ENV SP Spotlight: Mabe Garcia-Rincon

Maria Beatriz (Mabe) Garcia-Rincon is an urban and climate change specialist at the World Bank focused on environmental and climate green financing. Prior to her appointment with the World Bank, she was at Harvard University, participating in a fellowship in sustainable infrastructure.

She is also the executive director and founder of Urban Elements Foundation (UEF), an international development agency. She has over nine years of experience in consulting on city development. Mabe has a keen commitment to international human development goals.  Throughout her career, she emphasizes addressing climate change, low-carbon city development, and innovative financing in an effort to create social equilibrium.

ISI staff had the chance to connect with Mabe to learn more about her career and her experience with Envision:

Professional Experience

What drew you to your field of work?

In 2009, I worked at the World Bank to help a team account for the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) of the organization’s footprint in all 144 country offices and headquarters. I conducted three life-cycle analyses of the organization’s waste streams, water and energy use. From this initial introduction, I became interested in sustainable development and specifically, sustainable infrastructure. I began to consider my own individual GHG footprint and started living a life that was holistically sustainable with a mental life-cycle analysis of each of my actions.  I created a profession from this. I studied climate change, climate finance, international development, urbanization and infrastructure design. I have moved from Caracas, Venezuela and settled in Washington, D.C. to pursue my work with UEF and as a consultant to the World Bank.

What has been your biggest career challenge?

Walking the talk! In other words, one can learn a lot about sustainability but it’s challenging to incorporate sustainable living in my own lifestyle as well as promote it in my work across North and South America. To promote sustainability in a conflict area such as Venezuela is difficult because, for example, the country currently cannot produce local materials necessary to achieve sustainable infrastructure. We have to get creative and devise alternative infrastructure retrofits that are more appropriate within the economic context in Venezuela.

What has been your proudest career moment?

Creating Urban Elements Foundation. By creating this organization, I have applied what I learned at Harvard University and London School of Economics into a practice. Our board comes from five different countries with different ideologies, life styles, personal agendas and interests. We’ve come together to enable change. I work half of the year at international organizations and the rest at very local scale, driving change through entrepreneurship. I created this organization to promote life-cycle systems that support sustainable design in ways that surpass best practice.

Envision Experience

How did you learn about Envision?

I first learned about Envision while I was a Research Assistant for the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Through this work, we guided the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) in sustainable engineering, construction, and processes to support the private and public-private sectors of Latin America.

Part of this work was evaluating infrastructure projects in Latin America. To enhance my understanding of the Envision framework as it applied to these projects, I earned my ENV SP Credential.

How are you using Envision?

At the Urban Elements Foundation, and in the work I do for the World Bank, I always refer to the Envision framework to teach others about developing sustainable projects.

Through my work at UEF, I am developing a set of infrastructure slum upgrade projects in Caracas, Venezuela. I am using the Envision framework to create a sustainable project. My team and I are currently proposing a set of projects for water treatment and energy generation that are grounded in the principles and tenets of the Envision framework.

In 2017-2018, I worked for the World Bank on a regional project in West Africa. I shared the Envision framework with the engineers and developers on the project. I was hoping to integrate the Envision guidelines into a regional coastal resiliency project. My role in this project was to consult for the 20-person team using my skills as an ENV SP. I shared the Envision framework in an effort to incorporate a mindset of sustainability in each of the six countries’ approaches in investing in the regional project.

Throughout my work, I hope to leverage enough interest in Envision to transform projects beyond compliance with established environmental and social safeguards to integrating the Envision framework. In order to achieve this goal, I provide the guidance needed to initiate systemic change in the planning, design, and delivery of sustainable and resilient infrastructure projects. I wholeheartedly believe that Envision is a decision-making guide. It is not prescriptive, and this is exactly the type of mentality we want decision-makers to use in order to develop resilient spaces, designs, and construction.

Can you share some highlights from an Envision project?

When I was with the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, I worked with two other ENV SPs to evaluate sustainable infrastructure projects. We evaluated projects from companies that plan sustainable infrastructure, including: Enel Green Power’s Dominica Wind Farms (Mexico); Seven Seas Water Company’s Point Fortin Seawater’s Reverse Osmosis Desalination Facility (Trinidad & Tobago); Carilafquén/Malalcahuello Hydroelectric Plant (Chile); Akuo Energy company’s Florida Wind Farm (Uruguay).

The engineering process was evaluated for each project. We examined the documentation provided by the engineers and project managers to measure how sustainable each project had been. We defined the evaluation through a weighted system to quantify the results per Envision categories. The Inter-American Development Bank then measured the results of our evaluations against a set of 12 projects categorized by sustainable results. This process helped incentivize the private companies to become better at building sustainable projects. The process included a two-year capacity building exercise. Capacity building was performed between the ENV SP in the team and the project manager representative of each company. The engineers, project managers, and many other team members learned how to shift their thinking from performing a sustainable project to surpassing sustainable best practices.

Fun Facts

What are some of your favorite hobbies and interests?

I love horseback riding to feel the speed and freedom from urban life. I also play soccer at an advanced level, and I absolutely love Lab dogs.

I want to build my home as a fully functional net zero home with net zero waste, water and energy, as well as off grid. I would love to add to this a sustainable garden from my seasonal fruits and veggies and a beautiful fountain.