People in your neighborhood: La Jollan Mark Laska brings environmental consulting into a “new era”

La Jolla resident Mark Laska has a unique eye for the environment, helping businesses address green issues and earning accolades for his efforts.

Laska founded the consultancy Great Ecology 20 years ago to “bring higher ecological thinking to mainstream governments and businesses”, he said. “We are also trying to fix the world through ecology. … We are working to restore habitat.

Habitats are being degraded by urbanization and contamination or pollution, Laska said. Great Ecology works to help businesses mitigate environmental impacts, while facilitating projects that add ecological value to parks and public spaces.

Laska, who is also the company’s chief executive, said the 20-person company has completed more than 1,000 projects in 35 states.

The nonprofit Institute of Environmental Law presented Laska with its Business Leadership Honor at the 33rd annual National Wetlands Awards on May 19 at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.

“We not only work exclusively in wetlands,” he said, “but [it’s] much of what we do.

The Environmental Law Institute is “the epicenter of all current environmental legal thought,” awarding annual awards in various categories, including research and community advocacy, Laska said.

“Being recognized by this independent nonprofit organization as a leader was hugely rewarding,” said Laska, who has a doctorate in ecology but chose to steer clear of academia.

Many of the wetland projects that have influenced Laska’s price are in San Diego.

Great Ecology has undertaken several local projects, including this one to treat surface runoff from the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

(Courtesy of Great Ecology)

Laska moved his family and business to New York’s West Coast 12 years ago to gain more space for his then-growing family (which includes his wife and their four children) and opened a second office in La Jolla. .

There is now a third Great Ecology office in Denver.

Moving her business across the country was an “eye-opening experience,” Laska said — California and New York have different approaches to environmental issues.

New York gets 40 inches of rain a year, so “a lot of what we do is manage all that water,” he said.

“In California we have the opposite problem,” he said. “When we get water, it usually comes in big, strong pulses. And this water absorbs a lot of contamination and flows into the ocean. The movement of water here is really important from an environmental point of view.

“The other thing that’s really critical,” he added, “is that we don’t yet know and understand the implications of climate change.”

In La Jolla, “we have to be very careful about [climate change] because a big part of what we draw people here for is the ocean,” Laska said. “What happens as climate change makes this area more vulnerable and the beach is washed away?”

Laska said the coexistence of the biotech corridor, research institutes and businesses in and around La Jolla is an opportunity to bring together normally fragmented communities.

“We just have a huge volume of brilliant people, [but] getting cross-pollination is definitely difficult,” he said.

Great Ecology strives to hire scholars from leading local universities whose research “pushes the boundaries of our scientific knowledge” and advances the work of consultants in applied projects, he added.

Integrating ecology into for-profit businesses that aren’t originally based on environmental advocacy is governed by regulation, Laska said. This gives them “no choice but to tackle environmental issues”.

Nonprofits like San Diego Coastkeeper — of which Laska was a board member — have also helped companies realize they need to take the eco-friendly seriously, he said.

A third driver of the increase in companies’ more consistent approach to the green is that shareholder value now gives more weight to their environmental actions, Laska said.

Large companies now have a sustainability director, he said, a position that did not exist 10 years ago.

“It made a business like mine particularly successful,” Laska said, “because we were able to get under the hood and influence a number of different businesses and the directions they were going. Twenty years ago [that] would have been impossible.

“It’s a new climate; it is a new era.

People in Your Neighborhood spotlights notable locals we’d all like to know more about. If you know someone you would like us to profile, email [email protected]. ◆

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