and research.

What are the most common mistakes or misperceptions you have seen when it comes to green careers? 

One prevalent issue I’ve observed is the tendency for businesses to use terms like sustainability, ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance), and green jobs in a misleading manner, a phenomenon often referred to as “greenwashing.” This practice can dilute the true environmental and societal impact of initiatives, leading to skepticism and distrust among stakeholders. Therefore, it’s crucial to exercise caution when employing these terms and to ensure that the tangible benefits to both the environment and society are clearly demonstrated in any green job endeavor.

Could you highlight some of the key differences and potential green career paths within industries/sectors you’ve worked with?

Academia and research at universities provide exceptional avenues for cultivating green careers. Here, professionals have the opportunity to delve into research centered on sustainability and environmental conservation within their respective fields of expertise. Moreover, engaging in research fosters an interdisciplinary approach and encourages dialogue with fellow researchers, thereby raising awareness and addressing the significant gap that exists in many scientific careers regarding the discussion of sustainability and environmental issues.

Additionally, I’ve had the opportunity of working on a geological heritage project at a US National Park. This experience has highlighted the potential for green career paths within governmental sectors, particularly those involved in managing protected areas and natural resources. Roles in these sectors could include positions focused on environmental policy development, conservation planning, sustainable tourism management, and ecosystem restoration.

As you reflect on your career journey, what challenges would you pinpoint, especially those shared by individuals in similar roles?

In my experience as a Brazilian geologist and researcher, I have encountered numerous challenges that resonate with individuals in similar roles. These challenges span from the limited academic career prospects to the scarcity of job opportunities within the field of geoconservation and sustainability in geosciences in my country. Despite the passion and dedication invested in advancing these crucial areas, navigating these hurdles remains a significant aspect of the journey for many professionals in the field.

And what where the most rewarding moments?

Uncovering geoscientific knowledge and unraveling the mysteries of the formation of the geosites I’ve been studying is truly fulfilling. However, the ultimate reward lies in witnessing the realization dawn upon people that geodiversity is not only beautiful but also profoundly significant. It’s incredibly gratifying when individuals come to recognize that the mountains supporting biodiversity are also invaluable records of our planet’s history.

One particularly memorable moment was when I conducted a geoscience course for environmental guides at one of the geosites under study. Being able to impart the intrinsic value of that location to them, and seeing their genuine interest in learning more, was immensely rewarding. Moreover, engaging in dialogue with them facilitated a rich exchange of perspectives and insights, reinforcing the profound impact one can have in the geoconservation field.

Any “lessons learned” or advice you can share with others looking to succeed in their purpose-driven career? 

One crucial lesson I’ve learned is the importance of managing “environmental anxiety” and the overwhelming influx of negative news about our environment and society. It’s easy to feel disheartened and paralyzed by the scale of the challenges we face. However, it’s essential to shift our focus towards actionable steps we can take to contribute to a better world and a better life overall. This mindset shift is crucial for maintaining motivation and momentum in our purpose-driven careers. Constantly reminding ourselves of our values and the reasons behind our work helps us stay grounded and continue moving forward despite obstacles and setbacks.

What inspires you every day to wake up and keep going? 

I am deeply convinced that each individual in our society, armed with access to information, possesses the capacity to contribute towards a healthier planet. As a geologist, I feel a profound responsibility to remain informed and to utilize my knowledge and skills to foster awareness and advocate for a more sustainable trajectory. Additionally, I am inspired by the vast potential within my field, particularly in geoconservation, to make a tangible difference in various regions across Brazil. Witnessing the expanding opportunities for geologists to engage in this vital area of work fuels my determination to press forward and continue making meaningful contributions.

Karina Ibanez, Geoconservation and Geoheritage researcher: Instagram account

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