Our guest on this episode is Nick Wobbrock, Co-Founder and COO at Blue Forest Conservation, a mission-driven, non-profit organization, leveraging financial innovation to create sustainable investment solutions to environmental challenges. Their flagship financial product, the Forest Resilience Bond (FRB), deploys private capital to finance forest restoration projects on private and public lands to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. We are also joined by Brandi Pearce, faculty in Management of Organizations, and the Faculty Director of Teams@Haas. She is also a leading expert on High Impact Teaming.
Nick is a licensed civil engineer who developed drinking water and sanitation infrastructure in the US and internationally in Honduras and Malawi. Prior to joining Blue Forest, he worked as a consulting engineer for Brown & Caldwell, for the U.S. Peace Corps, and for Doctors Without Borders. Nick presently sits on the Board of EOS International where he continues to support communities in Honduras from his days in the Peace Corps.
In this episode. Nick tells us a little bit about his background, his professional career in the water space, the reasons he pivoted into forest conservation, and how he did it by going to business school and founding a startup.
He also talks about Blue Forest Conservation, its mission and goals, how people can help support their organization’s visions, and some of the greatest successes and challenges in developing their team with a sustainability mission.
Why Nick decided to go to business school and chose Haas
“I realized my heart was a little less with the pipes and the pumps and the engineering design and more wanting to think about the overall problems and root of those problems that we were trying to solve. And I thought, where might I be able to advance my passion for sustainability and technology and systems that can help drive that sustainability? And business school seemed like a logical next step for me, whether it was going to be grounded in technology development or sustainability in some fashion. I saw that Berkeley and the Haas program, especially with the Berkeley Energy Resources Collaborative (BERC) and a lot of the collaboration across the university, had a lot of opportunities around sustainability, energy, water, and technology.”
How people can help support Blue Forest Conversation
“Pretty familiar, but voting is one. Elevating the opportunity with your elected officials that represent your utility board about the need for resilience of the watershed that supports your utility.”
Challenges and joys in working with the Blue Forest team
“I’m so grateful for where the team is now. We’re 16 people, with quite a few PhDs, some in geospatial science, some in forest hydrology modeling, communications experts, finance experts. Foresters are crucial, and we have a couple. And some of the challenges is that we come with a different set of language around how to make this very necessarily interdisciplinary solution work. It’s a challenge internally unless we recognize that in credit culture for slowing downtime together. No question too simple. Because finance and forestry and hydrology have a lot of different backgrounds and domains of knowledge.
But when you recognize that interdisciplinary nature, I think, actually, it’s turned into one of the joys at Blue Forest, is there’s something that everyone on our team can teach everybody else that person uniquely has knowledge about. And working on a culture that celebrates that is, I think, something we’re doing well, but something we want to make sure we continue to emphasize.”
What Nick admires in a leader
“I love seeing a leader that waits to speak, especially, if, in their leading role, people might want to defer to their thoughts first. But if that leader instead pauses, makes sure there is room for everyone else’s voice, largely because you’re going to learn a lot of things, but also, because that is inclusive and makes space for people. And I probably admire that, in part, because it’s something I work on, too. When I get excited about a topic, it’s hard not to want to share your thoughts and your passion for that and your excitement for that, and to balance that with space and room for collaboration and contributions from new and experienced and everyone in between is the type of leader I would like to be and aspire towards.”
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
[00:00] Sean: Welcome to the OneHaas Alumni Podcast. I’m your host, Sean Li. And today, we’re joined by Dr. Brandi Pearce. She needs no introduction [laughs]. She’s been on our podcast a couple of times. And our guest, Nick Wobbrock. Nick, you are a Full-time MBA class of 2015.
[00:21] Nick: That’s correct.
[00:22] Sean: And I’ll let Brandi introduce you, for diversity.
