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GBCSA Academy AP Spotlight: Nomamfengu Mbele

March 19, 2024

Nomamfengu Mbele works as a Sustainability Specialist for a South African REIT where she plays a key role in applying her passion for how sustainability can contribute to business continuity, social upliftment and natural resource security. 

She holds a BSc (Hons) in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of the Witwatersrand and completed the Property Development and Investment Programme at the University of Cape Town.  She is also a Net Zero Accredited Professional (AP) as well as a Green Star Accredited Professional for Existing Building Performance, New Buildings and Sustainable Precincts. 

Nomamfengu shared her sustainability journey with the GBCSA Academy, reflecting on her work, professional achievements and views on the industry.  

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

I really enjoy working with various departments within a project and the client team. The request to transition to sustainable property development and management impacts various parts within departments and it is very satisfying to have collective buy-in and collaboration to reach a sustainability goal or achieve a certification. 

 Which professional achievement are you most proud of?

I am proud of achieving the runner-up award at the 2022 GBCSA awards for the highest-rated African project. It was quite a difficult project as it was only targeting an As Built certification with no design certification and we were consulting purely via online platforms in an area where sustainability certifications were not the norm. I am very proud of the recognition from the GBCSA for completing a 5-star certification for that building and for being a small part of encouraging more certifications to be taken into the wider African context. 

What set you on your current career path?

My internship and my consulting experience at Solid Green Consulting set me on my path to sustainability. I was not exposed to this field in my studies, all I knew was that I was eager to work in a space that is driven by wanting to make an impact on communities and Solid Green introduced me to dynamic consulting that wants to see real estate make a positive impact for the community it is situated in. 

Who or what has been the strongest influence guiding your professional life?

I am eager and enjoy impactful work. What has driven me thus far is wanting to play a role in mitigating environmental and social inequity issues through sustainability in business. I have observed problems where private sector development can play a huge role in mitigating or at least not making it worse. I enjoy seeing a challenge in a property and working in a team driven to eradicate and learn from it so it can be scaled to other developments or projects. 

Which has been more valuable in your career – your education or your experience, and why?

My education made me a strategic and critical thinker but my experience channeled that into sustainability. My experience in real estate sustainability has exposed me to various clients, timelines, expectations and business cultures that have made me a consultant easily adaptable and responsive to specific requests which is what I think is quite important in sustainability. I am still very grateful for the thinking I cultivated in my academics that can be applied throughout my current projects as we all drive to be carbon neutral and mitigate all issues in the way of that.  

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career?

People will only care about the bigger sustainability goal when you illustrate to them how it directly impacts their day-to-day activities. If there is no buy-in from colleagues in other departments for sustainability, I think the business and operations case needs to be adequately shown and buy-in will follow. There are very manageable ways to incorporate sustainability in everyday work practices, it is our responsibility to meet the teams where they are at and not just superimpose our sustainability agenda on their work.

How has the industry changed since you started your career?

The industry has gotten very comfortable with the current sustainability certifications commonly used in South Africa which can make work very one-dimensional, at the same time the industry is getting stricter on carbon reduction plans, calculations and evidence and this is where I think the industry is getting really exciting. The work requires multi-level buy-in, operational plans and monitoring and reporting skills that illustrate the drive to carbon neutrality. This is a very exciting space.  

What are the changes needed for the industry to reach its sustainability goals?

For all parties to be involved when a project begins or a development is being discussed so you can design, build and manage for the goal of sustainability and continuous reporting of efforts towards our sustainability goals. 

What advice do you have for someone new to the sustainable green built environment sector?

Ask questions whenever there is a misunderstanding. Not understanding a client’s expectations can be detrimental to your confidence when you do not deliver what was expected as well as can be detrimental to your aim of wanting to drive impact in the space as you always seem out of touch. There is no need to leave a meeting unclear on what is requested from you. 

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