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Constructing a greener world can’t happen without women

Despite construction still being a male-dominated industry, more than 50% of the CEOs running Green Building Councils are women, WorldGBC CEO Cristina tells Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The empowerment of women and girls goes hand in hand with saving the planet. The campaign theme for International Women’s Day this year is #BalanceforBetter – and it is a theme that resonates on so many levels for women who are leading the drive towards sustainability.

For us, better outcomes for women mean a better future for our planet. Balance for Better recognises that diversity and equality are inextricably linked to our mission to create green buildings for everyone, everywhere.

Despite construction still being a traditionally male-dominated industry, more than 50 percent of the CEOs running established Green Building Councils are women.

To prevent further devastating climate change, we need these passionate and dynamic women to inspire people around the world to take action.

They are the catalysts for change we need to cut greenhouse gases and limit the planet’s rising temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Some of the most dynamic women in our network are working in developing countries – which have significant challenges: the pace of urbanisation; political instability; poverty and pressure on natural resources including water.

I consider these women climate champions, and I believe they offer real hope for the future.


Maria Fernanda Aguirre Busto, CEO, Chile Green Building Council (Chile GBC)

I think women are good leaders. Often our work is very structured; we are good at planning and organisation; we foster good relationships; we multi-task and we can take a holistic approach to problem-solving. This is essential in fighting climate change.

As a mother of two boys and the oldest of five siblings, I have a lot of experience in negotiation, diplomacy and problem-solving!

But where I do struggle is with the unequal society we have in Chile. The pay gap is very bad and in construction, women are left in admin positions and not seen as decision makers.

Women are constantly having to prove themselves; society asks more of you. When I first started working, I felt I had to be a perfect mum as well as a perfect employee.

I was not just fighting for equal pay but also challenging the culture that held women back including long hours or inflexible working.

I always felt judged for being too bossy, too hard, too critical – qualities I think would be celebrated in men.

But working for Chile GBC, the possibilities are huge, the schedules are flexible and women are able to influence decision-making.

I have discovered that sustainability is not only a business, but a way of living.

Chile – and the rest of Latin America – is urbanising at a very fast pace and as the construction industry grows, I want to ensure its profile is green.

Chile is a very interesting place to work – we feel far from the rest of the world, you have to cross hills to get to us and that isolation has been good for us, it has protected us.

But we are changing – and this is a great moment for innovation. We can make the construction industry one that is more productive, doesn’t contaminate and doesn’t use a lot of resources.

We all need to take responsibility for caring for our planet – and we all need to play a part in making society more equal.


Dorah Modise, CEO, Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA)

I was offered the chance to run the Green Building Council of South Africa when I was on maternity leave. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy – especially with a small baby in tow – but I knew I had the passion and commitment to environmental protection to drive me.

The challenge is not just being a mother – it’s being a woman. I feel like women start on a deficit. There’s a lot of work to do even before you do your job. You are working harder just to prove yourself.

There is still an old boys club when it comes to networking and I haven’t really managed to overcome that. I just have to do my best and be truthful to who I am.

I can’t do a business deal over a round of golf or over drinks so I have to find my own ways of networking. The business code needs to change; we need to break boundaries and create a business culture that is inclusive.

My work is not confined to South Africa: I also supporting those working in sustainable development in other African nations. Across the continent, millions of people are living in poverty – many do not have the security of decent housing or easy access to clean water. But I am trying to ensure that protecting the environment is part of the solution.

We need collective action if there is going to be a win for the entire continent. It’s a tall order but I’m not going to give up.

I have increased the number buildings which have been certified as “green” in South Africa and I am working with the public sector to develop and implement policy that would ensure net-zero carbon, waste, water and ecology for all new builds.

There does need to be a more conscious move to include women as decision-makers. Discrimination is an enemy of progress and can never yield positive results. If we don’t have a balanced approach to finding a solution then we are bound to fail.

Climate change affects us all. It’s not just our environment but also our economy, our society, our communities. It can’t be left to half of the people to make decisions; it needs to be all of the people.


Ala’a Abdulla, Executive Director, Jordan Green Building Council (Jordan GBC)

I started my role two years ago when I was 34. It does make me one of the youngest leaders of a green building council but that suits Jordan. We have a very dynamic culture where new start-ups are booming and innovation is invigorating the nation.

Women are becoming more empowered to overcome traditional restraints and become more visible in leadership roles.

My role within Jordan GBC is very strategic: planning and fundraising. But I am always working to create more green leaders and inspiring them to make a difference in the world.

Since starting my role, Amman has become one of 70 cities worldwide pledging to become net-zero carbon by 2050.

To achieve this and to make all Jordan’s cities greener, I need to support women in the industry and bring different entities together – to complete each other.

The public and private sectors need to work together, we need to incorporate a global vision but also listen to experts on the ground.

I want to make it green for everyone, everywhere, and open the door for cooperation.

The Middle East is particularly vulnerable to global warming – temperatures already soar above 40 degrees Celsius and the region lacks natural water resources. Political instability, war and mass migration only add to the complexities of my work.

But I remain determined and positive. I love what I do, and I believe in what I do.

Everyone is affected by climate change – but in the green buildings movement we have a real opportunity to make a difference. Buildings affect us daily – not just their impact on the environment – but our happiness, productivity, health, everything in our life.

Cristina Gamboa is CEO of the World Green Building Council

This blog was first published by the Thomson Reuters Foundation on International Women’s Day 2019 under the theme of #BalanceforBetter