By Sydney Collins, '20

Carreen de Cardenas, ‘18, grew up in an environmentally-minded family. “I would always drag my parents to these sustainability festivals. I knew that whatever I ended up doing in life, I wanted it to be sustainably-minded,” she said.

She thought that the best way to achieve her goal would be through a science degree, but after taking introductory economics courses, she found that a degree in mathematical economics would help her reach her goal of a sustainable community, but through a different path.

“I like economics because it explains the world and gives a big picture of how society functions,” de Cardenas said. “I was having a hard time narrowing my intended field to one interest, so economics helped explain a lot of different interests for me.”

de Cardenas is invested in the implementation of sustainable programs in urban settings because she believes that the rapidly growing economy is resulting in environmental issues that need immediate attention. “More and more people are going to cities but if we don’t make them sustainable, everything will continue to expand into an urban sprawl and we’re not going to be able to keep up. We have a limited amount of resources and if we don’t take care of those, we’re not going to have anything,” she said.

Studying abroad in Freiberg Germany through IES helped her learn about how countries outside of the United States are utilizing different initiative programs to promote environmental awareness to their citizens. “After gaining an understanding of how Germany is tackling environmental issues, I wanted to continue to learn about how other cultures were doing sustainable advancements,” de Cardenas said. 

She began looking for a summer internship with help from the International Studies Abroad program at Richmond. “We found the New Zealand Green Building Council which was perfect because they have the same goals as me,” she said.

The New Zealand Green Building Council is a non-profit organization that promotes values of efficiency and productivity through a sustainable environment. The company utilizes various grading tools which are market-based mechanisms intended to encourage and reward new buildings that achieve satisfactory levels of sustainability. The two rating tools that de Cardenas primarily worked with were Homestar and Greenstar. 

“Homestar focuses on making sure the homes in private construction are sustainable and Greenstar deals with industrial and commercial use buildings,” she said. “Also, when I was there, they were implementing a program that they used in the Australia Green Building Council which allows existing homes and buildings to be Greenstar certified.”

Working with the technical team, de Cardenas received help from engineers in analyzing the floor plans of homes and buildings that would be certified. In the last few weeks of her time in New Zealand, she also worked with the marketing team to help promote the launch of the new version of Homestar. 

de Cardenas’ time in New Zealand proved to be an eye-opener for her future endeavors in the sustainable development field. “I knew this was an area of interest of mine, but before I didn’t have a lot of experience with the field work,” she said. “I think seeing how my major relates to my interest in sustainability has helped me be more motivated in my classes because I have a better understanding about how I will be able to use the skills and knowledge I am learning once I am in the real world.”

After graduation, de Cardenas plans to take a gap year to gain further work experience before pursuing sustainable urban development in graduate school. She hopes her work will focus on how cities can be more sustainable and environmentally friendly by using her knowledge in economics to understand how people’s choices affect societal development.

“I don’t think I would be entirely satisfied if I wasn’t pursuing this line of work and helping people,” de Cardenas said. “There’s so much that can be improved in the world and there’s only so much one person can do, but at the same time, I’d like to improve as many cities and lives as I possibly can.”