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Ingrid Irigoyen

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Associate Director, Ocean and Climate, for the Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program

Ingrid Irigoyen is the associate director, ocean and climate, for the Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program. Irigoyen helps bring together public and private sector stakeholders to collaboratively address ocean and coastal sustainability. As part of that, Irigoyen serves as director of the Aspen Institute Shipping Decarbonization Initiative. She previously spent more than a decade at the Meridian Institute. Irigoyen is a graduate of Duke University and the University of New Hampshire.

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“We need the right ways to come together. We need the right mindset in coming together. And we need to keep the collective ambition as high as possible. And that allows me to get through the hard days and stay optimistic.” 

Restoring and preserving the world’s oceans and coastlines is a daunting task, to say the least. But Ingrid Irigoyen, of the Aspen Institute, is facing the challenge head on.

Irigoyen is the associate director for ocean and climate for the Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program. A key part of her job is bringing together leaders from the private and public sectors to work toward the shared goal of ocean and coastal sustainability.

Often, that isn’t easy. Business leaders, policymakers and activists don’t always have the same idea about what needs to be done when it comes to ocean conservation – and most importantly, their role in the behemoth undertaking.

“The facilitator’s role is one that requires a lot of delicacy and patience, but a little bit of impatience, too, because groups can spend a lot of time just talking and not actually taking action,” Irigoyen told us of her position.

Irigoyen said the key to getting everyone to work together is building trust, and that starts by recognizing the human across the table.

“The key to being successful in bringing people together, particularly when they have different competing viewpoints…really does come down to first really understanding interests,” Irigoyen said.

“What is it that we individually need, actually, as humans, right? Because we think about organizations or groups of people as these sort of monoliths. But they’re not. It really boils down to individual leaders,” she added.

In her experience, Irigoyen said that understanding and unpacking individuals’ “core motivations,” both as a representative of one sector and as a person, often creates the “potential for common ground.”

But it requires an element of trust from all involved and an acknowledgement that those participating will likely have to step out of their comfort zone in order to help solve the problem at hand.

For Irigoyen, ocean sustainability has been a cornerstone of her life’s work, from more than a decade at the Meridian Institute to her role at the Aspen Institute since 2018. Irigoyen is an environmental science graduate of the University of New Hampshire and has a master’s degree in environmental management from Duke University.

Irigoyen told us over that time, the debate and discussion around climate change has shifted significantly – for the better.

“People who were skeptical a few decades ago now have three feet of water in their homes and their farms are going dry and they’re being forced to move because of climate impacts,” she said.

“While we had the luxury of being skeptical a few decades ago, we no longer have the luxury to ask this question. So I think it’s in our face now for many communities and accepting that it’s real is an important step.”

A centerpiece of Irigoyen’s portfolio focuses on bringing together stakeholders to make the ocean economy more sustainable. Irigoyen serves as director of the Aspen Institute Shipping Decarbonization Initiative.

The maritime industry is a significant contributor to the world’s carbon levels – about 1 billion tons of carbon per year or the size of a large, developed economy, she said – but has been slower than other sectors to take action to curb emissions, according to Irigoyen.

“There’s technical challenges, they’re more expensive…Now that we’re starting to really overcome the technical challenges, it’s the economic issue that has got us stuck,” she said. “So who’s going to pay more for shipping? Who’s going to pay more for fuel? Who’s going to invest in a green fuels plan until you have dedicated offtake of those fuels?”

Irigoyen said these big questions will ultimately be solved by policymakers and only after they get enough pressure from voters to take action. The issues involving shipping decarbonization have not been front of mind for most people. But that has started to change, particularly as supply chain issues coupled with booming consumer demand dominates headlines.

“Around your dinner table and everything, nobody talks about the maritime industry. But we talk about other industries because they’re more in our face,” she said. “That changed with the pandemic and now…people are more awakened to the importance of the shipping industry in our global economy and for human wellbeing.”

For Irigoyen, this increased public awareness encourages her to continue with long-term sustainability efforts, despite how overwhelming – and at times discouraging – the scope of the problem can be.

“We have to take that feeling of discouragement – and again, it all boils down to human emotion – and convert that into another surge of motivation to say, ‘No, we are going to keep working on this and we’re going to make progress and we are making progress,’” Irigoyen said.

“We need the right ways to come together. We need the right mindset in coming together. And we need to keep the collective ambition as high as possible. And that allows me to get through the hard days and stay optimistic,” she added.

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