In our special column this month, we are happy to host an interview with Aoife O’Leary, CEO at Opportunity Green who explains how she joined the maritime industry, which finds it as a fascinating and challenging sector from a climate perspective. Additionally, she emphasizes the value of collaboration and how much she appreciates working with her colleagues to improve the marine environment. She also expresses her admiration for Greta Thunberg for her influence on climate change.
ith regards to the maritime industry, she wishes for a fresh start. She advocates for emissions reductions and feels that rules are needed to put into reality what is already known to be necessary to address shipping emissions and climate change.
SAFETY4SEA: How did it come about that you joined shipping industry and your field of expertise specifically?
Aoife O’Leary: I trained as a lawyer, but once I qualified, I knew I wanted to dedicate my career to stopping climate change. I took an internship with ClientEarth in 2011 who asked me to look into what the EU had the power to do to reduce emissions from international shipping. I was immediately hooked by this fascinating, but from a climate perspective, challenging sector!
S4S: What about your current job/ role most excites you and why?
A.O.L: I’m the CEO of a small environmental NGO, Opportunity Green. We’re about 10 people and roughly half of our work focuses on shipping decarbonisation from working with ambitious shipping companies, supporting climate vulnerable countries and looking for legal routes to reduce emissions. All of it is absolutely fascinating, though frustrating due to the slow pace of change. By far and away the best part of my role is getting to work with the excellent people in the team I’ve created, a bit sentimental but I really love my colleagues!
S4S: When you think of the word successful who’s the first person who comes to mind and why?
A.O.L.: Greta Thunberg – she did this really simple action of striking from school on a Friday and it has really changed the world and how we talk and think about climate change.
S4S: Who is/was the most influential person/mentor to you & why?
A.O.L.: My parents, it was always a given in my house growing up that you would work hard but do good. Working just for the money was not even a consideration. I was definitively brought up to believe that I could do anything, but more important than doing anything was to do something meaningful.
S4S: What is the best and what was the worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given and why?
A.O.L.: Best advice: just give it a go and see if it works! / Worst advice: many variations of ‘go slow’ or take your time. In dealing with a climate crisis that is just not an option, we need to try all possibilities and now!
S4S: What is the most worthwhile career investment (in energy, time, money) you’ve ever made?
A.O.L.: Thinking about managing people. I spend a lot of time reading management books and thinking about how to be an effective, empathic manager. I’m sure I don’t succeed all the time, but I really do try. I think that has been what has enabled me to bring together the amazing impactful team that I have now at Opportunity Green!
S4S: If you could give a piece of advice to your 18-year-old-self one thing, what would it be and why? What piece of advice should you ignore?
A.O.L.: I would love to tell her to believe in herself more. And to call out every piece of sexism she comes across (and she has definitely come across a lot over the years!) Definitely to ignore all the men who told her that ‘women just don’t want to be CEOs’ or ‘women will just leave to have babies anyway so there’s no point making them partner’!
S4S: In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your business life?
A.O.L.: You really can make a difference. It might be small and it might take years but keep at it and you will see results.
S4S: What would you like to change in the current maritime landscape and your area of expertise specifically and why?
A.O.L.: Basically everything! I’m campaigning to reduce emissions from maritime shipping and there are no regulations that would make this happen in place. It’s incredible when you look at the science and how many people’s lives will be affected. We know EXACTLY what to do to reduce shipping emissions (make the polluters pay, put in place fuel and efficiency mandates) and yet we are simply not doing it.
S4S: What is your personal motto?
A.O.L.: Braver. Stronger. Smarter.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.