Clever Hybrids with GabyV

S4E10: Every Drop Makes An Ocean | Temis Coral Castellanos | Colombian Sustainability Consultant in the US

Episode Summary

Every drop of effort gets you closer to your goal. Join us as we talk to Latina scientist, mom, wife, and expat, Temis Coral Castellanos, about how sustainable growth can help humanity reach all its goals.

Episode Notes

Every drop of effort gets you closer to your goal. Join us as we talk to Latina scientist, mom, wife, and expat, Temis Coral Castellanos, about how sustainable growth can help humanity reach all its goals.


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Episode Transcription

GabyV: Hello everyone and welcome back to the Clever Hybrids podcast. Today, we have the other half of another power couple based in the United States. Today, we're talking to Temis Coral Castellanos who is a Colombian living in the US, and she's a sustainability consultant, a big issue right now. Especially with that last notice we had the Code Red for Humanity. Let's jump right into this, Temis. What can regular people do to have a more sustainable lifestyle? 

Temis Coral Castellanos: Hi, Gaby. Thanks for having me here. Thanks for that question. I think that the last IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report it was like scary news for everyone but it's also a call for hope. We still have some time. We still have some opportunity to improve the things that we are doing and change our relationship with the environment.

I think that the first thing is that - change your relationship with environment. We know that there are big problems that you cannot solve from your house. But every drop of water makes an ocean. So if you can contribute with little things here and there, if you can contribute [by] educating your kids, educating your family about the importance of climate change, it can help.

There is this cool thing called Project Drawdown that [covers] different topics that you can tackle to help you. And also being more conscious about your choices. So choose local, products that are socially responsible that are working with communities instead of exploiting certain areas of the world.

Things that we can do here and there, and I really invite you to take a look at this Project Drawdown. This person has this cool list of tasks that you can tackle from your house and that can improve our relationship with the environment.

GabyV: Okay. I'll defintiely put that in the show notes later.

Temis a lot of people have said in the news ,

'Yeah, eat less meat,' 

but how does that help the environment?

Temis Coral Castellanos: Meat per se is not bad. If you have a bunch of spinach and a piece of meat, it doesn't mean that one is better than the other one. In certain regions of the world, there's an overexploitation of resources to produce meat. So certain areas that were used for forest, and there was like a storage of carbon have been [cleared] to put cattle [there]. 

The process that we are following to produce meat is endangering the environment and it doesn't apply only to meat. It also applies for example, to [irresponsible sources] of wood. In the Amazon, they pretty much are cutting everything to produce wood and for other type of agricultural products.

So right now, in other parts of the world there are big challenges about palm oil or soy because at the same time that you are increasing your consumption of certain products, you will need to have more area to produce them. And what happens is that many in many regions, they don't do that [sustainably]. They pretty much [clear] the land, burn the plants that they have there to grow new things. And it's that process, that intensive process that damages the enviroment. 

GabyV: Now, some people might argue, 

'Well, It's more plants, so isn't that a good thing?'

But it's also about biodiversity, right? What does that mean?

Temis Coral Castellanos: Yeah, exactly. So this amazing world was designed in a way that not only the plants, but the animals, all the little components of that environment, were working together to make things happen in the right way. When you start changing that environment,... and it happens in our gardens, if you have a backyard and you just cut everything that was there to put a nice plant that you saw in the shop you are changing the environment and maybe you are cutting the food source of, I don't know, like a bird or a new species. 

And that is happening with bees, when you start cleaning the areas and putting grass. So the bee doesn't have a source of food. Or you start changing that building houses and a big apartment [building], you are changing the environment. Then the animal doesn't have a place to stay and at the same time, the new plants that you are bringing...

Let's put it in Latin America, if you take down a coconut tree to plant palm oil [trees] the relationship of this plant with the soil is going to change that balance that nature had. So everything that has changed in your environment is going to have an impact. 

GabyV: Yeah, that's good to keep in mind. Now, with your job Temis, you of course have a lot of knowledge about the environment, but how do you help companies as a consultant? What do you actually do on a day-to-day basis?

Temis Coral Castellanos: This is a really cool. With my husband, we started from chemical engineering and we moved our path towards helping the environment. And you can choose different paths to do that. My husband [chose] academia. Some other people could choose social work, NGOs. And I chose working with the industry, working in corporate sustainability. And my reason behind that was companies are a big contributor to the issues that we have right now and climate change but at the same time [they] are the ones that have the resources, time, and money, and people to make things happen. So if you can work with those companies and help them to acheive full sustainability... when we talk about sustainability, we have three different targets of sustainability. 