[00:24] Brandi: Thanks, Sean. It’s great to be back again. And we’re excited to be thinking about sustainability and high-impact teaming and how those two intersect. And I want to introduce Nick Wobbrock, who is one of my very first students, actually, when I came to Haas in 2012, before I even built high impact teaming. And we joined forces in Problem Finding, Problem Solving. And Nick, at the time, was just coming from an NGO space and starting to think about where he wanted to go and how he wanted to move forward from his MBA.
We’re really delighted to have you here today, Nick. It’d be great if you could just share with everyone a little bit about you and who you are, where you’re from, what you studied as an undergrad, and what brought you to Haas.
[01:14] Nick: Thank you, Brandi. And thank you, Sean. Quite a privilege to be on the OneHaas Podcast. I’m really excited to share about my background and why Haas was a perfect environment to accelerate the nonprofit that a few other Haasies and myself started in 2015. So, I came to Haas as a civil engineer who had worked in water resource engineering as a consultant. I studied civil engineering as an undergrad on the East Coast at Cornell University, seven or eight Cornellians in my Haas class, too. Just a fun community.
[01:46] Brandi: Wow, that’s a big number.
[01:48] Nick: Yeah.
[01:50] Sean: Were you from the East Coast, originally?
[01:51] Nick: I’m originally from Portland, Oregon.
[01:53] Sean: Oh, wow.
[01:54] Nick: The Pacific Northwest. And grew up very much with the Pacific Northwest as part of my identity—the mountains, the ocean nearby, and quite an eco-environment. And that’s what motivated me to study environmental engineering in college. Right after college, I actually went to hunter in the Peace Corps and worked on drinking water and rural water system projects in between the borders of El Salvador and Honduras for a couple of years, and actually got to learn quite a bit about how we depend on clean watersheds and forests in those communities, especially, for clean drinking water.
And I continued to work on civil engineering projects when I came back to the Pacific Northwest on drinking water systems in Portland as a consulting engineer, but realized my heart was a little less with the pipes and the pumps and the engineering design and more wanting to think about the overall problems and root of those problems that we were trying to solve. And I thought, where might I be able to advance my passion for sustainability and technology and systems that can help drive that sustainability? And business school seemed like a logical next step for me, whether it was going to be grounded in technology development or sustainability in some fashion. I saw that Berkeley and the Haas program, especially with BERC and a lot of the collaboration across the university, had a lot of opportunities around sustainability, energy, water, and technology.
[03:33] Brandi: I’m curious, you’ve had such an interesting background and been to so many places and seen so many ecosystems. And I’m curious about a passion that you have that we might not see on your LinkedIn or vitae that just gives us a little bit more flavor about you and who you are and what motivates you.
[03:53] Nick: I might be a little visible on my LinkedIn, but I love visiting new places. So, I’ve had both traveling for fun, but also the opportunity to live abroad in Honduras with the Peace Corps, or in Malawi with Doctors Without Borders. Or even after we got married, we went to Mexico for four months as well. Living in new places, seeing cultures and people, and learning about different ways people live, and similar ways that people live with me is really a joy I’ve had.
[04:24] Brandi: I’m curious as you think about that and just this part of you, how do you think that links into some of the things that you’ve been up to in your work and professional life? And how does that support you?
[04:37] Nick: When you visit new environments and travel, it becomes that much more clear and acute if there’s challenges with the health and the environment around you. In Honduras, our water sources were sometimes clear and sometimes cloudy, depending on the health of the watershed. And seeing the stresses between agriculture and natural resource use was really acute for the communities that I lived and worked in their health, based on the environment that was protecting that sources of water that they depended upon.
[05:18] Sean: It’s so funny you say that because this episode, in particular, I’m traveling and calling in from Maui. And it’s my first time to Maui. I’ve been to O’ahu and to some of the other islands. And just landing and coming to the airport, I had this keen sense of awareness. I’d said, why is it so dry here? It’s literally just dry grass outside. And part of it has to do with the microclimates here in Maui. But also, part of it had to do with how the environment was changed due to sugar cane farming. And I learned a little bit about the history of sugar cane farming here, how the US government subsidized it, and they would just burn—I know that’s how you harvest sugar cane, right? You’d burn the leaves or something like that, the fields. And they would just have ashes, and they would just create this environment.
