Five minutes with the 2020 Future Green Leader, Stella Matulessya

31 Mar 2020

TRANSFORM wasn’t just about collaboration, it was about celebration too! Congratulations to Stella Matulessya, winner of the 2020 Future Green Leader Award. Get to know Stella in this short interview.

Congratulations! The GBCA’s Future Green Leader Award has been described as a “springboard” for a career in sustainability. Why did the Award appeal to you and where do you hope to land?

Thank you so much, I feel very privileged to have been selected as the Future Green Leader for 2020! Since I was at university, I have always wanted to learn more about sustainability in the built environment, and you’ll be happy to know that the curiosity still burns bright! As such I was keen to apply for this award as I wanted to have the access to industry’s latest knowledge and innovations on sustainability, and of course the connections to its people. I hope by the end of the year, I am able to bring both the technical knowledge and leadership skills I have learnt from this industry’s sustainability experts, to drive meaningful change at RMIT University’s Property Services Group.

How did you find yourself pursuing a career in sustainability?

I was studying mechanical engineering and was feeling pretty miserable learning about combustion engines, so I decided to browse through the university’s course catalogue and found I could do a major in sustainable energy engineering, which appealed to me.  There was this one particular course on sustainability in the built environment – doing that course really felt like a light-bulb moment for me at the time, as I was able to apply my mechanical engineering knowledge to something I cared about, and I never looked back since.

You’re currently an Adviser, Environmental Management at RMIT. What does your usual week look like?

 I wear quite a few hats in this role, so often times there is not one usual looking week! I am the subject-matter-expert in sustainable design for our capital projects, so I spend quite a bit of my week reviewing design documentation and sitting in on meetings where projects at different stages are presented, and I get to drive the implementation of sustainability initiatives for the projects. I also assess contractors’ performance from an environmental sustainability perspective, so throughout the week I work with different contractors on how their particular scope of works can be improved to meet environmental sustainability best practice. When I am not in meetings with different stakeholders, I am often reviewing and editing existing policies, procedures and standards to ensure sustainable practice is being considered throughout Property Services’ operations. Currently I’m working on embedding circular economy principles in our policies – something I am particularly excited about!

It’s your generation who’ll be charged with leading the way to a greener, cleaner future in the face of a changing climate. While this sounds overwhelming, what excites you about this task?

 I am slightly overwhelmed but mostly optimistic, because I am excited to be working with a whole generation of people that have sustainable practice as their guiding principle – and despite their role in society – have the desire to create a better future. Tackling these challenges across scales and in a collaborative, integrated fashion is what drives my passion for my career in sustainability. Hopefully we will be the generation that will change history and limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees – because we have to be.

The Future Green Leader Award judging panel were taken aback by your determination to influence change. What tips do you have for people trying to lead change in the built environment?

 My two tips are – keep on top of the latest science, findings and innovations in the built environment, it is important to stay relevant in a fast-moving industry. Second, always have a genuine conversation and try to understand different people’s perspectives and motivations. I believe these two things are very powerful levers for leading change in the built environment.

Finally, what do you hope to achieve as the 2020 Future Green Leader?

I hope to catalyse a movement on shifting the linear thinking of the industry of take, make and waste, to more circular thinking where buildings and products are reused, reserviced, remanufactured and recycled. The engineer in me would also like to be able to quantify the benefits of implementing circular economy principles. Empowering our industry with this knowledge is key to see change happen. This would be quite an achievement! On a more personal level, as a female engineer in the industry, I would also like to use this platform to inspire more young women to pursue careers in engineering with purpose. 

The Green Building Council of Australia extends its congratulations to Iain Stewart, winner of the Innovation award. Iain is recognised for his work as CEO of start-up Exergenics. Iain, a specialist energy modeller, is harnessing machine learning to help businesses optimise HVAC.