One is the relationship with environment. 

The other one is the relationship with the society with your communities. 

But the other one is your financial capability.

So how can you work with the companies to get a revenue but at the same time, being responsible with the environment and responsible with the society? Our work with the companies is that, understanding what are the problems, understanding what are the impacts, and setting a roadmap and helping them to mitigate and to avoid more impact.

So one example, we have a company that makes X product, a cleaner for your house. We can come in and help them to understand how their processes, how their materials are impacting the world and how to reduce that impact. 

GabyV: Okay. You mentioned insulation before. There's been a lot of companies... they paint their roofs white, or they put like a moss on top to keep the heating costs down. What are some other ways that they can create a more circular economy?

Temis Coral Castellanos: When you think about the companies and their relationship with the environment, you can think around emissions and not all the air emissions went to pollution but you are also consuming energy. You are also using raw materials that [are] an input for your processes. And also you are working with your society around that, like with the communities around that. 

So there are different ways that companies can help to improve.

One is having a more efficient use of the resources.

What can we do with the things that we are inputting in our company producing less waste, releasing less discharge [in] the water and at the end [fewer] emissions too? How can we consume less energy? 

One thing is that efficiency: doing more with less, then doing more with better materials. 

How can we change the things that I'm using right now for materials are better for the environment? So changing one chemical for the other one. 

Easy example, a long time ago, we had a big issue with refrigerants. They were [using] certain components that damage the environment.

So how can I change something that I have in my equipment for something that doesn't contaminate that much? That is another option that you have. 

Then how can I change my processes and how can I change my products so that the material that I'm using so they don't stay a long time in environment?

So instead of having some product that you just purchase and take to the waste at the end, how can I set up new types of businesses that help you to repair the products that you are using to extend their lives? So I can use it more and avoid more waste going to the world. 

And how can I design products that if I cannot make it less longer, that you can easily disassemble? So the materials could go to recycling facilities to be reused for something new.

GabyV: Yeah, that's true. I hate it when I have something and you're like, 

'Oh, it doesn't work anymore, but I can recycle it.' 

Temis Coral Castellanos: It's funny because when I was little I think that the grandmas had this really clear in their mind that if something was broken, you will need to repair that. Instead of like now for us, 

'If I have something that doesn't work just put it in the trash and get a new one.'

But we switched the way that we are thinking about that. So instead of just taking it to the trash, what can I do with that? 

GabyV: Yeah, this is something that is a big problem with electronics right now, because there are so many pieces that are not reusable. Of course, there are some things you can replace, like the screen, the battery, maybe a few other components, but a lot of the circuit board stuff 

is one and done, and it's very precious metals that are hard to replace.

Temis Coral Castellanos: There are a lot companies especially. in Asia and even in Africa, they take those products. They know that they disaasemble that. They know that they can recover the materials to use in new electronics. Or for example, like screens, they can repair them so they can use it for schools. So why can we not see the same value here?

GabyV: There's a saying in English that one person's trash is another person's treasure. Yeah, it's definitely something that we all need to keep working on, but companies like this creaate opportunities for people working in those communities. And a lot of people would call that empowerment. But what would you say empowerment is Temis? How would you define it?

Temis Coral Castellanos: I think that empowerment has... for me has two different components. One is giving the tools to someone achieve their dreams, like skills that they need. But empowerment is to make you believe that you can achieve those dreams. 

For me as a Latina being here [in the US] pretty much I came here to the United States because I want to work in sustainability, but I was lacking some skills to be successful at my job. But if I didn't trust that I was able to succeed on that process, it doesn't matter if I study two years, five years. If I have thirty degrees, if I don't believe in myself, I will not be able to do that process. I will not be able to succeed in that way.

In many regions you try to bring resources to the people and educate and give them computers and stuff. But if you don't change, the mental process and belief that they are able to be successful, it's not going to work.

It's not just having the physical things or having the knowledge. You need to be able to trust in yourself and that goes along with... I forgot the name of this... this...

GabyV: Imposter syndrome. 

Temis Coral Castellanos: Imposter Syndrome, thank you,where you're always in fear that, 

'Oh my gosh, I'm not good enough. They're going to find out. What's going to happen?'

You need to start believing that you are good enough and it's hard.

It's easier to say than do it.

GabyV: Yeah, that's true. Why do you think that is? Is it something from colonialism? Is it social media looking at everybody else's life? What do you think the reason is?

