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Women in sustainability: Drivers of climate change solutions

Written by Staff Writer

November 23, 2020

by Angela Barter, Sustainability Communication Strategist, The PR Agency

Scientific reports warn us that climate change could bring extreme weather events and unique challenges that will affect all life.1 And those who are most vulnerable, and likely to suffer most, are women in developing countries, especially small-scale farming women.2;3;4 Fortunately, women can also be powerful and effective agents of change and promoters of adaptation and mitigation, especially if they hold leadership positions.

According to Greenbiz, “Sustainability as a profession is coming into its own, and women are at the forefront”.5 Businesswomen and women in roles of leadership within and beyond the sustainability field can be key drivers of change and play crucial roles in connecting, collaborating, informing and supporting others to make a positive social environmental impact.6”

There are thousands of inspiring women engaged in sustainability practices – from ocean warriors, conservationists, waste-preneurs, innovators to educators, communicators, engineers, and corporate sustainability leaders – all playing their part to build sustainable businesses, cities and communities.

Driving Change

These women are helping to uplift communities, reduce environmental damage, prevent further loss of biodiversity, and create awareness by adopting and implementing environmental and sustainable practices that reduce our negative impact for the greater good of the planet and the people.

Better outcomes for women mean a better future for our planet,” says World Green Building Council CEO Cristina Gamboa.7To prevent further devastating climate change, we need these passionate and dynamic women to inspire women around the world to take action. They are the catalysts for change.” 

Inspiring Women in Sustainability in SA

Here in South Africa, women across diverse sectors are leading the charge, championing sustainability and driving change to transform our country to a greener, just and more sustainable economy.

Meet four local women who continue to inspire me with their passion for making a positive impact and raising awareness; for driving change; and for inspiring others towards a better world around us.






Anniya Omardien Image Credit: Verity Fitzgerald

  1. Aaniya Omardien: Founder and Director of The Beach Co-Op

Aaniya believes that her connection to the ocean is in her blood, and it is this connection to nature that inspired her to study environmental science. After graduating with an Honours degree, she worked in conservation at WWF South Africa for 10 years, while also completing her Master’s degree. Aaniya later consulted in the environmental sector and in 2015, she started a voluntary group, with scientific advice from Professor Peter Ryan, to collect marine debris every new moon at the rocky shore, Surfers Corner, in Muizenberg, Cape Town. From these early informal gatherings, Aaniya founded The Beach Co-op (TBC), a non-profit company established in 2017. The goals for TBC are to empower coastal communities as keepers of oceans and to keep South Africa’s beaches clean and healthy.









Sally-Anne Käsner

  1. Sally-Anne Käsner: Director of Circular-Vision

Sally-Anne is a Director of Circular-Vision, a circular economy strategy and design consultancy. She is passionate about making a positive impact by identifying opportunities to shift circular economy principles into implementation. Her focus is on driving economic, social and environmental prosperity through connecting across the value chain; collaborating on projects; creating new business models that respond to circular economy principles, leading to a thriving and inclusive economy. A background in waste minimisation and many years in the resource efficiency and cleaner production consulting environment, has provided a sound base from which to work.

She was previously an Executive Associate at JG Afrika (an engineering and environmental consultancy), a founding member of EcoStandard (083-558-NPO – www.ecostandard.co.za), a founding member and Director of the African Circular Economy Network (Non-profit Company

Registration number: K2020115399 – www.acen.africa), and a Non-Executive Director of Polyco (www.polyco.co.za).









Vere Shaba 

  1. Vere Shaba : Founder and CEO of Greendesign

Vere, the founder and CEO of Greendesign, is a multi-award-winning green building consultant and mechanical engineer, with more than a decade of experience at multinational engineering consulting firms. Vere is passionate about high-performance green buildings that do less harm to people and to the environment. She is a faculty member of the Green Building Council of SA and has trained professionals and students in green building energy efficiency performance. Vere is passionate about sustainable development goals and climate diplomacy, and is a climate action influencer on the continent, having been featured on the cover of Forbes and having won the following international and national awards: SA’s Top 100 Women in Business (2013); Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans (2017) and Forbes 30 Under 30 in Business (2018) amongst others.10







Tanya Dos Santos

  1. Tanya Dos Santos: Global Head of Sustainability, Investec

Tanya is a dedicated mother and ardent conservationist, as well as the Global Head of Sustainability for Investec Group and Head of Investec Rhino Lifeline. She sits on the Board of the Swiss Wildlife of Africa Foundation (SWAF) which helps to raise awareness and funds for endangered wildlife. She also sits on the Board of a small private business called Inyati Game Lodge in the Sabi Sands Wildtuin, which is active in promoting conservation activities and empowering communities. In addition to rural education and contributing to the wildlife economy, Tanya is also passionate about human rights and sits on the Board of the United Nations Global Compact local network in South Africa and represents Investec on the United Nations Global Investors for Sustainable Development working groups.

Taking action

As women entrepreneurs and business leaders, we can drive the change for a greener, just and more sustainable economy; and support women affected by climate change.

And it has never been more important than now, building back better post-pandemic. As Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director at UN Women8 reminds us: “Women are a powerful force to rebuild societies more securely, from providing food and shelter, to generating vital income and leading sustainable change.”

Do you have a sustainability story to tell? Contact Angela Barter, Sustainability Communication Strategist, The PR Agency via email angela@thePRagency.coza or LinkedInVisit www.angelabarter.com for more information.


1 Buis, A., 2020. A Degree of Concern: Why Global Temperatures Matter [WWW Document]. Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. URL https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2865/a-degree-of-concern-why-global-temperatures-matter (accessed 11.20.20).

2 Arias, A., Parrilla, M., Nuño, T., 2018. Feminism and environmentalism go hand in hand – it’s gender day at the global climate talks [WWW Document]. Greenpeace International. URL https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/19954/feminism-and-environmentalism-go-hand-in-hand-its-gender-day-at-the-global-climate-talks (accessed 11.20.20).

3 Mourdoukoutas, E., 2016. Women grapple with harsh weather [WWW Document]. Africa Renewal. URL https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/august-2016/women-grapple-harsh-weather (accessed 11.20.20).

4 Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), 2015. What Climate Change Means for African Women. Young African Leaders Initiative Network. URL https://yali.state.gov/what-climate-change-means-for-african-women/ (accessed 11.20.20).

5 Klein, J., 2020. Women in sustainability on starting their careers and making change | Greenbiz [WWW Document]. URL https://www.greenbiz.com/article/women-sustainability-starting-their-careers-and-making-change (accessed 11.20.20).

6 Aguilar, L., Araujo, A., Quesada-Aguilar, A., n.d. Gender and Climate Change.  [WWW Document]. URL https://www.gdnonline.org/resources/IUCN_FactsheetClimateChange.pdf

7 Green Building Council South Africa, 2019. Women in the built environment sector: We need you to help lead the sustainability drive. GBCSA. URL https://gbcsa.org.za/women-in-the-built-environment-sector/ (accessed 11.20.20).

8 UN Women, 2020. Press release: Gender lens essential to addressing linked climate change and security crises, urges joint UN report [WWW Document]. UN Women. URL https://www.unwomen.org/news/stories/2020/6/press-release-gender-lens-essential-to-addressing-linked-climate-change-and-security-crises (accessed 11.20.20).

10 Vere Shaba | LinkedIn [WWW Document], n.d. URL https://www.linkedin.com/in/vereshaba/ (accessed 11.20.20).

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