And they did this all because they needed nitroglycerin back in the day. Even after they stopped needing nitroglycerin, they were still subsidizing it until they realized, why are we doing this? And it just heightened my sense of awareness that this doesn’t feel natural, that the environments has been damaged in many ways. And you’re absolutely right, travel brings that sense of awareness because when I’m living in Orange County, typically, you’re used to that environment.
[06:35] Brandi: So, you started really in the water space and thinking about water use. And now, you’ve really pivoted into thinking about conservation of forest. And I’d love to hear a little bit about your newest startup and what brought you to this space and how the two connect and where you’re headed.
[06:53] Nick: Thank you. Yeah, it sounds like a pivot. And in some ways, it was. Let me step back a little bit and say. So, out of 2015, four Haasies co-founded what’s now a nonprofit called Blue Forest Conservation. And our mission was, how can we use financial innovation to motivate sustainable solutions? How can we fund really important conservation and environmental projects that don’t just improve people’s lives and protect the environment, but also can make economic sense?
And some of my time at Haas actually became exposed to something they called social impact bonds that a few pioneering companies started ways to fund projects that would lessen the cost to taxpayers by reducing re-offense rates, statistically speaking of people coming out of prison, by investing to provide social services, training, education, clean place to live, counseling, things that take resources. Yet, public health interventions have shown and science has shown that can greatly reduce the likelihood of someone leaving prison re-offending within five years.
Now, that avoids a ton of heartache for that person and for anyone else that would be involved. It can also save a lot of taxpayer dollars by avoiding that cost of someone in prison. And I learned about that social impact bond framework. And at the time we were at Haas, I think we had a trip plan to Yosemite that was getting canceled because of fires.
[08:36] Brandi: Some of the first.
[08:37] Nick: Some of the first, yeah, 2013. And my experience as a water resource engineer also had me thinking these fires along the whole West, especially now, we see it along the whole West, but at the time in California where I was going to school, these fires have to be wreaking havoc for the utilities that are managing our water. And part of that was, maybe, looking back at my familiarity as a water resource engineer in the states or the dependence from some of the other environments I was fortunate to be able to live in, like in Honduras, where watershed health was fundamental drinking water downstream.
And taking that framework of these large fires are quite a threat to our water resources and learning that there’s things that can be done to reduce the likelihood in those risks of fires. Yet, those actions take resources and take money to intervene, but create jobs and provide jobs. Might there be an economic case to proactively reduce that risk to avoid the large expense that would occur in fire suppression and in treating water to a higher level, in dredging reservoirs when there’s landslides and erosion and repair of transportation networks when there’s fires as well, all the other costs that fires wreak havoc on?
And so, at Haas, I was talking actually to one of my co-founders, Zack Knight, who’s class of 2015, also. He came from fixed-income bond trading background. And I was sharing with him some of this thought of, is there any way we could invest proactively now to reduce that cost in the future? And he said, “Nick, I know the perfect competition that we could apply into to see if there was some traction with this.” So, the four of us, Leigh Madeira, Zack Knight, Chad Reed, and myself applied for the Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investing Challenge and put together a couple of page prospectus on how investing in forest management now could reduce some of the costs in the future and, along the way, learn from great work that in the University of California system—UC Merced, UC Berkeley, the Sierra Nevada Research Institute—we talked to some scientists and work that the Nature Conservancy was doing, too, that, if you proactively reduce some of this fire risk, you can actually increase how much water might flow through that system.