Temis Coral Castellanos: Oh, I think that is a lot of that. There's a big cultural part. Being from another culture, they tell you, like they make you think that you have less value than other societies, like European ones or the North American ones. 'Oh my gosh. [Am I] going to be good enough to be sitting in the class with these people that come from big universities that they know to speak English?'

And when you [come here - to the US] you start realizing that you have all the skills,that you have the power to be seated on that chair. So that is a part of the process of figuring out that you can do that, but it's also a process of breaking that cultural baggage that you bring with you.

In social media, you snaps of time. You just see the happy face, but you didn't see what is behind that. You didn't see that this person is sucking their tummy in and trying to smile to achieve the perfect picture. When you see it, it's like, 

'Oh, I want that car. I want that smile. I want that shiny face, but you don't want the process. You don't want the five hours that this person was trying to put makeup [on]. You didn't want that five years that this person was working to buy that car. So it creates false expectations for your life without telling you the process to get that.

GabyV: Yeah, that's a good point. There is a movie I saw recently on Netflix called The Minimalists and they said, because of things like social media and even TV shows having a $100K [$100,000] or above lifestyle is being considered normal. But most people don't make that much in a year and a lot of the people who have all this fancy stuff, not all of them, but many of them are in serious debt.

So you don't want to copy that type of lifestyle.

Temis Coral Castellanos: You can go to Instagram and you see the happy families with a beautiful house, the dog is smiling, but when you're seeing those photos, it's say like, 

'Oh, what an amazing life?'

You don't see the mom running behind the kids, trying to make them sit for the photo.

You don't see the dog...the dad trying to put the dog there and you don't see like all the things that happened in that house to make that moment happen. So it creates false expectations of, 

'Oh, I want that smile all day on my face,' but you don't see the effort behind that. 

GabyV: Yeah and it's not all smiles and happiness 24/7 either. Speaking of which (laughs) today you are running a little bit behind Temis because you and Edgar on top of being scientists are parents. So how do you both manage your careers and parenting?

Temis Coral Castellanos: Oh, it's fun. We have, let me see if you can see him... we have that little baby behind me is an Old English Sheepdog he's four years old and we have a daughter, Hannah, she's three years old. On top of that, we try to be a happy couple. So we need to have time for both of us, but also we want to be successful in our careers in that we need time to work. And also we need make time to contribute back to our society. And it's hard. It requires a lot of like team work to make it happen.

When we got pregnant with Hannah I really [understood] the meaning of a nice saying that they have here and it's, 'It takes a village.'. You don't understand that it's something that you hear, but it's now when you have all these things happening at the same time, that you realize that you cannot do it by yourself. But you need to have a partner a support network to make that happen.

I don't know if this is cultural or not, sometimes they make you believe that it's bad to ask for help. So many women, we are trying to battle everything by ourselves and show that we can do it. That's not right. Life was not made that way. You need to get support from your friends. You need support from your family, even if they're far away. You need support from your partner. So it's not bad to ask for help. 

For us, it has been a process of understanding how to ask for help, how to communicate with each other so we can balance both interests like all the things that my husband is doing and all the things that I want to do too. So we can make it happen for both of us. And we have the blessing that we have been best friends for a long long time. Yeah, it's amazing that we were able to marry. I was able to marry my best friend because it helped us with this communication process. So I'm not afraid of telling him like,

'Oh, you know what? I need to rest today.'

Or 'You know what? I want to do this amazing project. How can you help me?' 

Or I can talk, like' I need your help with this and that', and be more specific about what I want and the other way [around] when he needs something I can help him. But if you don't vocalize those needs, it's really hard for the other person just to guess.

In our case, a lot of praying, we are Christians. So it's keeping in mind, always our faith and our belief and making sure that you are keeping your family connection because at the end of the most important thing that we have for us is our family.

We have been getting better at the process of prioritizing our family [above] the things that the world tells us that we should achieve.

GabyV: Now with raising Hannah, since both of you are Colombian, but you live in the United States, do you speak to her in English or Spanish?

Temis Coral Castellanos: We speak to her in Spanish. She's at daycare. So they speak in English there. So it's really fun. The process of... like she completely understands Spanish and English, but sometimes with Spanish you need to be more pushy. 

'Oh, I like that blue car.'

'Hannah, es azul. Say azul.'. 

So she doesn't lose that skill that she has acquired a young age.

GabyV: Yeah, it's important, but don't feel discouraged if at some point she loses it a little bit 'cause that happened to me. When I started going to regular school around six or seven, then I started to forget my Spanish, but then around 12 or 13, it came back.

