Episode 195: A Problem Solver’s Approach to the Climate Crisis – Shaandiin Cedar

Episode 195: A Problem Solver’s Approach to the Climate Crisis

Interview with Shaandiin Cedar

Shaandiin Cedar is on the solution side of fighting the climate crisis and invites you to join in, too. A problem-solver by nature, Shaandiin is taking both a bottom-up and a top-down approach to activating climate solutions through her grassroots and corporate sustainability efforts. As a Native woman and the daughter of activists, Shaandin’s commitment to justice for people and the environment is woven into her being. 

In this episode, we learn that all the technology exists today to help stop the negative effects of climate change – and part of Shaandiin Cedar’s work as an associate at Powerhouse Ventures is helping cleantech companies access capital to harness that technology and help solve the climate crisis. We also learn about all that Shaandiin is doing on a grassroots level to advocate for social and environmental justice – and all that you can do to take action if you have the means to do so.

If you enjoy this episode, you might also enjoy this one on Laura Navar building a green career.

Find the episode below, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you stream podcasts.

A full transcript is available below the photos.

Featured in this episode: Shaandiin Cedar @Shaaandiiin

Hosted & Produced by Gale Straub

A production of Ravel Media

Sponsored by Danner & Rumpl,

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Shaandiin Cedar

Shaandiin Cedar standing wearing a "Strong, Resilient, Indigenous" shirt with mountains in the background.

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TRANSCRIPT

Note: This transcript was lightly edited and created using a transcription service. As such it may contain spelling errors.

Gale Straub – Narration:

I’m Gale Straub and you’re listening to She Explores.

Gale Straub:

My heart lifted up in my chest a little bit. When you said that all of the solutions exist is just about, you know, bringing them to life and scaling them. That’s not something that at least I hear on an everyday basis. So it must be really, it must be fulfilling to get to work alongside that and help bring some of that to life.

Shaandiin Cedar:

Yeah, absolutely. I definitely it’s by design, you know, I feel that my purpose in life is to solve these, these problems. And it’s not just to mitigate a doom’s day future that I see in my mind’s eye. It’s it’s not bad. It’s it’s about innovation. It’s about doing things more efficiently. I like being on the solution side and it’s good work. It gives me purpose. It makes me feel like I’m actually doing something about things that I really care about.

Gale Straub – Narration:

If your heart just lifted up in your chest hearing Shaandiin Cedar talk, you’re probably not alone. And if you’ve been feeling climate or eco anxiety that may have been ramped up by the recent IPCC report, or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report — you’re not alone either.

Shaandiin Cedar:

Hell yes. I feel climate anxiety, for sure. It’s really hard to see, you know, more and more communities destroyed by increasingly frequent and intense hurricanes heat waves and fires. Things like knowing that one third of animal and plant species will likely become extinct due to climate change. That like millions of people, 140 million people will be forced to migrate by 2050. Like all of these things are very heavy and it’s a lot, but I think not even what gives me hope, it’s just like we have to do something about this. And we also have to remember that there is a window. We still have a shot at keeping global temperatures from rising above two degrees Celsius. So, and it’s not even like focusing on that hope. I think for me, it’s just, you know, working on these climate solutions, scaling clean technologies, organizing people around things like the climate vote. That’s how I cope.

Gale Straub – Narration:

I wanted to talk with Shaandiin about her approach to fighting climate change and advocating for environmental justice because because whether through her career in corporate sustainability or the grassroots activism she does in her freetime, there’s so much we can learn from Shaandiin about taking action. Shaandiin is dedicated to taking advantage of the window that the IPCC report outlined. She’s taken both a top down and bottom up approach to solving the problem, and her commitment is woven into her being.