Now, in a drought-prone state where there’s a lot of fighting over water and, I remember so much conversation about almonds. I love almonds, personally. Almonds seem to be vilified at the time, which I don’t ascribe to. But I get that it’s complicated. With all that effort about water scarcity and the drought that we were in, which creates bigger fire risk as well, how great would it be if there were proactive measures that wouldn’t just reduce the risk of fire, but also enhance how much water might be possible through a system that creates more available water for people, for the environment, for generating electricity, for all sorts of beneficial uses? So, we created something called the Forest Resilience Bond. And it’s modeled after those social impact bonds that I was describing. I like to call it as an environmental impact bond. And it’s a way to invest in proactive forest resilience and restoration projects and have it paid back from a host of different public and private sources that stand to benefit by those protected ecosystem services.
So, there was a lot there in that terminology, but how do we start to look at the environment, not just for the reasons that we may all traditionally enjoy the outdoors or some of the tourism, the recreation, the natural resources? Those are all really valid and important, especially, in these COVID times when people are looking for places to go. But how do we also value some of the ecosystem services, like clean water and clean air, resilience to fire, and resilience to climate challenges that also have economic value? And together, we put the economic case together and then made a financial case.
[12:59] Brandi: I actually have a question. I’m so curious about your investors. So, building on this idea that we tend to think of the environment as the end user. So, someone like myself who, in 2012, wasn’t having an impact or being impacted by fires, but by 2013 this started to become a pattern. And all of a sudden, I become aware. So, there’s the end user that is seeing the benefit of what you’re doing, but who else is investing and why do they see this as a benefit to them would be interesting to understand.
[13:39] Nick: Yeah, absolutely. We flipped it a little bit on its head from how traditional conservation is funded where most conservation projects talk about the donors or the givers of that money as the investors in the landscape. And that’s perfectly fine. I’m not trying to change that. But it does create a bit of a need for clarification when we talk about a Forest Resilience Bond with potential partners, because when we talk about investors, it’s truly lending investors who get their money back plus a stated interest rate. And their impact investors, often, they want to be associated with good outcomes. They may have pressure from their boards and from their management saying, what are we doing? How are we putting any of our portfolios or moving towards a direction of putting our portfolio of investments towards positive environmental and social outcomes? And this is definitely one of those opportunities. They want to be investors for their own reasons, in some ways. But they’re not too dissimilar than why most investors want to invest in something. They’re excited about it. And they expect that this is going to pay them back with some return.
The way that a forest resilience bond will take off—I’ll share a little bit more about who the investors are in the first projects, too. But we want this to look as similar and boring as a normal loan would generally look, because if it looks similar and boring, like a mortgage, it’s going to attract far more investors who some may care about the impacts but others may say, “This is really good for our portfolio. It’s diversified. It’s a new class of investment.” It may check other boxes they have.
So, our initial investors, we’ve done two projects. The first project was $4 million in investment. The second project was $25 million of investment. That second project is still being implemented now. And there were four investors for the first project that included Calvert Impact Capital, AAA of California. They have an investment arm. It also included two foundations that could make something called program-related investments. Foundations can be lenders also, just like foundations can own investments themselves or equities. So, we blended those four investors for the first project together—and blended because they all have different interest rates, foundations are eligible for a lower interest rate, but it still checks the boxes for them—to make 2.5% loan that could fund a $4 million restoration project on the Tahoe National Forest.
The next project included some of those investors, but also included a group called ImpactAssets, and then someone else, Zach Knight, those are our fundraising, primarily. And those investors, they’re clamoring to be a part of bigger projects. And we’re working on developing those investment opportunities in those projects.
But the nice thing, but also the hard thing, would share that the Forest Service has said 40 to 60 million acres in need of restoration across the Western US at a crude estimate or rough estimate of $1,000 per acre. That’s a 40 to $60 billion need. And our two projects have achieved a lot of excitement because they’re bigger than so many of the conservation projects that are implemented. Yet, we’re still a drop in the bucket compared to where it needs to get.