Temis Coral Castellanos: That's good to know.

GabyV: So don't be like, 'Oh my goodness. What happened? What did we do wrong?' It's phase.

Temis Coral Castellanos: No, it completely makes sense. It's the language that your friends are using to communicate with you. It's the language that you're using in your classroom. So it's completely understandable, but kids that grow up with a second language at home, would prefer the one [language] that they can use with their friends.

GabyV: Yeah, that's true. And when you're a kid, you spend eight hours in school and maybe four hours at home. So in the end... I guess it makes sense.

Temis Coral Castellanos: yeah. So I think that for us, it's going to be a process of like just helping her to keep that skill alive without being... I don't know, being hard on her if she doesn't speak Spanish. I think that goes beyond language. It goes by culture, like for example, at home we like to make a lot of Colombian alot of Latin food, so she can have a taste of our culture. From our perspective, part of our task is giving her all the options, make sure that she has all the opportunities so she can choose what she wants and encourage her to make good choices.

GabyV: Yeah. That's all you can do. Just do the best you can. I'm sure. She'll be fine. Now with you guys both as immigrants, how long have you been living in the US? Are you still in North Carolina?

Temis Coral Castellanos: Yeah, we're still in Durham, North Carolina. We have been here for five years now.

GabyV: Wow, fast.

Temis Coral Castellanos: Really fast. On social media, that they give you like, 

'Oh, this happened five years ago, seven years ago, a couple days ago.'

We have a photo of us coming here to the United States five years ago.

We had no idea all the things that were going to happen here. When we came here, we came to study, but we didn't imagine that we were going to have Hannah, or being able to learn that much and progress that much here. So we were really blessed to have these five years of personal, professional growth and family growth to too.

GabyV: Yeah, that's a nice memory. Was there anything looking back that you're like, 'Oh, my goodness, I can't believe that stressed me out so much' that now you're okay with?

Temis Coral Castellanos: Oh, I think that's everything. (both laugh) I'm the type of person that overworried and overstressed for everything, which is really funny when you put some perspective on that. And that was a really cool exercise that I learned some time ago. 

When you have a problem and you think that it's terrible the end of the world. Stop for a second. And then think, how will it look in two years? How will it look in five years? How will it look in ten years? Is it still going to matter? And based on that, decide how you're going to act. As like a first time mom, I overstressed for everything. She needs to eat on time. She needs to brush her teeth. have...duhduhduh. And the strain of life like makes things happen so fast that you're always running to make everything happen. But if she didn't have the apple this morning, that's okay. Maybe Hannah will have it later today or tomorrow. It's not the end of the world. 

GabyV: Very nice and positive. You both have that vibe. (both laugh)

And both of you speak English exceptionally well. So I want to know what's the secret?

Temis Coral Castellanos: Oh, thank you. (both laugh) Thank you. That's... that's good to hear. It's encouraging to hear. I really love languages. So I speak English. I learned to speak Italian. I learned a little bit of French and Portuguese. I really enjoyed that part but with English, of course, there was a big component of being functional.

So if you want to study here, if you want to get work here, you will need to work on your English and make sure that your level is enough to do the things that you want to do. But of course it requires a lot of discipline and losing your fear of speaking. I think that's something that happened to us. You're always afraid to speak and that someone tells you like, 

'Oh, that doesn't sound good. you speak bad English.'

You need to have that process of trying to speak to make you sure that you are able to communicate. Because if you are just at your house with your computer and your notebook trying to learn to the language it's not going to work. You need to be open to that - to make mistakes and to be humble and let people to improve your language [skills] all the time.

GabyV: Now you mentioned those two points of loving it and being functional. So what are some functions that are very important to get right if you want to study in an English speaking country or to work with an English speaking company?

Temis Coral Castellanos: Your writing skills should be on top. And I think that's sometimes the writing part is easier than the speaking part. But for example, if you are coming here [the US] to study, you are going to need to write reports, to be able to respond to an exam in English. So your writing skills should be on point. So the other person can understand your emails. 

But at the same time, right now with the remote work, you need to be able to communicate and speak [so that] the person on the other side of the camera understands you. I think that it's easier when you're in person. And here there is something that I have faced a lot... when I was learning English, they told me that you need to lose your accent so you can sound like the other people. At this point, I don't think that is necessary to communicate.

GabyV: Yeah, I would agree with you even the statistics show that only one in four English speakers is a native speaker. Everybody has an accent.

