According to the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD), women have more sustainable consumption patterns than men, and as a result leave a smaller ecological footprint. In its Gender and Sustainable Development report (2008), the OECD argues that “men’s lifestyles and consumer patterns, whether they are rich or poor, tend to be more resource-intensive and less sustainable than women’s.”
Why is this?
Certainly, women’s consumption reflects the fact that they generally earn less money and have less money at their disposal. However, research around the globe has found that women make more ethical consumer choices. They are more likely to recycle, buy organic food and eco-labelled products, consider issues such as child labour and fair trade, and place a higher value on energy-efficient transport. In fact, even in households with cars, women are more likely to use public transport than men.
Women’s roles and responsibilities within the family also mean that they are more likely than men to be affected by environmental disasters, and so they will bear the brunt of coping with the results of climate change, such as damage to homes from extreme weather events and food shortages.
So, I wonder: is sustainability ‘women’s business’?
It’s a topic I’m interested in both personally and professionally. I’ve spent a large part of my career focused on creating more sustainable buildings, communities and cities, and have been inspired by many talented women I’ve met along the way. A headcount of the women I know in the green building movement confirms that women are attracted to sustainability. The GBCA now has more women on its board than ever before, and 69 per cent of the GBCA’s employees are female. This correlates with research from the Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility in 2009, which found that 60 per cent of sustainability specialists are women.
Why women are attracted to sustainability is up for debate. Is it that we tend to be empathetic and nurturing? Is it that centuries of conserving resources and learning to do more with less has given us an innate ability to think sustainably? Is it that women think creatively and provide innovative solutions to everyday problems? Or is it because many of the corporate sustainability positions are filled by women who’ve moved up through the female-centric marketing and human resources ranks?
But before we start celebrating, it’s worth considering that women risk being shut out from the 50 million or so green jobs predicted to be created over the next 20 years because they will be in sectors in which women have long been marginalised, or in professions that attract few women. In the energy sector, for instance, women make up less than six per cent of technical staff and below one per cent of senior managers. Globally, the construction sector’s female workforce is just nine per cent.
Economist Candice Stevens has argued that if we don’t find ways to ensure women’s engagement in the green economy, we will find that “going green will perpetuate the dominance and perspectives of wealthier males in major economic sectors.”
Many people in the green movement warn that change is not happening fast enough. Perhaps we’re investing in the wrong areas. We know that investing in the health, education and employment opportunities of women and girls has a positive multiplier affect across developing economies. It may also hold the key to accelerating the shift to economic, social and environmental sustainability the world over.
Romilly Madew will join Carolyn Viney, Grocon’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Siobhan Toohill, Westpac’s Head of Sustainability, Megan Motto, Consult Australia’s Chief Executive and Sam Mostyn (also a 1MW Ambassador), Non-executive Director of Citibank Australia, Transurban and Virgin Australia, to explore whether sustainability is women’s business at a special ‘Leading Green Women’ event in Sydney on Tuesday 11 February. Register today .