Now, the one thing finance can do is scale. It can attract more capital if we can show how it will be repaid. And the nice thing about some of the investors, like pension funds, they have minimums that are $50 million. And some have expressed interest to us. But we have to get the projects that are that size. And the size of the investment opportunity matches very well with the need on the ground, too, for that investment. And if we don’t look at investing in these ecosystems and watersheds in a way to do a lot of work now, a lot of expense to protect those services over the next 20 years—the water, the clean air—and we instead are trying to fund it through small grant programs, we’re going to be rolling a rock up a hill, especially, when we’re looking at climate change and climate resilience needs.
[18:12] Sean: So, I do have to ask as a business school student. You had mentioned that the upfront investments are repaid by contracts. What are those contracts? When you get a bond for roads, we can charge pole. How does this work with a forest?
[18:30] Nick: Great question. So, it starts with two processes. There’s the development of that contract. It starts with two fundamental opportunities or projects. Let me reframe this again.
[18:43] Sean: No worries.
[18:44] Nick: Sean, your question about the repayment of these, what do these contracts look like? We’ve been able to develop—thanks to some great pro bono attorneys who continue to help Blue Forest—simple repayment contracts for utilities. They’re 20 to 30 pages long where they sign fee for service contracts that are tied to completing the work on the ground, that’s on Forest Service land. It’s with the expectation that there are certain water benefits that would come from that work.
And so, part of our contract with those utilities is to do a yearly impact report and analysis of the ecosystem benefits. But taking a couple of steps backward, where that starts is, and how one might engage a utility or a state agency, is to be able to paint that picture of what the restored landscape would look like, what the existing baseline and risks are with the current understanding of fire risk, of drought risk, of water supply, and then both internally at Blue Forest and with our partners, look at what the planned vision would be for that watershed landscape. And if that were to be implemented, what benefits would materialize in the form of enhanced water and protected air quality, enhanced fire resilience? And then, from those environmental outcomes from doing that project, what does that mean economically to different parties as well?
With that fundamental understanding of the projects yield environmental outcomes that translate into economic benefits, we can structure contracts and agreements that allow for simple payment based on the assumption of those often modeled and projected outcomes. We can get the contracts as complicated as folks would like to add to them. If a utility would rather pay for measured benefits, that can be in the contract. We started thinking that that would be the exciting innovative way to say, let’s pay for each unit of extra water. It turns out that utilities don’t want to budget that way, in our experience. It turns out that low-interest impact investors that are lending money don’t want to take on the risk of repayment that way. And it turns out that that’s never the bar that we’ve had when a community says, should we build this bridge or not? Unless you’re having some investor establish a toll bridge, which is not too common in the Western US, you have projections of how often is that bridge going to be used, how important is that connecting the two communities on the opposite sides of the river, and is the tax base going to be sufficient to repay that bridge, especially, with the increase in our tax base that we would expect from the benefits to this community from that infrastructure?
And so, we started in 2015 making the Forest Resilience Bond quite a bit more complicated than it needs to be. But the feedback from the investors, from the utilities, from the beneficiaries was, let’s keep this simple. There’s still a great case for finance. The case of finance is we need to do a lot more work now and we need to have the resources to do that. And if that were to be implement, it would provide a ton of value over the next many decades.
And speaking finance to public agencies and utilities, why are we looking to finance watershed health? Well, if we look at something like a wind farm, if we were to tell folks if there was this goal to build 20 wind turbines over the next 20 years and we’re going to build one wind turbine a year each year, and we’re only going to build each wind turbine with the money we had on hand this one year, and we couldn’t build all 20 now, but we had to slowly build one each year because we simply didn’t have the capital, we would be foregoing half the power that could have been generated much more quickly for the latter half of the next 20 years. Instead, if you use some finance—and we have stories like this—if we could fund all 20 of those wind turbines over the next three years, that provides that host of renewable energy to be appreciated and valued over the course of the next 17 years after they’re built. We simply don’t have time to wait for all the wind turbines to be built slowly. And we simply don’t have time to wait to invest in our watershed health to reduce these catastrophic fires to slowly fund that work, accelerate the pace and scale of the type of restoration that we’re doing. And that requires money.
