Green gamechanger, the CEO leading building sustainability

Romilly Madew is the determined Chief Executive Officer of the Green Building Council of Australia. For more than a decade, she’s been at the helm of creating change for sustainable building in Australia. Author of the report The Dollars and Sense of Green Building 2008, Romilly has played an influential role in shaping the environmental impact of Australian buildings. In addition to her duties as CEO, this family oriented, extroverted leader has spun together an eclectic mix of board roles and community responsibilities to create full and rewarding life.

Romilly speaks with Catherine Robson in this week’s Success Story on Australia’s journey to a greener future and how being in the right place at the right time has played a role in her success.


Studying agricultural economics at university, it was Romilly’s thesis, a cost analysis of Landcare in Narromine that opened the door to a future in sustainable building.

From those early uni days, career opportunities have presented themselves to Romilly, thanks to a mix of passion, proactiveness and a dash of being in the right place at the right time.

Starting with the Property Council in 2002, Romilly was quickly identified as a keen player in sustainability as she established a Sustainability Committee within the Property Council. She was immediately seconded across to the Green Building Council to start doing their advocacy in Canberra.

This placed her as the frontrunner for the opportunity to write the game changing Dollars and Sense of Green Building in 2006. The first business case for sustainable construction in Australia, identifying the benefits and the barriers to sustainable building.

“The Victorian Building Commission had granted some money to the Green Building Council of Australia to write the publication and it really was [being at the] right place at [the] right time. Australia had no research on this, all our research in Australia had been based on overseas research. Green building globally was really new and there was nothing on it, there had only been a handful of green buildings in Australia,” recalls Romilly.

Afterwards, she was appointed to lead the Green Building Council. Today more than 1400 projects around Australia have received a green star sustainability rating. These building consume 62% less energy than non-green star buildings. They emit 66% less greenhouse gases and use 52% less water.

A raft of evidence has shown certified green star building can also boost productivity by up to 15%. How does Romilly rate her own productivity when it comes to managing her portfolio of commitments? She’s super disciplined with her time –  living and breathing priority management.

“It all comes back to my paper diary, I have this daily to do list and if I haven’t finished it, I roll it over to the next day so I always know what I’ve got on. If I feel like I can’t do something, I can always roll into onto the next week. I never feel overwhelmed with work because I follow this priority management system,” explains Romilly.

A public figure and influencer, Romilly is cognisant of her personal brand, especially as a woman. She uses her public influence to address issues she’s passionate about including gender equality in sport and marriage equality. She also discovered the importance of her personal style, at one point clearing half her wardrobe of clothing that wasn’t congruent with her professional image.

“How you’re perceived in the way you speak and dress, as a woman, is really important,” says Romilly.

“I always try to have an edge to what I’m wearing but I’m conscious that personal brand is really important for women,” she says.

When it comes to priorities, her family is at the top of the list and she’s a shining example of blending personal and professional time.

“I’m really proud of my children which everyone knows and I love them fiercely. If it’s school holidays or after work, I don’t care what I’ve got on, my kids come with me. I think most politicians, including the Prime Minister and Lucy Turnbull, have met my children.” 

It’s also a family affair when it comes to Bilgola Beach Surf Lifesaving Club where Romilly is President. Her husband and children make up her surfboat crew and she finds this a wonderful way to spend time together. She also keeps fit with yoga, swimming, running and weights.

It’s no secret that genuine networking can unlock the door to a diverse and vibrant career, but surprisingly, it’s not something that came easily to this natural extrovert. Romilly’s taken courses to learn the art of networking, a skill that has paid off in spades when it comes to developing close professional and personal networks around the globe.

To keep her business acumen sharp, particularly in the area of governance, means always seeking out new learning opportunities. Romilly says taking the Australian Institute of Company Directors course is a must for anyone involved with governance, not just Directors. She recommends the course if you’re sitting on a committee, you’re thinking of joining a board or you’re reporting to a board.

“I did it because of my board. I felt as a CEO with a board I needed to understand why they were asking me the questions they were asking, how to direct my staff appropriately,” she says.

In this week’s podcast episode, Romilly talks about the battle for gender equality in sport, her thoughts in taking your kids to work and why you need to always be asking questions.

Resource references:

The Australian Institute of Company Directors Course

Australian Institute of Management

The Harvard Review

Fiction books referenced:

The Rosie Project by Simon Simsion

The Secret Life of Bee’s by Sue Monk Kidd