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March 24, 2017

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Locations updated 6/3/16


Nina Orville, principal of Abundant Efficiency and chair of the Dobbs Ferry Energy Task Force.

Energy efficiency abundant in Orville’s daily mission

By Denise Woodin

If your definition of “environmentalist” leans more toward “tree-hugger” than business school graduate, then you haven’t met Nina Orville. A Dobbs Ferry resident since 2004, Orville has built a career on her financial savvy, love of nature, and commitment to economic development. As the principal of Abundant Efficiency, Orville, 53, works with municipal governments across Westchester County to improve energy efficiency through projects that benefit the environment and the bottom line.

Born and raised in New Haven, Conn., Orville was influenced by her mother’s job at a high school for pregnant girls. “I grew up around a lot of conversations about the challenges that her students confronted,” Orville recalled. “I’ve always felt some responsibility to understand some of the complexity in the world and to try and find my place in that.”

After graduating from Oberlin College in 1985 with degrees in government and history, Orville spent two years in Mexico and Honduras, where she worked in an orphanage. Although she had studied economic development in school, her time in Central America was eye-opening.

“I was really aware of the lack of opportunity for people who were living in those rural communities where I was based,” she remarked. “When I came back to the States, I was interested in the question of whether it was possible to use the international market to create opportunities in remote places.”

That question led Orville to a job with Cultural Survival, a Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit that aims to advance “indigenous peoples' rights and cultures worldwide.” At that time, the organization had launched a business venture called Cultural Survival Enterprises, which linked U.S. companies like Ben & Jerry’s and The Body Shop with sustainably harvested tropical forest products. “It was one of the first ‘green marketing’ efforts,” Orville observed, adding that the trade supported local organizations working with indigenous peoples. 

“That experience taught me [to] really see the power of business to create economic opportunity,” she said. “And it made me realize that I needed better business skills.” After five years with Cultural Survival Enterprises, Orville enrolled at Columbia University’s School of Business. 

In 1996, armed with an MBA, Orville joined the staff of New York Community Investment Company. “At Columbia,” she recalled, “I became interested in the question of whether you could use capital as a tool to support economic growth in distressed communities in the U.S.” Now defunct, New York Community Investment was a venture capital fund that backed businesses in the New York metropolitan area with the goal of generating economic development. Like Cultural Survival Enterprises, Orville noted, it was “a new business model in the field of community development and capital.”

“I was there for seven years,” she continued. “It was such a great job.” However, by 2003, family life was beginning to pull her in other directions. She was juggling the responsibilities of outside work with the demands of parenting a baby and a toddler. Her husband, Ed Nammour, a director and filmmaker, was frequently away on national advertising campaigns. “I felt I needed to step away for a while. And so I took a few years off.”

“During that time, I decided that I really wanted to re-focus my attention on sustainability issues,” she recalled. “I went through a period where I was waking up in the middle of the night in a panic about the state of the natural world. It was really startling, because even though I had been working on issues of economic development and land rights and environmental sustainability earlier in my career, it never hit me close to home in the way that it did during that time. As parents we spend so much time and attention planning for our children, to ensure healthy, happy futures for [them]… the physical state of the world was undermining that cherished desire. I just realized, in part to quell my panic, I had to start working on issues that related to that.”

Orville connected with others in Dobbs Ferry and its surrounding communities who shared her environmental concerns and passions. In 2008, she was asked to chair the newly-formed Dobbs Ferry Energy Task Force, an ad hoc citizens’ committee that works with elected officials and municipal staff to reduce the Village’s carbon footprint. She still holds that post. Under her leadership, Dobbs Ferry has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by over 40 percent through energy efficiencies that include new LED streetlights and the installation of solar panels on the library and the Department of Public Works building.

Dobbs Ferry resident Cathy Bobenhausen, who has served on the Energy Task Force with Orville since the beginning, remarked “Nina is a very effective leader who has… a ‘can do’ spirit.” Orville, in turn, praises her colleagues on the Task Force, who promote pedestrian safety, waste reduction, solar energy and more. She also credits Village officials with investing nearly $1 million in energy-related projects, including $360,000 in grant funding that Orville helped secure.

As her connections and experience grew, Orville looked to share Dobbs Ferry’s success with other communities. It became clear, she noted, that “there was tremendous benefit to sharing expertise across municipalities.” Using the Northern Westchester Energy Action Consortium (NWEAC) as a model, Orville joined others in forming the Southern Westchester Energy Action Consortium, or SWEAC. After she successfully applied for grant funding, Orville became the organization’s part-time executive director. In 2014, NWEAC and SWEAC merged, forming Sustainable Westchester.

Irvington resident Nicola Coddington worked with Orville on the founding of SWEAC and Sustainable Westchester. In an email to the Enterprise, she wrote about her colleague “I can't think of anyone more consistently knowledgeable, patient, indefatigable, and passionate about doing the right thing in the right way”.

Orville now keeps busy with her own company, Abundant Efficiencies. Formed in 2010, Abundant Efficiencies “develops and implements innovative programs to address sustainability challenges and opportunities on behalf of its government, nonprofit and corporate clients.” Although Orville runs the show, she brings in partners as needed. She is currently working with Coddington on the Solarize Westchester campaign, which has resulted in over 400 solar installations on commercial and residential buildings throughout the county. Abundant Efficiencies is also working with the Mid-Hudson Streetlight Consortium, an initiative to help municipalities convert to LED lighting.

Orville wants the Solarize Westchester campaign to reach 1,000 installations. She wants to bring solar power to more low and moderate income residents. She is working with the Energy Task Force to complete a Climate Action Plan that will engage residents in planning for a sustainable future.

Toward the end of her interview with the Enterprise, Orville circled back to the people who support her, such as her husband, Ed, their sons Remy, 16, and Lucas, 14, and her mother, Lise Orville, who remains active and volunteering at nearly 85. Nina Orville is also inspired by nature and fueled by gratitude her community’s physical beauty and diversity, and for living in a place where she could turn her determination into action.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.