Melissa Díaz Artavia – Holcim Costa Rica
The cement industry isn’t always perceived as environmentally benign, but Melissa Díaz Artavia is quick to emphasize the sustainable aspects of her employer’s business model.
As she tells Vanguard, the Costa Rican division of Swiss-based building materials and aggregates company, LafargeHolcim, seeks to develop sustainable projects to optimize its production while engaging in a coprocessing project to further enhance the Central American country’s natural beauty.
Though she’s the company’s legal counsel and compliance officer, Diaz also earned a master’s degree in engineering and environmental technology in 2018. She’s passionate about furthering Holcim Costa Rica’s environmental credentials and changing the industry’s image.
“What differentiates us from other companies is that we want to give sustainable solutions to the construction market,” the pleasant Díaz tells Vanguard in January from Holcim headquarters in San Jose, Pavas.
Energized for clean and green
Holcim having its own environmental services company, Geocycle, it’s been immersed for over a year in a project to provide clean waste disposal and reduce its use of fossil fuels.
With Díaz providing input, the company has also installed specialized machines to waste from a landfill, transfer it to a Holcim plant and, through preprocessing, turn it into alternative fuel for the cement kiln. The project represents an investment of close to $2 million and reduces waste of 200,000 people.
Of course, during the COVID-19 pandemic, any type of construction project must adhere to stringent safety protocols, and Díaz has taken rules and regulations so seriously that she’s soon to complete a master’s in the subject at Aden Business School with a second title specialization in compliance from the George Washington University School of Business.
“Compliance and sustainability—our two main drivers to make our business remarkable,” she says. “I’m really proud of how our business handles compliance. It’s not something done just on paper. We empower our people to feel they are compliance officers.”
How compliance pays off
Compliance factored heavily in Holcim, allowing it to participate in public and private tenders in such a way as to strengthen good commercial agreements.
But to Díaz, compliance and the creative ways it can be met are more than just good business. Compliance is also a test of honor, and that’s a trait that seems to have been ingrained in her at a young age. Díaz was just 12 years old when her father was scammed and she recalls telling him that she’d become a lawyer and stand ready to defend the family.
And she lived up to her word, graduating Universidad Escuela Libre de Derecho (Free School of Law University) in Costa Rica in 2012 with a specialty in notarial and registry law and expanding her skill set with the engineering degree and her recent compliance and risk management courses at Aden Business School.
She honed her skills early at two local firms where Diaz distinguished herself in environmental litigation and administrative law—areas that made her the ideal fit when Holcim needed someone to support the legal department in February 2017. In-house had long held a special attraction for her with its opportunity to see a project from concept to fruition and collaborate in areas that transcended legal.
Also attractive was the opportunity for Díaz to do her bit for societal change. Young women do need professional role models, and here was one making her mark in a male-dominated industry.
A role model too
“It is interesting to see the role that women have at this time in the cement industry in Latin America,” she says. “For me, it has been a very challenging experience, being a woman and young, because this has made an impact on some advisors and public institutions.”
Diaz has focused on making a positive impact by showing her work is professional and goes beyond her gender. She’s encouraged to see other companies following Holcim’s progressive lead.
Just 31, she will be a young woman for years to come. Holcim Costa Rica pursuing such an ambitious agenda, she should be at the forefront of many progressive projects.
In her personal time, she’s a “dog mom,” enjoying the company of two canine companions and, when time permits, climbing and hiking in Costa Rica’s scenic hill country. Life is good, she says, and all the better when one is an integral part of a company that’s committed to making a difference for the better.
“We’re innovators and really proud of what we do,” she says. “Our waste recovery project and our commitment to reduce CO2 exemplify what we’re about. And when you do everything in compliance with the law and the internal control requirements, you have a far-reaching effect.”
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