Shaandiin Cedar:

Yá’át’ééh, Hozho, Shí éí Shaandiin Cedar yinishyé, Scots-Irish nishłį, Chiishí dine’e bashishchiin, Chocktaw dashicheii, Naakai dine’e dashinalí. So hello, good morning. My name is Shaandiin Cedar. She, her and it’s traditional in the Navajo culture to introduce oneself with their clients. So since the Navajo social structure is matrilineal, you always start with your mother’s clan first. So basically what I just said is on my mother’s side, I am scotch Irish and Choctaw. And on my father’s side, I am chiishi and Naakai dine, which is the Chiricahua, Apache and Mexican clan within the Diné clan system. I am originally from Northern Arizona. I grew up on the Navajo reservation, near an area called Big Mountain where my family still lives today. I’m a writer, climate justice advocate, clean tech investor, and climber. And I just moved back here to Oakland, California after spending all of 2020 in a van in New Zealand.

Gale Straub:

And there’s so many things that we could talk about that you just shared there. But the first thing I want to say is that I love that the maternal clan side is presented first.

Shaandiin Cedar:

It’s an interesting conversation. When you think about all of the commentary around like the patriarchy and how we need to atone for that. So it’s a, it’s an interesting thing to understand it at a deeper level. I’m still understanding it at a deeper level as well.

Gale Straub:

Where would you say that your seeds of activism started?

Shaandiin Cedar:

I think the simple answer to that is it is in my blood in the late 1980s. My mom came to Arizona to join a global effort, protesting the forest relocation of Navajo and Hopi people on the reservation there during her time there, she ended up with an FBI record for her participation in the protest and a baby, which was me. And she met my father there whose extended family was impacted by the relocation. So I think it’s, you know, when I think about my, I am the way I am, it makes sense that born out of activism is an activist.

Gale Straub:

Hmm. Yeah. And I’m sure that parts of, of that activism just goes back generations.

Shaandiin Cedar:

Absolutely. Yeah. There’s a lot of history, a lot of trauma there, a lot of healing that still needs to be done, but absolutely I think especially dinette people, which is the terminology, the commonly known as Navajo, but yeah, there’s a long, long history of resistance. It’s makes sense. That I’m that way.

Gale Straub:

Um, when, when did you start thinking about environmental justice and you know, the overlap there between your upbringing and starting to think about what your career could look like?

Shaandiin Cedar:

Yeah. I think it goes far as far back as when I was a kid. So it was really my early years living up on the reservation that set a foundational understanding of my connection to land, uh, my cousins. And I would spend all day running around our family’s land, which is completely wide open, no fences, uh, just open space, you know, we’d herd sheep, ride horses, climb the pinion trees there and harvest stuff like Yucca for my grandma. We butchered outside, cooked outside. And I really feel like it’s this time that I learned to respect the animals we ate in the land we use and what that connection really is. And so I think that set the foundation. And then later on in life, I think during college, I started to kind of bring back that teaching and understanding like teaching that I didn’t even know is getting from my family members at that time.

Shaandiin Cedar:

So yeah, for me, love of mother earth is love of oneself because we are one in the same. Once I started understanding the threats to that. So for example, for dinner people, each element of one’s identity, the food we eat, the land, the oral story songs, language are all rooted in land. There are words in Navajo and phrases that you can’t really fully understand unless you understand the typography, the color, the native flora and fauna of the land there. So for me, it’s extremely alarming when access to land pollution of land, climate change, all threatened the natural ecosystems that humans have known forever. So a change in climate also impacts native identity. So this is why I do what I do and why I exist.

Gale Straub – Narration:

While the tenets of what we often think about as environmentalism were part of Shaandiin’s upbringing, she told me that it wasn’t until late college that she knew that environmentalism was a thing, something that she could incorporate into her career. And today, she encourages that for anyone who is passionate about finding climate solutions.

Shaandiin Cedar:

I would definitely say you can make a career out of sustainability. The industry is definitely hiring needs, smart people to solve these really challenging and complex problems.