[23:29] Brandi: I’m curious as you talk about this. Many of our listeners are people who may not be embedded in these types of agencies. So, what is it that people on the ground can do to help support the vision that you have? What are the actions that we can take to motivate and enhance organizations and agencies to invest in this way?
[23:53] Nick: Great question. Pretty familiar, but voting is one. Having familiarity with your local—most utilities in California are public municipal utilities. They have a public board that’s elected. The San Francisco Public Utility Commission, the East Bay Municipal Utility District, the Yuba Water Agency, who’s one of our first and fantastic partner, they’re all led by elected officials. And those elected officials, having the opportunity to look at what does climate resilience mean holistically from the start of our system, which is really the crest of the Sierra Nevada, is where the water that most of us drink and consume along the coast of California for many of the large population centers, those all come from our mountainous regions in California. So, elevating the opportunity with your elected officials that represent your utility board about the need for resilience of the watershed that supports your utility, that’s one.
It’s a tough question that you ask as well, Brandi, though. What can an individual do on some of this? And what makes markets work and capitalism work is a set of ground rules that help value property, that help value things like carbon, that help value water and water rights and fire risk. And so, there’s policy interventions that enable something like conservation finance. How we describe what we work on as conservation finance? How do we finance conservation so that it will exist in the future so that those landscapes exist? And it’s a growing field with a lot of interest, but it goes hand-in-hand with policy as well, that create the enabling conditions for that investment.
[25:38] Brandi: It’s an interesting, you’re at this very unique intersection between thinking about how we leverage capitalism while also keeping our eye on valuing investments that create social value. And this really brings me to an important question I have for you, which is, in many ways, you are building a new entity, a team that’s really driven by creating a sustainable organization. And thinking about how that intersects, and one of the things that you’ve talked a little bit about is this idea that you had to really think about co-benefits and partnerships, not only internally, but externally to your team as you began to develop. I am really curious about some of your greatest challenges in developing this team with a sustainability mission, as well as some of the greatest joys.
[26:36] Nick: Great question. I’m so grateful for where the team is now. We’re 16 people, with quite a few PhDs, some in geospatial science, some in forest hydrology modeling, communications experts, finance experts. Foresters are crucial, and we have a couple. And some of the challenge is that we come with a different set of language around how to make this very necessarily interdisciplinary solution work. It’s a challenge internally, unless we recognize that in credit culture for slowing down time together. No question too simple. Because finance and forestry and hydrology have a lot of different backgrounds and domains of knowledge.
But when you recognize that interdisciplinary nature, I think, actually, it’s turned into one of the joys at Blue Forest, is there’s something that everyone on our team can teach everybody else that person uniquely has knowledge about. And working on a culture that celebrates that is, I think, something we’re doing well, but something we want to make sure we continue to emphasize. Being able to work in a domain that is a passion area of mine since studying an undergrad is a real joy. And I might see that in everyone else at our company, too. And so, while we speak a different language from our training, being both the recognition that we can learn from each other and the recognition that our values are well-aligned. So, aligning on what are the values of Blue Forest, what are we all trying to be a part of, valuing each other, and valuing the outcomes of the projects that we’re helping support and move forward gets us very excited.
And I wanted to respond also to one comment you had about the nature of some of this is how it relates to my time at business school, or that it’s some deviations and some tangents. But there’s a few courses in my time at Haas, and many of them were really instrumental, but I was able to take a course called Energy and Environmental Markets from Severin Borenstein. And he taught microeconomics in a way that helps me understand how a utility would benefit the things I cared about. It was some of the basis for the business model behind Blue Forest. And another course was a Renewable Infrastructure Finance weekend course that Sheldon Kimber teaches or taught. And how project finance principles could be applied to, in that case, fund renewable energy infrastructure. But taking that framework on how might we apply project finance to watershed management was fundamental.
