When Vere Shaba was in grade 12, she found herself deciding between law and engineering for her university studies. “As I was reading up on my choices for study, I came across a Nasa image that shows the world at night.
The image shows that Africa is dark at night, and my first thought was: but how are the children in Africa reading? “If education is the greatest weapon that we can use to change the world, how will we ever be empowered if education stops when the sun sets?
I chose engineering because I wanted equity in Africa through the realms and capabilities of engineering sciences.” Shaba’s special area of focus within engineering is addressing the energy trilemma as posed by the World Energy Council. The council defines energy sustainability as being based on three core dimensions — energy security, energy equity, and environmental sustainability. “These entail complex interwoven links between public and private actors, governments and regulators, economic and social factors, national resources, environmental concerns, and individual behaviours,” Shaba explains.
“As an engineer focusing on green building solutions, I advise clients on energy security, energy equity and environmental sustainability using green building rating tools such as Green Star, Leed and Edge.” Shaba is the founder of Shaba & Ramplin Green Building Solutions, a 100% blackowned consulting firm specialising in green building certifications, engineering solutions, energy management and strategic partnerships across the African continent. She still faces the challenge of perceptions that green buildings are expensive, despite the fact that an Association of South African Quantity Surveyors study shows that the average cost premium of building green can be as low as 1.1%.
“I tell my clients that I am a green engineer, which means I get excited by solutions and results. I believe that a green building is an efficient and comfortable building, and everyone wants that. I do think that this perception is changing and people are starting to see the value of green buildings and are no longer starting to ask ‘how much it costs to go green’, and rather ‘how much it will cost them if they don’t go green’, but there is still so much more to be done to change mindsets.” Her other big challenge is overcoming prejudice — she has been told that she is too young, too female, and too black to be a green engineer and to have the influence she does.
“I have learnt to stay focused on what’s most important, which is innovation in green building and engineering, and I love that I have progressive clients who, once they gave me the opportunity to explain how I would approach their greatest green building challenge, immediately appointed my company because of my specialist knowledge. I am an innovator and clients appreciate that, but it takes overcoming perceptions that women, for instance, can’t be engineers.”
— Kerry Haggard