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Rising Stars: Green Engineer Part 2

By Lucas Laursen

Maarten Graveland's interest in sustainability recently led him to Guatemala where he applied his high-tech training to low-tech environmental engineering problems. Here's the rest of his story.

Name: Maarten Graveland
School: Randmeer College, The Netherlands
Major: Mechanical + Electrical Engineering
Years Out of College: 10+
Title: Environmental Engineer

Another of Graveland's challenges has been the expectation of advanced professional credentials - despite his degree and ten years working in the field. When he discovered sustainable engineering at Grontmij, he was a technical draftsman. He says he was very interested in contributing to the design of their water and waste purification projects "but at that time it was very hard for me to grow in my job there because I didn't have the right degree. I couldn't be a real part of it."

My Experience

Since Graveland has had so many jobs, it's hard to describe a daily routine. His latest position was possibly his favorite, though. His role at Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG) involved developing a hypoxic composter and a solar water heater in Xela, Guatemala. As he puts it, even if he'd stayed another year, his ultimate goal would have been to work himself out of a job by teaching locals how to tackle these problems on their own.

Among other things, he had to figure out how to transfer lessons learned working on a multi-million-euro treatment plant to a Guatemalan village using local materials. He says this required "a lot of common sense to cut a lot of crap that was written in a lot of manuals. That was a lot of fun for me."

It's this sort of environment that seems to fit him best, making use of his instinct for mechanical problems, teaching, and his excitement for contributing to sustainable development.

Next Steps

After nearly doubling their original planned stay of six months, Graveland and his girlfriend finally returned to the Netherlands. Now Maarten is looking for a new position where he can apply the lessons he learned in Guatemala. He thinks an engineering firm would probably be best, but he'll be looking for one where they aren't as hung up on advanced degrees - or will let him do interesting work while working a further degree.

He has found a part-time academic program that may allow him to complete an advanced degree while working, which he says suits him.

In the meantime, he's "still waiting for the big break" of his career.

Advice for Others

Graveland's approach to his career has been just like his approach to an engineering problem - hands-on and instinctual. He doesn't really credit any particular mentor with guiding him, saying he's had to figure it all out as he went.

Graveland has been adaptable, as his string of different jobs attests, and he's definitely not against networking. In fact, he arranged his Guatemalan experience while studying Spanish there with his girlfriend at the beginning of their stay. This on-the-fly attitude and willingness to solve problems as they come along definitely helped him succeed in Guatemala, where he says he was "starting from scratch!"

As for the future, Graveland's international outlook has gotten him interested in how developed nations are applying sustainable engineering practices in developing nations. He doesn't have plans to leave the Netherlands himself, necessarily, but feels that whatever work he does will have an international angle. He points out that companies planning on importing "sustainable" biofuels from developing countries will need to take responsibility not just for the environmental sustainability of their projects, but also their social impact. He may not yet know how exactly to do it, but when he figures it out, he'll be sure to share.

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