And those were some of the hard-skill courses. But the soft-skill courses, too, about how do we communicate a value proposition? How do we think outside the box and create a community around a certain problem and opportunity? How do we story-tell around what opportunity this could unlock and enable and create a community for, not just the people at Blue Forest, but for investors that want to be a part of, for utilities to be excited about, how part of that story is many hands sharing in this immense challenge in front of us for watershed resilience? That, actually, when we look at the economics, if there’s many parties engaged and involved, it’s not going to be too burdensome. But we have to have a vehicle for that collaboration. And Blue Forest wants to be that vehicle.
[30:23] Brandi: It’s interesting that you build on that because one of the projects you talked about is the project you are doing in concert with nine other organizations related back to the Yuba Forest. And it would be really interesting to understand. So, you’ve spoken a little bit about what you’ve needed to do internally, which is really interesting, because as we think about sustainable organizations having aspirational goals, but also being really intentional about alignment of your culture with what you’re trying to achieve, is really important. But another component of sustainability, as we’re thinking about it, is this partnership of actually organizing with organizations that, together, you can begin to really make a difference and move the ecosystem. And be very interesting to understand how you came to think about this and how you built these partnerships. And also, some of the challenges, but also, how this actually supports your overall mission of what you’re trying to achieve at Blue Forest.
[31:28] Nick: Great question. And that’s true, the nine organizations, they’re part of, for our second project, what’s called a forest collaborative came together. It was formed. Largely, I think, encouraged by the Forest Service, too, which was exciting, actually. And I continue to learn in this work quite a bit. And the value of partnership and collaboration is only that much more clear from this example that the forest encouraged, if we’re going to try and do the second project, let’s establish a partnership amongst many organizations. And it formed something called the North Yuba Forest Partnership. And it’s on the top of the national forest. It includes large environmental NGOs, like the Nature Conservancy. It includes small environmental NGOs that are very regional, called the South Yuba River Citizens League. There’s a tribal member who was a signatory, which is something we really need to do quite a bit more of in our work. All of these watersheds around the West, they often, if not always, have indigenous communities and indigenous people that value long before the Forest Service was ever managing these lands.
[32:43] Brandi: Critical stakeholder.
[32:46] Nick: Critical stakeholder.
[32:47] Brandi: Thank you.
[32:47] Nick: And how native nations and tribal engagement can, not just be an essential component to these partnerships, but also actually provide the vision and social capital and leadership on how these watersheds should be managed. That’s actually been a big focus in the state of California more recently on enabling tribal burn practices and providing some of the policy that can encourage some of the historical management that tribes had done by applying fire, something called prescribed fire, to the ground.
If we look at historical photos over the last 120, 130 years, some of which were kept in Berkeley’s library in the late 1800s, our forest looked very different even 130 years ago, and I’m sure, more than a few hundred years ago, looked different, too, because there wasn’t the fire suppression that we see today, that we’ve put in place for the last 100 years. And there was cultural burning practices that native communities were doing throughout much of the West. And that led to much more resilient forest to fire. And while wild fire was not something to be extinguished, it was something that was much less damaging and much less intense.
[34:09] Brandi: Forestation is one component that we’re thinking about when we think about sustainability, but there are so many other places. And when we really think about this broader mission and the pace at which we need to move, it does mean that we’re going to need to pull together at all levels, at the individual, collective, organizational, and that adds complexity. And so, what are the things we really need to be thinking about?
As we close out, I’m curious if there’s anything else you want to add. I have a few final questions. But Sean, maybe, you have a few. And Nick, anything else you want to add around?
[34:49] Nick: I have a lot of gratitude to Haas. For anyone who’s listening and wondering how might I get involved or how might I pivot, in some ways, from, in my case, being an engineering design consultant, the opportunities and exposure for me at Berkeley were immense. And I came in 2013 feeling okay, but very much like I’m an engineer who might be able to design a pipeline and a pump station and consult to utility. And I left feeling like I could really tackle some ambiguous problems that were well-aligned with my values and mission, and I have the confidence on how might that be approached. And the community and network, even my co-founders and, importantly, my spouse, is a Haasie from the year before me, too. So, Haas has been really generous with the community and support, not just professionally, but personally as well.
