Anoosheh Oskouian, president and CEO of Ship & Shore Environmental Inc., knew from an early age that she was destined to become a steward of environmental protection.
“I’ve always thought about the planet we live and what happens with where we live and how we take care of it,” Oskouian said. “Those are the things I would wonder about growing up as a little girl.”
“Sometimes you do things in life and you don’t know what your purpose was for walking the path you did. Then, at a later age, you realize, oh my God, that’s probably why,” she said. It was at this point Oskouian melded her career in engineering and passion for the environment to create Ship & Shore in 2000. The company has since expanded worldwide, opening offices in the United States, Canada, Europe and most recently, China.
Oskouian, 51, is an Iranian native is who came to the United States in her teens. In Persian, her name means “eternal,” fitting since her life’s work is creating industrial processes to support a sustainable environment.
“I left the country a long time ago before the revolution happened. At that time, I always thought I would go back to the home country, but I have made the United States my home for a very long time. As time went on, and women the obstacles they were facing there, I think I became a spokesperson more than I would ever be.”
Life would have been drastically different had Oskouian remained in Iran. “With all that I’ve seen go on there, I’ve often made the comment, ‘I probably would have been prosecuted a long time ago because I’m a very outspoken person and I believe in human rights.’ I’ve always been that way, even from a very, very young age.”
Oskouian stated, “Would I be able to do what I do here back there? Nope. Not in this particular given environment, not in a million years. Would I ever want to go back there? I think not because I really made this my home and I’ve been here for such a long time that I am more of a foreigner anywhere else.”
She continued, “I don’t think I would’ve survived very long had I been left back there. I don’t think I would’ve been given the opportunity to do what I do here now if it wasn’t for being here. The United States truly is the land of opportunity. You can stand on your own feet to make a future for yourself if you believe in yourself and are truly dedicated to doing what it is you want to do. I don’t think there are very many countries that give you that opportunity.”
Oskouian’s dedication to human rights, community service and maintaining her ethnic heritage is what earned her the 2015 National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations Ellis Island Medal of Honor. “It was truly the most memorable time in my life. [The award] personifies the American dream and [was] truly a moment to pat myself on the back for having stayed true to what I wanted to do all along. It was an amazing experience.”
“We as human beings walk around and remove a lot of the natural vegetation, a lot of the nature we come across in order to make it something industrial,” she said. “Any time you make a change of that sort, you have consequences to deal with and consequences to live with.” For her, global warming is a very real occurrence that stems from a simple cause and effect relationship.
“What we have done as a whole by becoming such an industrialized nation as well as many other nations, we definitely have impacted the environment in which we live in,” Oskouian said, noting that the changes in weather patterns, air quality and water levels are all direct results of the industrialization. However, she has noticed that there is a change in consciousness and concern and that motivates her work.
“I really take a special interest in working with printers. Everything we see around us in and all the beautiful visual arts and everything else that is done has a cost effecting the environment by the way of the fact that the printing always has some sort of a solvent involved,” Oskouian said.
She cited grocery store packaging as a common example of a process that results in air emissions. “When you go to a grocery store, everything you see is packed, whether it is your fruits, whether it is your produce, whether it is your potato chips all the way to bread bags,” Oskouian said. “Everything you see in the store is packaged. Every single one of those packages takes a lot of effort to put together and at the same time, all of them require a lot of packaging in order to make it desirable to capture your attention.”
Consumers use products on a daily basis such as sunglasses and shoes that all have an environmental impact during production. Oskouian has tasked herself to collaborate with companies to use less volatile organic compounds such as glue to produce fewer emissions. Oakley Inc. and Rainbow Sandals are some of her many clients.
“When people buy products, they don’t think about how does that will affect the environment, how does that affect the air we breathe and so on and so forth. My goal is to make everyone that I come in contact with, any manufacturer, any producer, any processor environmentally friendly such that they’re not polluting,” she said.
“I think that as women in a male dominated industry and society we always have obstacles. As much as the outside world likes to think and portray that there’s equality between women and men, [there] isn’t,” Oskouian added. “You still go through a lot of hard-core, vain, male dominated companies. For the longest time my business cards didn’t have my title on them and they always thought I was the engineering secretary that came along with a bunch of men to make the presentation.
“As a woman, if you’re technical and you do know what you’re talking about, you will always have an edge over another man that will walk into a room. Especially in my field, there aren’t many women – I was almost going to say there aren’t any women – so I’m always referred to as ‘oh that woman that does that stuff.’ I take it as a compliment. If you know that there’s a woman out there doing that stuff then I am doing something to be noticed by,” she continued.
When asked about her plans for the future, Oskouian said she wants to continue her efforts globally to lessen the environmental impact of industrialization to leave the earth in a sustainable place for generations to come. Her company plans to venture into the realm of combating water pollution in the near future.
Oskouian will also continue her work with various organizations that allow her to speak with budding female entrepreneurs “to encourage women to go into the engineering field” and to “use their brainpower as well as all else they have to offer. My goal has always been try to empower women as well as girls to try to get into a technical field.”