YCOSST Focus on Sustainability Professionals: Heriberto Cabezas

April 5, 2013

AIChE’s Youth Council for Sustainable Science and Technology (YCOSST), chaired by Jeff Seay and Sarah Widder, is part of the AIChE Institute for Sustainability. The goal is for YCOSST to be a clearinghouse for information and resources for K-12, undergraduates and young professionals interested in careers or college majors that involve sustainability.

One of the initiatives is to provide profiles of current professionals (industry, academia and government) working in the area of sustainability.

Every month, AIChE's Youth Council for Sustainable Science and Technology (YCOSST) will present profiles of sustainability professionals or those with a background in sustainability. Learn about their educational background, current employer/title, job function, and how sustainability plays a part in their industry, university or agency.

The goal of this project is to provide examples for young people of the role sustainability plays in a variety of careers and college majors.

What is your name?

Heriberto Cabezas

What is your job title, current employer and employment sector (industry/academia/government/other)?

I am the senior science adviser at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. I work in the Office of Research and Development, National Risk Management Research Laboratory, Sustainable Technology Division Employment Sector and this is a government agency.

Please provide your company/organization web address.

You can find out more information about the United States Environmental Protection Agency here.http://www.usepa.gov

How many years have you held your current position?

I have worked for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, National Risk Management Research Laboratory, Sustainable Technology Division for the past eighteen years. I have held my current position, as senior science adviser since 2010. Previously, I've held positions as research engineer, research team leader, branch chief, and division director.

What is your educational background?

I have the following degrees in chemical engineering: B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. My doctoral dissertation was in Statistical Thermodynamics. I also have a published record of research in biotechnology, chemical process design, solvent design, and sustainability.

Please provide a brief description of your job function.

My responsibility is to mainly work with the division director and the various research teams within the division, to help guide the work to meet the needs of the U.S. EPA.

Please describe how sustainability plays a role in your day to day job function.

Sustainability is the main focus of our work in the Sustainable Technology Division. This is manifested in our work on the development of green chemistry synthesis, green chemical process design, sustainability metrics and indicators, green infrastructure for urban areas, life-cycle analysis, etc. These are all approaches that are used for the practical implementation of sustainability.

Please describe how attitudes in your industry/university/agency have changed with regard to sustainability in the last few years?

Sustainability has steadily become a main focus at the U.S. EPA over the past decade; particularly because it is the correct frame-work for approaching long-term environmental protection.

What skills and competencies in sustainability are particularly important for people entering your field, or seeking sustainability focused majors at your institution?

Sustainability is about the application of science and engineering to insure the existence of human society on Earth over the long term. It, therefore, draws on science and engineering in the broadest sense. It is itself not a new science, but the application of science in a new way. Hence, why it is important to:

  1. Learn the fundamentals of whatever discipline you are studying
  2. Be willing to apply this knowledge in new ways and on new problems
  3. Keep in mind that sustainability is about long-term thinking

What advice would you give to someone wishing to pursue a career/major involving sustainability in your industry/university/agency?

I would advise anyone wishing to work in sustainability to learn his/her discipline well. They must be willing, and able, to apply the knowledge towards resolving the problems, which arise in the pursuit of sustainability, with competency and patience. These are important but long-term changes that are not going to come over night, but come they will. Working in the area of sustainability is about finding creative ways to resolve what are possibly the most challenging and important problems that humanity faces today.

Go to Heriberto Cabezas Profile

Learn more about YCOSST

To illustrate the breadth of chemical engineering and to explore ways in which the profession is changing, throughout 2013 AIChE will be featuring profiles of today’s  young professionals, as well as  experienced engineers. This effort is being spearheaded by 2013 President Phillip Westmoreland. To learn more, see Dr. Westmoreland's President's Message. You can also read his blog series entitled "We Are ChE: Entering a Golden Age".