[35:52] Brandi: And I have to say, as a faculty member, it’s probably one of the greatest joys and things that bring me joy in being a part of Berkeley Haas, is watching students like yourself go out into the world and making the kind of impact that you’re making, not only in the community more broadly, but also, for our society. And one of the things that you mentioned is that, not only do you have co-founders that are from Haas, but you do have a partner who is from Haas. And something that I feel very passionate about is how do we build sustainable partnerships, and how do we support each other through our partnerships, whether it’s in our organizations, in our communities, but also, in our relationships. And so, you and Brianna Treece just welcomed a new addition to the world. And you both have your own career passions. And I’m curious, what are you doing together to build a sustainable partnership, as you both thrive in your professional and personal lives?
[36:55] Nick: Yeah, we welcomed Lawden, our boy, eight months ago.
[37:01] Brandi: Congratulations.
[37:02] Nick: And it’s been quite a wild ride, having our firstborn.
[37:05] Brandi: It always is.
[37:07] Nick: Yeah.
[37:08] Sean: Oh, yeah.
[37:08] Nick: And Bri Treece is thriving in her own post-Haas days, too. And that creates lot of demands on time between professional and family. We are so fortunate about the community that’s around us here. So many Haasies as well, some who’ve had kids shortly before us, too, and have advice in community to be around. That’s been really critical and fundamental to our sanity in the last year. I’ve been so grateful to Bri for her support about this startup that we founded. She has a lot of excitement for this work and the outcomes. Even though she doesn’t naturally speak forest, hydrology, and wildfire risk, she is starting to now. But her encouragement about even thinking—and the similarities and parallels between how any company or organization has to run and how it might be organized and what the critical frameworks for developing leadership and community and shared vision and mission, sometimes that’s not too dissimilar. It might be around different issue areas, but how to create that sense of community and belonging and purpose is something that we’ve shared in our work.
[38:23] Brandi: And it translates to all parts of ourselves. My husband and I often say collaboration really starts between the two of us and thinking about how we step forward and step back, and what is our purpose as a collective. And it is about reshaping how we imagine that for a sustainable future for all of us. My last question to you is, what is something you admire in a leader when you see it in action, and why?
[38:53] Nick: I love seeing a leader that waits to speak, especially, if, in their leading role, people might want to defer to their thoughts first. But if that leader instead pauses, makes sure there is a room for everyone else’s voice, largely because you’re going to learn a lot of things, but also, because that is inclusive and makes space for people. And I probably admire that, in part, because it’s something I work on, too. When I get excited about a topic, it’s hard not to want to share your thoughts and your passion for that and your excitement for that, and to balance that with space and room for collaboration and contributions from new and experienced and everyone in between is the type of leader I would like to be and aspire towards.
[39:43] Brandi: Thank you. It’s so amazing to see you so many years out, engaging in the world, doing exciting things, building, not only your professional life, but your partnerships with other Haas alumni, and also, creating value for society and in your own private world. And it’s really nice to be here with you, Nick. And thanks, Sean.
[40:08] Nick: Thank you, Brandi. Thank you, Sean.
[40:10] Sean: Thank you so much for coming on the podcast today, Nick.
[40:12] Outro: Thanks again for tuning in to this episode of the OneHaas Podcast. If you enjoyed our show today, please remember to hit that Subscribe or Follow button on your favorite podcast player. We’d also really appreciate you giving us a five-star rating and review. You’re looking for more content? Please check out our website at haas.fm. That’s spelled H-A-A-S.F-M. There, you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter and check out some of our other Berkeley Haas podcasts. And until next time. Go Bears.