Gale Straub:

That’s the word solve… When we first had our, our pre-interview conversation? You, you mentioned that you really like to focus on solutions, you know, and I left that conversation feeling very, almost intimidated. Cause I, sometimes, I feel like I’m a question asker. I’m someone who like I, and sometimes I open up big questions and then I feel really intimidated by, by the idea of tackling solutions. I think a lot of people feel intimidated today, you know, as we’re kind of facing this climate crisis, would you say that you’ve always identified as a problem solver, you know, as you were growing up and, and getting into your career?

Shaandiin Cedar:

I think I only became this way when I started to notice a pattern between the articles I was reading and the panels I attended new segments and conversations with my friends and family that they mostly revolved and centered around problem finding and problem explaining, which definitely has its place. Like we need to be asking big questions and not feel like we can’t if we don’t have a solution, but I think it’s yeah, right after college, I realized that I was most engaged in conversations about solutions. So the solutions about environmental degradation and native wellness, cultural education, the solutions to climate change and climate justice rooted in indigenous leadership. So I like, I like messy problems. I like putting actions behind word. It is definitely much harder. It is easy to talk about the problems and speculate and kind of point the finger. But it’s, it’s much harder to sit down and say, okay, what can we actually do about this? Who are the stakeholders we need? What are the resources we need? But that is the area that I feel like it’s just most meaningful for me.

Gale Straub:

On the solution side of things. I saw a headline today through grist.org. I believe it was, it said that due to indigenous activism, something like 20 to 25% of emissions have been reduced in Canada because of that activism. So it’s like talk about real numbers, real like action resulting in change. It’s like really incredible.

Shaandiin Cedar:

Yeah, absolutely. And I love hearing about that in, in my day job and stuff. It’s a lot about corporate activity, but it’s really good to see more of that grassroots solutions being highlighted and indigenous land management is like proven over millennia. Right. So it’s a, it’s a solution that is often overlooked, but absolutely has, has been proven. And, and hopefully we can, we can scale that.

Gale Straub:

Hm. Oh, absolutely. How, how would you describe how your activism and grassroots work takes shape today?

Shaandiin Cedar:

So yeah, what the heck am I actually doing about all this? Um, so yeah, so about five years ago, I started to under understand that change happens due to pressure applied from all angles within a system. So for me, I realized that I could apply both bottom-up and top-down pressure to fight climate change and social environmental injustice. So from the grassroots side, so bottom up, I spent nights and weekends amplifying and trying to accelerate native and indigenous people in the outdoors through an organization called NativesOutdoors. We’re really cool. Check us out. We celebrate native identity outside and help advocate for land use issues, tribal collaboration, uh, and help foster a reconnection with land within indigenous communities. In addition to this, during the last election cycle, I helped turn out the native vote in battle state, Arizona with, uh, with the Indian collective and an organization called the rural rural Utah project, also awesome organizations. And, and that was a huge success. We flip the state and we help help flip the state. So political participation of native people is another tool I’m working on to make accessible to my peers.

Gale Straub:

One of the things that I love about your, the way that you have dedicated on like multiple sides, the way you describe that you need pressure on multiple points in a system is that, you know, not everyone is able to dedicate that much of their life to do this, but they can press on one point in a system. And I feel like a lot of people out there listening can, can learn from you and, and start to brainstorm certain ways that they might take action on a grassroots level or, you know, look for opportunities within the company or organization that they work at to, to help foster some change.

Shaandiin Cedar:

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I always tell people that don’t work directly with climate or energy or anything like that, and they want to do something, but they’re not really sure how, and one of the easiest things you can do is if you’re employed, ask your employer about what sustainability goals they’ve set, do they procure renewable energy for their business? What is their equity and diversity action look like? That’s a really easy way to yeah. Put the pressure on organizations that have resources that have influence whether that’s smaller, big. So I just, I always tell people that’s an easy thing that they can do.