Temis Coral Castellanos: No, it's funny because you always judge accents from what you know, from your maternal language. It's really funny because that happens in Columbia. I'm from the middle of the country, Bogota. And in Bogota, we say like, 

'Oh, I'm from Bogota. I have no accent. I speak perfect Spanish. I have no accent.'

Of course, when you travel to another part of the country, it's 'Oh, you are cachaco.' because they're judging you from what they learned from the way that I speak. So here [in the US] you don't need to worry about speaking "perfect" language without an accent. You need to be more worried about improving your skills to communicate effectively, but without losing what you actually are.

GabyV: Definitely. There's another point that I was actually reading about today that just blew my mind where we talk about learning the language and the culture. But a big difference between North American, most European cultures and Latino culture is the context. So because the US and Canada, the UK are very diverse, they have people from all over the place. They're, what's called a low context culture. So they have to be very specific, explicit. They want everything written down. They're like, 'Are you sure?' They verify like three times. And you're like, 'Okay, I get it already.' 

Latino culture, many Asian cultures, many African cultures, they're high context cultures. So they have some diversity, but not a lot. So they have a lot of inside jokes. If they say they're going to do something in the meeting it's like a handshake agreement and then that's the end. It's totally different.

So have you had anything that came up in your experience where maybe that caused a misunderstanding? 

Temis Coral Castellanos: I think that more than misunderstanding is something that you need to learn in order to adapt to the new culture. So one of the funniest things is the way you write emails. When you grow up in a Latin culture, you are always eager to tell the story. 

'Hi, Gaby. How are you? How's your family? Let me tell you something. This happened with my computer and it was showing this and that',

and you would end up with an email of three paragraphs, and you are telling a perfect story. You are being nice to the other person. 

Here in the United States... 'Hi Gaby. My computer is broken. Can you fix it? Send. 

'I can't send that email. I'm being so mean with the other person. So disrepectful.'

It's just to the point and if you send that three photographs, they're not going to read it. Three liners.

'Hi, how are you? This is what's happening. This is what I mean. Thank you.'

But it takes a lot of work. 

GabyV: Yeah, definitely. Writing is a skill, like you said, speaking, how can someone improve their listening skills? Like I know with many of these high context cultures, you have to read between the lines, understand the meaning behind the meaning. So how can you work with an American culture where they mean exactly what they say?

Maybe it's 'Oh, that's rough.'. How can you adapt your ears to deal with that?

Temis Coral Castellanos: so I think that more than adapt your ears is put things in perspective and don't take everything personal. Because when these kind of things happens, it's,

'Oh my God, are they being rude with me? What is happening?' 

It's their culture. So you need to put things in perspective and try to understand how the other person communicates and try to improve that connection at some point.

So if it's really bothering you and if it's really creating issues it's something that you need to be discuss with the other person. But if you see that it's happening with not just one person, but with everyone else maybe it's the way the culture works and you need to start adapting and understanding. But also it's the part of losing the fear of asking questions. Sometimes if you see something that you don't clearly understand sometimes we need to lose that fear and ask. 

'Okay. What do you mean by that?'

'Or please rephrase. Can you please explain what are you expecting from me?'

So you can have the big picture. Something that happens to us as non native speakers sometimes is that if you don't understand, just smile and say, 

'Yes. Oh yeah, I understand. That sounds right.'

You keep doing that you're going to miss a lot of opportunities and make a lot of mistakes that shouldn't have happened [from] the beginning. If you just say 'Please say that again or explain that to me because I'm not fully understanding.'

It works for me, not only in the language context,but in the consultancy context. Your work is helping your client. Sometimes your client doesn't know what they need help with. So we need to start talking and having the discussion. So we're like, 'Okay, what is a real issue?'

In those conversations, you need to stop several times like, 

'Please say that again. Let's talk for a bit about this.'. 

Sometimes you need to have a better understanding of what is going before taking a decision. 

So it's hard having that the level of humbleness to be able to ask. It's a harder process, but it's a rewarding one.

How can I ask that question so I can improve my English, so I can improve that my process of my work, so I can grow at the same time?

GabyV: Temis we have loved talking to you, but if somebody wants to hear more of your insights, how can they reach you?

Temis Coral Castellanos: Please take a look at my LinkedIn feel free to put my link there. My email. I'm happy to talk to anyone about any of these topics, sustainability, family, being a woman in the engineering world, or like being a Latina in the United States. 

GabyV: This has been a pleasure Temis and now we know both you and Edgar a little bit better. Hopefully we can talk to you both again soon.