In Spotlights

Holly Neber, CEO, AEI Consultants

Holly NeberHolly Neber is the CEO of AEI Consultants, a full-service environmental engineering firm. As CEO, Holly guides AEI’s culture and strategic plan. Holly represents AEI in the industry and connects with clients to understand their challenges and opportunities so that AEI is prepared to support their progress. Holly has worked in environmental consulting since 1996, serving with AEI since 1999. Holly’s project management and technical background allows her to bridge technical and business considerations in her role.  Holly is a Board member of CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) Network, Past President (2014) and current board member of CREW East Bay, Vice President of the National Engineering and Environmental Due Diligence Association (NEEDDA), and Chair of the News Task Group as an affiliate member of the Environmental Bankers Association (EBA). Holly was named among RealShare’s California Women of Influence in 2015 and Bisnow’s Bay Area Power Women in 2016.

What is the educational and career path that led to your current career?

In college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study until I attended an Environmental Studies class. I was hooked from that point on, and graduated with a bachelors in environmental studies. We studied biology, ecology and endangered species assessments, but I didn’t realize until after I started working that the environmental field was so broad. I got a job as an administrative assistant at a national environmental consulting firm, and took an opportunity to do Phase I Environmental Site Assessments (ESA) as soon as one came up within that firm. I moved from their offices in Kansas (where I grew up) to the East Bay in 1997 to do Phase I ESAs for that company, and moved to my current company in 1999. I did Phase I ESAs for a few more years and then started managing the department of assessors and senior reviewing reports. Over time, I’ve had the opportunity to take on new and different responsibilities involving company operations, strategy, and culture, and I try to keep my hand in the environmental assessment work as much as possible. Learning about the history of a site is fascinating, and we take pride in helping to manage any historical issues through remediation so that the property can be redeveloped. Infill development is so important to prevent sprawl and make our cities more livable, and we get to help make those projects happen.

What environmental issues are of most concern to you?

As a human being, I am most concerned about habitat destruction, climate change and loss of biodiversity on the planet. So many of the studies being published about species loss use 1970 as their starting point, which happens to be the year I was born. The phrase “in my lifetime” has an emotional punch for me. The book The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert has helped to place that in the context of geologic time, but it’s still so sad for humanity that we’re unable to preserve so many things we love. As a person running a business, I think a lot about how to make cities better for people and the environment, since so many of us live in urban areas. We have a great opportunity with water and energy conservation when it comes to commercial buildings, and I love seeing the emphasis on smart growth and design in urban areas. It’s exciting to see all the great ideas that engineers and architects come up with, and to see developers adopt these concepts to draw in the tenants. When economic forces align with environmentally positive trends, I feel optimistic and I know our company is helping with infill development, energy efficiency of commercial buildings, etc.

Discuss any mentors that have helped or inspired you to reach your aspirations.

The founder of our company, Craig Hertz, has been a great mentor. Many of the books about getting more women into leadership roles discuss the importance of giving people stretch projects. Craig has always done that for me – asking me to take on things that maybe he knew were a little beyond my skill-set but he knew I would grow into. He wasn’t afraid to let me make a mistake here or there because of the value the learning would bring.

What do you think are some challenges and opportunities facing women in the environmental movement today?

Challenges facing women in engineering and the sciences are related to diversity in leadership of organizations and institutions, as well as for research funding. We have a long way to go until there is parity in these areas. Opportunities are abundant too. Women often bring skills that organizations most need in terms of collaborative work practices and communication, and we know businesses perform better when there are more women in the leadership ranks. Significant opportunities exist in renewable energy, energy efficiency, water resources, and habitat preservation. Women have a great opportunity to lead the way in launching new solutions and communicating more effectively about the benefits of existing solutions. Using the latest research on human psychology to motivate action through passion, love and positive self interest, rather than guilt, we can be more effective in environmental protection.

What are your suggestions on how WEN members can become more involved in your sector and the environmental movement?

Environmental assessments are obtained when a property is being financed or sold, so we’re often the ones who discover the presence of contamination from an historic use. Regardless of which area of the environment you focus on, it’s useful to pay attention to the properties in your neighborhood. Much of the information is available online. Beyond that, my best advice is to always be curious and have a growth mindset where you’re not afraid to take risks or make mistakes. As long as you’re learning, you should consider it a success.