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Ecocentric: Jutta Berns-Mumbi

A green buildings consultant combines passion for the environment with good business sense to produce a compelling value proposition.

Juliet Pitman

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Juta Berns-Mumbi of Ecocentric

There’sa new term, coined as a result of the green revolution, that’s currently doingthe rounds. It’s called “greenwashing” and it is to “green” what windowdressing is to BEE. Companies have recognised the considerable marketing andbrand loyalty value to be gained from being green and therefore use anyenvironmentally-friendly activity, however tenuous its link or questionable itstrue environmental impact, to position themselves as such. It’sa trend that gets up Jutta Berns-Mumbi’s nose. “Being green should be about havinga true, measurable, positive impact on the environment,” says the MD ofEcocentric, a green building consultancy which partners with organisations tomake their new and existing premises green. “Of course there is nothing wrongin leveraging your company’s green activities for marketing purposes, but thereality is that most companies that greenwash aren’t interested in making areal change to the environment,” she adds.

Seeing the gap

Inthe United States,greenwashing has quickly led to consumer fatigue and cynicism, and forBerns-Mumbi’s business it presents both challenges and opportunities. On theone hand, there’s the risk of Ecocentric being lumped together with every othercompany that’s looking to make a quick buck out of the green revolution. “Assomeone who was trained as an environmental economist, the environment issomething I have always been passionate about, personally as well asprofessionally. Over the years I’ve seen ‘green’ issues shift from the fringeto being more mainstream, as people have realised the need for urgency inchanging the way we manage the environment,” she says. But what this means isthat suddenly a niche market has become flooded. Onthe other hand, however, there’s a real opportunity for a company likeEcocentric to set itself apart from the herd as the accredited expert in itssector. Which is precisely what Berns-Mumbi has done.

Differentiatingthe business

Inhelping companies come up with strategies to make new and existing buildingsgreen, Ecocentric takes an holistic and integrated approach. “We look ateverything from construction, materials and water and energy resources tooverall greenhouse gases and carbon footprint. A green building is so much morethan one that recycles paper or turns off lights,” she says. Thisintegrated approach is coupled with a strict adherence to principles set out ininternational green building ratings tools, and Ecocentric works together withthe South African and US Green Building councils. “These rating tools are veryimportant because they provide external verification, based on internationallyaccepted benchmarks, that a building is green,” she says. This not only givesclients an expert stamp of approval, but it goes a long way to preventinggreenwashing.

Establishingexpert status

Ecocentric’sposition as a leader has been strengthened by Berns-Mumbi’s own reputation asan expert in the green building and environmental management industry. Along with her degree in environmentaleconomics, she is one of just two people in South Africa to have a LEED(Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) professional accreditation fromthe US Green Building Council. She is in the process of seeking accreditationfrom BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) in the UK and Green Star in South Africa, and has been invitedto speak at various environmental conferences. She also sits on the technicalcommittee of the Green Directory, a supplier and services list of truly greencompanies, which is currently being compiled by one of her associates. “It willalso help to reduce greenwashing,” she says.

A businessapproach

Butwhile Berns-Mumbi is passionate about the environment, she’s not an eco-hippie.“I’m not about trying to convince people to eat muesli and live in a grass house,”she laughs. “Green buildings make sense for businesses because they reducecosts, and I highlight these benefits to clients. There’s a compelling story tobe told about why it makes sense to go green, and that’s what I focus on.”It’sa story to which big business is starting to pay attention. Ecocentric iscurrently in the process of helping one of South Africa’s leadingtelecommunications providers to pursue LEED certification for its head officebuilding. “Aswe see more companies embracing the fact that green is not about scoringpoints, but about making a real impact, our market is going to grow. Thechallenge is to make sure we keep up and retain our expert status,” she says.Is it a challenge the business is up to? You bet. Contact:www.ecocentric.co.za +27 11 646 8103

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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