Women in sustainabiltiy

Celebrating Women in Sustainability

On 2 August 2011, in News, by Andrew Bennett

In a month when celebrating women is at the forefront, icologie caught up with some of the top women in sustainability in the country. Ahead of Women’s Day on 9 August, we met with Erica Wicomb, the Sustainability Project Co-ordinator at Santam, we had a sit down with the passionate Joe Stead who is doing wonders at Spur GroupSiglinda Lösch, the Environmental Officer at GrandWest and Lindie Buirski who heads up Environmental Capacity Building, Training and Education for the City of Cape Town.

Erica Wicomb

Three years ago, the Head of Sustainability brought Erica on board to assist her in a secretarial function whilst her PA function was on maternity leave. Once her PA returned, she realised that there was lots of project co-ordination skills required in this newly developed area within Santam and Erica became part of the growing sustainability family. Erica, mother and wife, is a big believer in practicing at home what is being done in the workplace. The Wicomb household invested in a solar panels which powers the geyser and pool pump which in addition to other changes has resulted in a drastic free fall in their monthly electricity bill. They use only LED lights in their house and recycle.

In the spirit of celebrating women, Erica had some interesting advice for women looking to make sustainability part of their everyday lives and highlighted two women who have really inspired her. Erica highlighted the importance of acquiring as much knowledge as possible – knowledge from books, peers, leaders and ‘experts’. Women who have been very influential to Erica have been her mother and boss. “Being a single mom from the age of 40 (my dad passed away when I was six), she unfortunately didn’t have much free time to spend with us.” (Erica’s mother died eight years ago.) Ray-ann, my boss, is a very strong woman. She is a hugely inspirational person, shares her knowledge freely and gives opportunities for others to share their ideas.”

Regarding sustainability in South Africa, Erica is anticipating big things in the next five years in South Africa. “With the 17th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 17) coming up in Durban, I am really hoping for a sparked interest in sustainability and climate change,” she added.

For more information on the full interview, please read Interview Erica Wicomb

Joe Stead

Joe Stead has seen a major paradigm shift at Spur Group over the years that she has been employed there. Managing to get buy-in and support from senior levels of management has been crucial to their success. Coming from a creative background and having an interest in environmental issues made the progression to sustainability a natural one.

The women who have greatly influenced her are Ina Paarman – “she can cook up a great meal and is simultaneously a brilliant business women; Mamphela Ramphele for her philosophy of a hand up rather than a hand out; and Nkhensani Nkosi – a brilliant South African fashion designer who captures the beauty and integrity of our identity so exquisitely in her creations.”

Joe highlighted integrated reporting as an important driver of sustainable change at Spur Head Office. “It is a fantastic way to review and align our business and inform our process. It inspired us to engage with our stakeholders and gatekeepers to measure and further develop on our sustainability journey.”

For more information on the full interview, please read Interview Joe Stead

Siglinda Lösch

Siglinda is the environmental officer at the GrandWest Casino and Entertainment World and has successfully seen the implementation of an efficient waste-sorting system into recyclables, non-recyclables and organic waste for composting. This is implemented throughout the entire complex.

Siglinda is excited about the sustainability opportunities in South Africa and had some helpful advice for young women entrepreneurs. “We must teach ourselves to become the women we want to be with the correct knowledge and skills. We should encourage each other to take chances in business and everyday aspects of life. Women are strong and passionate individuals. We have hearts built for sustainable business as we often, unknowingly, keep the environment and underprivileged communities close to our hearts.”

Her philosophy around sustainability is a simple one: “Do not do to the earth that I would not want done to me.” She explains further that, “the earth does not belong to us, it is entrusted to us to preserve for our future generations.”

For more information on the full interview, please read Interview Siglinda Lösch

Lindie Buirski

Lindie Buirski has her hands full at the City of Cape Town with a portfolio including environmental capacity building, training and education. One of the key successes that Lindie has seen through her involvement at the City of Cape Town is the mainstreaming of environmental education and training. When asked what it takes to be a successful business woman in South Africa, Lindie simply cited: “Commitment, dedication, passion and very hard work.”

Lindie’s philosophy of “practice what you preach” is evident in her efforts at home – energy efficient lights, geyser turned down to 60C and covered with a blanket, recycling, composting and more. An interesting one to take note of is a ‘meat-free Monday’ in an effort to reduce our overconsumption of meat.

Lindie identified the Western Cape’s premier, Helen Zille and Mozambican politician and humanitarian, Graça Machel Mandela as two women who have been a great influence in her during the course of her life.

For more information on the full interview, please read Interview Lindie Buirski


It has been said that South Africa is alive with opportunities, and these women definitely believe that with everything.  Thanks to them and many others like them, we are on our way to a sustainable tomorrow. Thank you ladies!

Also please read about the amazing work that women are doing at The Homestead in Cape Town, where icologie spent their ’67 minutes’.

Interviews conducted, and article written by Richard Cole King, icologie July intern and UCT student, twitter: @richardcoleking

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