How She Leads: Cristina Amorim, Life Technologies

How She Leads is a regular feature on GreenBiz spotlighting the career paths of women who have moved into influential roles in sustainable business. In this edition, Maya Albanese interviews Cristina Amorim, chief sustainability officer of Life Technologies.

Amorim, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, leads a team that has successfully executed sustainability-inspired growth strategies based on design-for-environment and green chemistry principles. Rather than working to meet compliance standards, she has taken a holistic approach by considering the full lifecycle of the company's products, packaging, services and processes, to create long-term value.

In 2012 Amorim was named Sustainability Executive of the Year at the Ethical Corp.'s annual Responsible Business Forum awards ceremony. Here she explains what drew her to sustainability and how her team has added value to the $3.7 billion biotech company and its bottom line.

Maya Albanese: How did you get into the biotechnology field?

Cristina Amorim: So far, my life has gone in a series of getting a degree and then making a career move. First, I used my degree in chemical engineering to start work in the oil fields off the coast of Southern California. I was one of very few women working out there. I was helping the refineries account for their "fugitive air emissions" and doing "hazard" studies." At that time, it was already required that they account for hydrocarbon leaks. Then, I went back to school for a Master's in environmental engineering. After school, I went to work in environmental health & safety for Allergan, the maker of Botox. Fifteen years ago, there weren't roles entitled "sustainability," but rather, EH&S roles have evolved into sustainability roles today. After completing my MBA at UCLA, I got a call from a recruiter that was looking for this sustainability role at Life Technologies.

MA: Was there an "a-ha moment" that inspired you to work in sustainability?

CA: I have always had a passion for water, maybe because I grew up in Brazil when the river had everything you can imagine floating in it: cars, clothing, trash. I knew that the No. 1 cause of child mortality was contaminated water. In California, water is also a huge issue; there is not enough. Then, when I was working for one of the big oil firms on their pumping station in Peru, I could see them pumping oil and burning whole patches of Amazon rainforest. Wastewater discharge with sulfur dioxide in it was just being dumped into the jungle. Nobody was looking at this, nobody was watching. And I thought, "We can't fuel humanity's needs for progress at the expense of nature. There's got to be a better way."

Next page: Life Tech's corporate structure