Viviana Ramirez-Luna (she/her)
I was born/grew up in: I was born in Colombia, in the capital city of Bogotá and grew up near Cali, the Salsa Capital of the World, southwest of Colombia.
I now live in: I now live in St. John’s, NL. I came here to do a Master in Environmental Science, married a Newfoundlander and stayed.
I completed my training/education at: I completed my undergraduate degree in biology at the Universidad del Valle, Colombia.
I completed a Master in Environmental Science at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
What I do at work
I founded (and run) an environmental consulting company called Planeet. We help businesses, communities, and organizations reduce the waste they produce. This allows them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce costs, and promote better use of our resources.
The work I do is project-based. As each project is at a different stage, my day-to-day work will depend on which project I’m working on. Often I meet with business people to explain what I do and how my company can help them. I also meet with people who are working with me on projects. Some of my meetings are with people who are helping me grow my business. For example, marketing our products and getting the word out about what we do.
Some of my meetings are with people to develop a proposal for a project. As a startup, I’m responsible for all parts of the business. I have to do all the finance from doing taxes to raising money. I also create webinars to share zero waste knowledge with others. I also have a young child that I am doing unschooling (unstructured homeschooling) with. I don’t work full-time. I spend part of my days with my child, he is my life project! Interestingly, I’ve also realized that not working all day makes me very productive by helping me focus when work needs to be done.
When I make decisions related to my business, I get together with others to come up with the best solution. If it’s not urgent, I can take more time to weigh the possibilities. If it has to do with a project that I am working on with others, we get together to discuss how to do things and the steps we need to follow. We also decide on the methods and data we need to use.
My career path is
When I was in school, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I wanted to study whales and dolphins. I had a romanticized notion of studying wildlife. I started on a biology degree at university. I was interested in nature and human interactions with their environment from the beginning.
While I was at university I joined an NGO; the Squalus Foundation. I worked with biologists who were studying sharks and rays that were part of small- and large-scale fisheries. I realized I wanted to study the socio-economics of fisheries. This is a study of how people’s decision-making, the economy and the environment are interrelated.
I worked as a fisheries biologist for about 10 years, focusing on small-scale fisheries. I talked with fishers and got their perspectives. I looked at the history of fishers in the local area I wanted to see if the government changes had affected the local fishery. I got to know the people and how they interacted with their natural environment. I got to understand how interactions within and between small- and large-scale fisheries and government decisions affected the local communities. Here is a two-page story I wrote with a fisherman and local leader from Chocó, Pacific coast of Colombia about fisheries in his area.
Then in 2017, a year after becoming a mom, I read a book about how to achieve zero waste at home. I was skeptical that it could be done but I decided to try. I was already recycling, using reusable bags, and we didn’t use plastic straws. This book changed my life! It showed that there was still much more we could and should do. I found the organization Zero Waste Canada. Then I started a chapter here in St. John’s. The problem with garbage is that it is usually out of sight and out of mind. That is, after we put it to the curb we forget about it. But we can’t forget about it! We are eating it, breathing it, it is taking up precious land, etc. And it’s not a far-away problem. It comes from every single person and affects everyone.
After a few months, with folks who had joined, we became part of the Social Justice Cooperative and created the Zero Waste Action Team. We are now leading the Zero waste initiatives! At the same time, I took all I was learning and started a consulting company. My company, Planeet Consulting, is the first zero-waste social enterprise in the province. We work with other companies, organizations, and communities to help them reduce their waste, reduce their environmental impact and costs.
I am motivated by
I believe we need to produce things better, consume less and be more conscious about our consumption. We need to rethink why we buy things the way we do. We need to move away from just doing things that are easy to do (e.g., move from recycling to reducing the things we consume in the first place).
I’m motivated to help others and to help the environment. I want to help create a place where everyone has enough to meet their needs. My mission is to find how we can turn complicated concepts (like circular economy) and personal messages into something that is relevant to everyone so everyone feels they can do their part.
How I affect peoples’ lives
My work is helping protect the environment. By reducing the amount of waste we produce, we are using less energy and having a smaller impact on our planet. Here are two examples of how I am helping make the world a better place:
The first is community composting in downtown St. John’s, NL. In this project, we received funding to install bins to divert organic materials from the landfill. We started this because we wanted to help our elected officials see that it is possible and that people are interested. At first, there was a concern that it would attract animals such as rats. It was also feared that this type of program could not work in our cold winter climate. We use specially designed bins that keep animals out and keep the organic wastes hot, even in winter. Turning organic waste into compost creates natural fertilizer for gardening, which enhances local food production. It also saves the City on the cost of bringing it to the dump. Fewer trucks on the road means less greenhouse gases from those trucks. It helps when people see the financial benefits of doing good work for the environment.
The second project is with the Town of Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s. We are looking at what is already happening in the area (e.g., repair, refill, recycling and composting). We are using the concept of “circular economy” to try to create jobs. This is a pilot project that we hope to expand to other towns. The circular economy is a new term for an old concept. Today, we often throw things away when they break or are no longer needed. In “the old days” we would repair broken items. We would sell or trade items we didn’t need any longer. We are looking at how to keep a local circular economy manageable and sustainable. We are focusing on doing things on a smaller scale. If we all do a small thing, together it will have a huge effect.
Outside of work I
I enjoy reading, going for walks, and baking. Baking is something I never thought I could do but reducing plastics has kept me motivated—and the results are delicious! I also like colouring and doing dot-to-dot books.
My advice to others
Pay close attention to those things that bother you, that you wished didn’t happen (like waste, for me), or you wished had a solution. See yourself as the initiator of that solution and that will become your passion. Start making a list of the things you’ll need. Start asking people around you: your friends, parents, teachers, even politicians! They all have an email. Check what others are doing somewhere else. With the internet, there are no limits. Make connections to learn from them. There are lots of business opportunities everywhere. Business ideas don’t have to be just technology; we need ideas to solve problems. And YOU have those ideas!
- Biology class
- Performing in special events. Once we did Thriller! Another time we created and performed a play/folk dance around the four elements water, fire, earth, and air. It’s one of the most beautiful things I ever co-created.
- Enjoyed doing things on my own
- Played on a sports team
- Wanted to be in charge
- Never wanted to be in the classroom