Gale Straub – Narration:

When it comes to inviting folks to take action, Shaandiin did want to underline the following:

Shaandiin Cedar:

When I’m talking about like hoping people get involved doing as much as they can. I do want to caveat that a little bit and just acknowledge that a lot of the communities impacted by climate change are often communities of color or low income communities. And these folks should definitely not be bearing the burden of fixing climate as they’ve largely been the victims of environmental racism for generations, there amazing leaders in these spaces, but also want to acknowledge that. Basically my, my ask is simple. Like do what you can ask, what you’re good at, ask what needs to be done and focus on that. So I just want to caveat that, um, but everyone’s impact even if it’s small, it matters.

Gale Straub – Narration:

We’ll learn more from Shaandiin, after the break.

 

MIDROLL BREAK

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Gale Straub – Narration:

We’re back. Shaandiin wrote an article for Greenbiz back in 2016 titled, “Are Companies Listening to Standing Rock?” In it she wrote, “The once-radical idea of a “triple bottom line” — that people and planet are two vital missing elements to any financially focused calculation — is not so radical anymore. The idea that people and planet deserve as much consideration as profits is picking up momentum.” which got me curious,

Gale Straub:

How have you seen that prediction kind of play out in the last five years?

Shaandiin Cedar:

It’s only getting stronger. I think standing rock and the Dakota access pipeline, which has been shut down, which is a statistic I love to say or highlight when people say that action, like that is just pointless. And in 2016, got a lot of feedback saying this isn’t going to do anything. The big corporations aren’t going to like listen to us. And yes, absolutely action on that. Front was meaningful and led to the ultimate demise of that project. So that time was really interesting. And for me, a turning point in just the pulse on corporate acknowledgement, corporate change, and thankfully like do, do growing kids, consumer pressure regulations that are getting more savvy and just the pressure of actual climate change on businesses. I think I was reading the statistic, you know, 23% of large companies have made public commitments that by 2030 they will be carbon neutral. So things like using a hundred percent renewable energy or a meeting science-based internal emissions reduction targets. So that represents a four-fold increase since the Paris agreement was signed in 2015. So there’s a lot of room for growth, but in terms of like the big players, like the fortune 100 companies, the companies that have the largest global footprints, the largest supply chains alert the dirtiest operations, like absolutely there’s growth in terms of embedding these in a meaningful way into operations.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Remember that quote from Shaandiin at the start of the episode?

Shaandiin Cedar:

We have all of the solutions that we need today to solve climate because the technology exists today. It just needs to be invested in and scaled.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Shaandin is an associate at a venture capital firm called Powerhouse. She’s been there 4 months, so she stresses that it’s new for her and she’s learning – but she’s working at a company that’s working to harness and scale the innovation that will help us solve the climate crisis. You might not know this, but I worked at a biotech fund before I started She Explores. So I can help explain some of the basics if you’re not familiar with venture capital or VC. Simply put — people in VC raise money to create a fund, or a pool of capital to invest with. They then make strategic decisions to invest in companies at different stages of their growth. The hope is that eventually they will make a return on their investment through an exit event – like a merger or acquisition, or an IPO. Shaandiin explained the two sides of Powerhouse – the innovation side and the fund. Both speak to the prediction she had in 2016 that companies and investors are starting to prioritize people and planet – as well as profits.

Shaandiin Cedar:

On the innovation side, we help connect those corporates with the early innovation, the early technology, and basically the technology that’s going to enable climate mitigation and, um, reducing carbon. So I don’t work on that side, but it’s, it’s great. It’s, it’s um, it’s something that needs to be done. It’s we just need to scale the technology that exists today and then on the fund side. Yeah. It’s Oakland based women led and the fun I work for to my knowledge is the only woman led Cleantech, like early stage fund in the space. And we invest in founders that create solutions that decarbonize, democratize, and digitize energy and mobility. So in other words, we invest seed money to founders and solutions that transform the way we use energy and the way that we get around. So yeah, it’s been a wild ride, but super interesting. So far,

Gale Straub – Narration:

Shaandin spoke earlier about the need to apply pressure on all sides when solving a problem. Her bottom up approach is her grassroots work. Working in venture capital appealed to her because it’s another direction to apply pressure from.

