Interview with Romilly Madew

Part of our Global Sustainability Leaders Inteview Archive, this interview dates from 2011

Interview with Romilly Madew, Chief Executive of Green Building Council of Australia

As part of our series of Global Sustainability Leader Interviews, ALLEN & YORK were privileged to interview Romilly Madew about how she became involved in Sustainability and what she believes are the major challenges facing Australian Sustainability over the next 20 years.

Romilly Madew, Chief Executive of Green Building Council of Australia; Board member of the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) and the Chair of the WorldGBC International Rating Tools Task Group.  As well as being, Deputy President of the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) and Chair of ASBEC’s Cities and Regional Policy task group.

We asked her about what / who insipred her to follow a career in sustainability and what in her opinion are the major challenges for sustainability in the future.


1. Who or what inspired you to go into a career in sustainability? 

My journey in sustainability started at university where I undertook a thesis on a Cost Benefit Analysis of a Landcare project based in Narromine.  I was interested in how farming could be more sustainable.  Years later when I joined the Property Council of Australia (PCA) as Executive Director ACT, the green building movement was beginning in Australia.  

I put my hand up to oversee sustainable development nationally at a time when the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) was in its infancy.  I was seconded to support the then CEO, Maria Atkinson, with the Council’s advocacy in Canberra, later becoming a consultant to GBCA and writing ‘Dollars and Sense of green buildings 2006’. 

Personally, two people have had an ongoing influence on me over the past 16 years - Phillip Toyne [i]and Molly Harriss Olson[ii].   My thesis was based on Phillip’s work on Landcare.  Years later when my husband and I moved to Lake George we became friends with Phillip and his wife, Molly, who lived nearby in Gundaroo village.  

We spent hours talking about and debating sustainability. In my role at the GBCA, Phillip became a mentor and Molly joined the GBCA Board, I subsequently joined the Steering Committee of their National Business Leaders Forum as well as presenting at a number of forums.

2. What has been the biggest change in sustainability that you have seen in the last 20 years? 

Getting the message understood.  Most people do not have a good grasp of what sustainability actually means and its importance.  This confusion is now hampered by the politics playing out at the moment.

3. What is going to be the biggest challenge for sustainability in the next 20 years? 

The competing challenges of struggling economies and driving sustainable outcomes.  However, we must get the message across that green building can achieve higher standards of sustainability while also delivering on priorities such as job creation, productivity growth and improving the living conditions of millions of people around the world.

4. What skills will be in most demand in the Sustainability Sector in the next 20 years?

Green skills will need to be incorporated into all trades and professions – whether that’s working as a ‘tradie’ on a construction site, or a professional working on the design, engineering or interior of a building.  In addition, the sustainability sector will need people with economics and environmental reporting skills, plus a deep understanding of social sustainability.  It’s a growing field and there will be many opportunities.

[i] Phillip Toyne

Between 1986 and 1992, Phillip was Executive Director of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), where he led successful campaigns on mining in Kakadu, the Wet Tropics, Antarctica, and began the long process of merging green and aboriginal partnerships. He also developed the National Land Care program with former National Farmers Federation head Rick Farley, a movement which has radically changed land use practices in Australia and which is now moving to Africa and America.

Before ACF, Phillip spent 14 years in the desert as both a school teacher and lawyer. He was the first lawyer for the Pitjantjatjara aboriginal people and successfully negotiated the passage of the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act, and then led the negotiations for the traditional owners of Uluru (Ayers Rock) resulting in them receiving title to the National Park.

Phillip was formerly President of the Bush Heritage Australia, a director of Integrated Tree Cropping Ltd, Australian Agriculture Company and CVC Sustainability Fund Ltd and on several advisory bodies, such as the Minerals Council of Australia's External Sustainable Development Advisory Group.

He is a former member of the National Land Care Advisory Committee, the Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee, Australian Population Council, the Prime Minister's Ecologically Sustainable Development Round Tables, the Lake Eyre Basin Coordinating Committee and was also a Murray Darling Basin Commissioner.

[ii] Molly Harriss Olson

Molly is a Director of Eco Futures, an Australian-based international policy firm working on building sustainable strategies with business, government and civic leaders; and is an internationally recognised leader on sustainability. She is the Founder and Convenor of the National Business Leaders Forum on Sustainable Development and co-founder of EcoFutures and Earthmark. She served on the Board of the Green Building Council of Australia and is Chair of Fairtrade International (FLO), and serves on the AMP Sustainable Investments Alpha Advisory Board.

Molly Harriss Olson has convened, chaired and been a member of numerous sustainability initiatives over more than three decades including The World Economic Forum's Global Leaders of Tomorrow Sustainability Index Initiative, and the Premier's Climate Council of Queensland under the Hon Anna Bligh.  Molly Harris Olson worked in the White House as the Founding Executive Director of the President's Council on Sustainable Development.

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