Robert Niven

Robert Niven
Robert Niven

Category: Presidents' Alumni Awards

Name: Robert Niven

UVic degree and year: Bachelor of Science, 2001.               

Other degrees: Master of Science in Civil Engineering, 2006 from McGill University

Current hometown: Victoria, BC      

Robert Niven is the founder, chief executive officer and chair of CarbonCure Technologies, the global leader in carbon dioxide (CO₂) removal technologies. Niven founded the company in 2012 with a mission to reduce 500 million metric tons of CO₂ emissions annually by 2030.

Under his direction, CarbonCure has expanded to six continents and won numerous international awards honouring leadership in sustainability, innovation and technology development including the Carbon XPRIZE, Cleantech Group's 2020 North American Company of the Year, the BloombergNEF New Energy Pioneers Award and recognition as one of the Top 100 Global Cleantech Companies for seven consecutive years. It has attracted venture investment from many of the top climate-technology investors including Breakthrough Energy (chaired by Bill Gates), Amazon, BDC Capital, Microsoft and Mitsubishi.

Niven was featured as one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 for his leadership in cleantech. He lives in Victoria with his wife and two daughters. In his spare time, Niven is an avid outdoor-adventure enthusiast and contributes to nature conservation, homelessness and cleantech-entrepreneurship issues.

Q: Many people are not following one career for life. What other work might interest you in the future, even as a hypothetical?

RN: Ever since attending Dr. Ann Gower’s first-year astronomy course, I’ve been hooked on the stars. Playing Chris Hadfield’s version of Bowie’s Space Oddity recorded on the International Space Station is also a morning routine with my young girls. I would love to work as an astronomer or possibly in the space-exploration industry.


Q: What is a favourite book you read in the last five years and why?

RN: While not in the last five years, the Michael Braungart and William McDonough book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, had a big impact on me. It inspired me to start CarbonCure! Their other book, The Upcycle, is just as good.


Q: What is your advice to younger people entering your line of work or who feel lost or confused about their future?

RN: A lot of young people feel worried and powerless with the climate crisis. Joining or, even better, starting a climate-tech company empowers you to make a difference. It can be an extremely fulfilling and exciting career. The industry is going through explosive growth at the moment and requires all different skills and experience levels.


Q: What’s a part of your daily routine that you can’t do without? Do you have a mantra that you can share?

RN: In the summer, I love to start the day on my paddleboard with my daughter exploring the sea life around Ten Mile Point.

My mantra this year has been ‘Seas the Day!’


Q: The pandemic has come with lessons for many of us. What is something you learned that you will carry forward with you?

RN: Take chances! The pandemic forced us to rethink how we do things and it lead to overwhelming positive outcomes for my company. My only professional regret is that I didn’t take more chances.


Q: What do you hope you and your work will ultimately contribute toward a better future for people and the planet?

RN: I started this company after attending the UN Climate Conference in Montreal, which helped me to appreciate how it could help people avoid the devastating effects of climate change. This motivation burned even hotter once I became a parent. Our mission is to remove 500-million metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere annually by 2030. That’ll help a lot of people!


For the full list of 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients, click here.