Shaandiin Cedar:

This fulfills the need for me to apply pressure from the top down. So previously I’ve worked with corporates and the one fortune 1000 space, trying to get them on making the business case for sustainability. And then through VC, never would have initially thought that it would have ended up in an industry that I always thought was like pretty bougie. And just like just tech bro, whatever. And it very much is that still, but at least the powerhouse team is very unique in the space and the woman who leads it all. And Emily Kirsch, she’s honestly a badass. Like she she’s shaking things up, doing things differently. And that was a big selling point for me. And also just see the raw potential of scaling, something like this. There’s not a ton of venture capitalist who work in the early stage within clean tech. So the need of founders for investment in their technology is real.

Gale Straub:

Hmm. Why are there not as many investors in that early stage for clean tech?

Shaandiin Cedar:

I think because it is, it’s an industry that’s in its infancy still. I think the VC world, you have to be able to manage risk and managing risk at the earliest stage in an industry that is so early, I think is a very, it’s not an easy space to be in. I think for us, we have the expertise and the connections and the background to feel comfortable playing in that space. And there are firms at the lake series, a series B and on like big firms that are, that are playing in Cleantech. It’s just like at that earliest stage, I think we’re willing to take that risk. It’s a space that you don’t have a ton of information. Like these are pre-revenue companies and you really are making a bet on like the team, the founders and how we see their technology, their software innovation playing in the future.

Gale Straub – Narration:

While the space isn’t crowded now, Shaandiin definitely anticipates that demand for seed, or early investments in pre-revenue clean tech companies to continue to rise. One thing we talked about when it comes to venture capital, and language used in businesses generally – there’s a bunch of new terminology to learn when you enter the space. Seed stage, series A, exit event – those are just a few phrases that have already come up in this episode. I’ll include some definitions in the show notes if you’re curious. Because language can be a barrier to entry for people who’ve been on the outside of investing and the VC world:

Shaandiin Cedar:

Going back to like why I chose to enter venture capital. I love the fact that I’m a native woman of color in these spaces that are super, super white and like just, you know, traditionally very, in my opinion, just stale and not the most inviting to women, definitely women of color. Um, so I, I love that. Um, I have a seat at the table. I’m still learning. I’m not going to pretend like I know everything, but I do come with a drastically different perspective. I am an outsider. And, um, my boss, um, said that, you know, I should own that in every way, because it’s those, it’s that thinking that perspective, that’s going to make the fund and companies who have diverse leadership and diverse teams, more dangerous in terms of like innovation and that different way of thinking. So I like that. I’m kind of stirring the pot a little bit and in the industry, or are they starting to start to.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Diversity of thought, ethnicity, gender, background — Shaandiin stresses that they’re all strengths in tackling the climate crisis.

Gale Straub:

So inside and outside of VC, what are some of the most surprising climate solutions that, that you’ve come across and that maybe, maybe wouldn’t be quite as surprising to you, but might be surprising to a listener who isn’t as well versed in this space.

Shaandiin Cedar:

Generally speaking, I love to talk about the fact that the top climate solutions are not typically what people think of. For example, our friends at project drawdown outlined a well-researched project of the top 100 solutions to climate change. And the top five are things like reducing food waste, educating girls, having a plant, rich diet, refrigerant management. So managing the chemicals in our refrigerators and ACS. And then the last one is tropical forest reforestation. And all of those, they’re, they’re basically the biggest potential for carbon reduction when that came out. I think that came out in like 2018. Uh, it’s really interesting, especially like educating girls. It’s just, if we can give them the healthcare that they need and the education that they need, that has a huge, huge carbon impact. And if you’re interested in learning more, definitely go read. I’m not going to, it is very interesting and like goes into very nuanced description of that.

