Six questions with Carla Gee, EcoMatters’ new CEO
After five years at the organisation, Carla Gee (Ngāti Kahungunu), our former Head of Operations, has stepped into the job of leading the EcoMatters team of more than 35 people. We sat down with her to find out more about her and her hopes for EcoMatters.
Let’s start from the beginning – where is home to you? Where do you feel most connected to the land?
My ancestral home is a little tiny place called Nūhaka in the Hawke’s Bay, just outside of Wairoa – the nearest town where my dad went to school. That’s where my marae is. But my physical home is West Auckland. I was born in Titirangi and am now living in Glendene, so I’m a Westie born and bred. Whenever I drive on the motorway and I come to the Great North Road turn off to West Auckland, I feel this real sense of coming home.
In terms of places for play, I absolutely adore Waihi Beach in the Bay of Plenty and Otamure Bay in Northland. Those two places are really beautiful to me and my family goes there every year. We spend a week in Waihi and a week in Otamure every Christmas, camping in our retro caravan. I particularly love that there’s no technology, no cell phone coverage – you can completely turn it off, and it’s awesome. Everyone should do that once a year.
How did your environmental journey begin?
Twenty five years of working in the travel industry really opened my eyes to what was happening in the environment around the world. I was seeing first-hand the effects that humans were causing, and the amount of rubbish we were leaving everywhere. But in terms of gaining a much deeper understanding of the issues, there’s no doubt that that started here, at EcoMatters.
One of the things I have loved so much about coming to work here is the amount of learning you’re doing every single day just by working with talented, knowledgeable environmental specialists. The entire five and a half years that I’ve been here has been an incredible journey and a significant learning curve. And to have been able to delve into so many facets of environmental care has been amazing as well.
What are three things about you that most people might not know?
I feel most at home around the water, whether that’s a lake or ocean or awa. I find that incredibly calming for me. By the water is where I feel happiest and really connected with the earth, with Papatūānuku.
I’m one of four children, I have an older brother and sister and a younger brother.
I’m a die-hard All Blacks supporter. Actually, I love and watch most sports when Kiwis are competing on the world stage, and the sports news is my favourite kind of news.
What do you like most about working at EcoMatters?
It’s a space of continued learning and pushing yourself. I love the fact that we’re small enough to be flexible so team members can really explore their interests. Working cross-functionally over different teams is a real opportunity you certainly don’t get in big corporations, where you can get completely boxed into your role.
I absolutely love the people – the quality, the passion, their specialised knowledge, and their work ethic. Everybody in this organisation works so hard and is so committed to their roles. It’s an incredible pleasure to work with people who all have that same outlook.
I’m an extrovert, so I also love meeting and talking to new people as part of the job. I love when they tell me about the experiences they’ve had with EcoMatters – whether it’s popping into the Store or the Bike Hubs. There are just so many uplifting and encouraging stories I get to hear daily. That sense of pride is fundamental to the internal motivation you need in order to put your all into it.
What will you take from your previous work experience that will inform your role as CEO?
We can’t continue to do the amazing work that we do without money. We need to have financial strength as an organisation in order to be able to do the work that we’re truly passionate about. That’s definitely something I take with me from my previous experience.
More than that, I truly believe that our people are everything. As an organisation, we don’t rely on selling products or stock. Unless we’ve got this amazing group of people turning up here everyday to do the work they do, we have nothing.
I’ve been in teams where this hasn’t been acknowledged, and that haven’t been successful as a result. I think it’s really critical that you take those learnings from work environments that haven’t been conducive to the best outcomes. Even now I look back and remind myself of what that looks like. I feel that you learn equally from the fantastic work environments, as well as the ones that haven’t been great.
What do you hope to see EcoMatters achieve?
We need to focus on consolidation at the moment. I’m cognizant of the fact that our team is really stretched, off the back of a really difficult year last year. We came out of it better than I ever thought we would have and met the primary goal I had – which was to retain all of our staff. But we’re working at capacity, so we need to be very discerning and strategic about taking on new projects and pushing for growth.
I definitely want us to be more intentional about using a te ao Māori lens for our organisation, and to really think about what it means to strive for that in our day-to-day life here at EcoMatters.
And I’d be keen to look at our capacity to collaborate with other environmental groups across Tāmaki Makaurau who might need a bit of support in order to get up and running. As an established trust, we have the advantage of having an experienced administrative team, and sometimes a bit of support in that area is all that someone might need in order to be able to focus on the environmental work they’re truly passionate about. If we can work together, ultimately it’s the environment that will benefit.