Shaandiin Cedar:

So, um, but it’s super interesting. And in terms of like new, interesting technology or strategies for me, the concept of a circular economy is really interesting thinking about our economy right now is linear. So it’s an economy of make take in waste, so things and ending up in landfill. So the idea of creating a circular systems are that materials stay within the economy and out of the landfill, it’s this concept has been fascinating to me and to see how large companies can embed this. So if we can imagine companies like apple, if they can design their phones and computers and the other tech that they manufacturer to be taken back and de manufactured and turned into re manufactured products. So this would eliminate the need for mining more Virgin materials. The carbon impact would be tremendous. And frankly just makes sense. You know, like it’s just the ultimate efficiency of an economy. So this is yeah, just one thing that’s really cool to me. It’s starting to happen. Companies are starting to make circular economy commitments and apple actually does have a commitment to make their phones a hundred percent from recycled materials. They haven’t set a date on this, which as, as consumers definitely need to hold them accountable to, but it’s, it’s just super, super interesting. Imagine if we just didn’t have landfills

Gale Straub – Narration:

This concept extends to the outdoor industry too – and not just in thinking about extending the life of good quality products, or embracing used gear, which are all great things. Circularity might mean sending your backpacking bag back to the company at the end of its useful life to be recycled and turned back into another backpacking bag for you. There are challenges to overcome, but it’s so cool to know that companies we love are working towards this. Speaking of the outdoor industry, I asked Shaandin:

Gale Straub:

What for you personally, have you seen as being some of those, those disconnects that exist between the outdoor rec community in terms of the words that that were saying about people in climate and the actions that were taking?

Shaandiin Cedar:

Yeah. So I could probably talk about this for a long time. Um, I’ve lots of thoughts on this, but I think I’d like to see a few things. One is just broadly more explicit commitments and following actual investments by brands in the outdoor industry. I think right now the gold standard are companies like Patagonia who are, you can see, they are investing in, in this, in, in so many ways and actually embedding it into the identity of their company, which has been, been the way from the beginning. But as new technologies, as new ideas, like the circular economy are arise, they’re on it. Like I would love to see other brands at this level. And then two I’d love to see way more engagement and action taken given to the simple fact that all recreation, uh, happens on native land. So everyone should be asking themselves whose land I’m on and how they can support there’s an app for this.

Shaandiin Cedar:

Or you can go to native-land.ca to easily see whose tribal land you’re on. There’s really no excuse at this point to be like, well, I don’t know, like, yeah, you can literally look it up in two seconds and just engage in any way that you can on that. And then related to this, I’d love also to see just more indigenous knowledge be put to use, like you said, at the very beginning, the folks in Canada, like the headline you saw native land management practices are effective and proven. And I just love to see this be included in outdoor community, building initiatives, things like tribal involvement on policy planning. There’s a ton of knowledge there. And our elders and youth have so much to give here, but also make sure that you’re compensating them fairly for their expertise. So yeah, I’d say those are kind of the main things that I highlight.

Gale Straub – Narration:

I reached out to Shaandiin because while I was feeling a good amount of climate anxiety, which, if i’m honest, sometimes makes me feel helpless. But I was curious about the different pressure points and the different levers we can pull when it comes to reducing carbon and reducing the impacts of climate change. And curiosity is an opening, an invitation. It’s been my best way of coping with anxiety: And I love the solutions forward approach that Shaandiin takes.

Gale Straub:

Well, I mean, I feel energized just having this conversation, just listening to you and your enthusiasm and your drive. And I think that the, everyone who listens is going to feel a lot of that too.

Shaandiin Cedar:

Yeah. Hopefully I think we have it. It’s all, it’s also fun work. And the people in this industry are really smart, really driven. So a I’m optimistic and also like ready to go and like ready to ready to do the work. So yeah. I invite others to join as well.

  1. Pam D Pence says:

    Really enjoyed the optimism for Shaandl=iin and the vulnerability of Gale to talk about her climate anxiety. Really interesting work with VC. I love what I’m seeing regarding caring shareholders asking management what they are doing to increase our quality of life going forward.

  2. Gale Straub says:

    Thanks so much for listening Pam, and for providing your feedback. I learned so much from talking with Shaandiin!

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