For over two decades, Heather Pinnock has channelled her penchant for Architecture, Development Planning, Urban Design, Project Management & the Green Economy for the greater Caribbean good. Beyond her academic accomplishments – a Bachelor of Arts from the Caribbean School of Architecture, a postgraduate certificate on Climate Change and a master’s degree in Building and Urban Design in Development from London’s prestigious University College – Pinnock’s love for being Jamaican and from the Caribbean region is seemingly immeasurable. “I try to manage who I think I am with my ever-changing Twitter bio,” she laughs. Previously calling herself a ‘tree hugger’ and a ‘water evangelist’ on the social media platform, Pinnock emphatically states her need to live as wholesomely as she can by not taking away more from the environment than she gives back. Equally crediting her late mother and father for the professional that she is today, she pointedly notes the influence of her father, physicist Dr. Willard Pinnock, in helping her to ‘connect the scientific dots’ that led to her current pursuits in the areas of innovation and sustainable development. “I am someone who lives by the lessons that my parents taught me, both in imparting knowledge and by the way they their lives, how they chose to live and how they showed me to live. At the core, that’s who I am, and every opportunity I get I promote my country and my region.”
Having lived in Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada, Pinnock appreciates the unique geographical and cultural landscape of Jamaica, which has often found itself in the international spotlight for world-class achievements in sport, music and tourism. “In particular relation to other CARICOM countries, the other English-speaking islands are closer together, which forges closer relationships. That’s not the case in Jamaica, since we’re in the North – and so often times, what I found growing up was that the United States was our reference,” she explained. Consequently, her national pride began to shape her commitment towards urban development in the region. “The difference that I found when I began to understand the Caribbean better is that in many ways, Jamaica is the big brother or sister to some of the other islands.” This reality quickly made Pinnock recognize that imperativeness of setting a stellar example for other Caribbean islands. Having had the opportunity to work in the housing development sector for a number of years, Pinnock was exposed to the socioeconomic inequities in Jamaica – and it was her stint at the Ministry of Water and Housing during a severe national drought that ignited her passion for sustainable development. “I had been in development for a number of years, but the notion of the sustainability aspect really became clear to me during my time there,” she noted. Her growing hunger for information eventually led her to join the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies – at a time where she thought that her chapter in the public sector was coming to an end. “I wanted to understand our international options and possibilities. That’s where I really got exposed to [the] energy [sector], because I began to piece together all of the aspects of what makes development sustainable.” Her full-circle moment came when she was invited to teach a master’s course on Sustainable Development in the Department of Physics at the University of the West Indies (UWI) – the academic specialization where her father had spent most of his career making meaningful contributions that she grew to appreciate as her own career evolved. “What I really enjoyed about teaching that course was that it wasn’t just about the physics of energy, but how do you apply alternate energy to every aspect of your life? For example, transportation affects your ability to get a job, education, or just getting from point A to point B. How do we move towards sustainable mobility and living to be efficient in what we do?” she reasoned.
While most of the CARICOM territories import fossil fuel to provide energy to their citizens, Pinnock believes that we collectively have the ability to tap into ‘sustainable tropical living’. In her role as General Manager of the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) – the legislative-driven state organization tasked with improving the coverage and quality of public infrastructure – she oversees a number of developmental programmes, introduces alternative patterns of urban settlement whilst preserving the natural environment and stimulating economic development. Heading a team of 1000 employees is no easy feat, but Pinnock remains steadfast in her current mission of urbanity, resilient-built environments and the promotion of sustainable living through health, education and security in Jamaica and the Caribbean. “UDC is a complex and fascinating institution. I came here believing that it was just an urban development corporation, and it’s so much more. We have significant tourism assets and operate a number of those national sites – including beaches, rivers and parks. With tourist attractions such as Kingston Waterfront, Goat Islands, Harbour Beach Park and the world-renowned Dunn’s River Falls falling under the purview of UDC, the General Manager explained that for her, the awesomeness of UDC lies in their tagline Making Development Happen’. Pinnock lauded the work of employees such as the Environment Management Officers that have rescued crocodiles outside of their natural habitat during the rainy season and the Kingston beloved office’s tea lady, Ms. Elaine, who received a National Award for public service, as particular examples building communities of motivated people that turn the wheels of sustainable development. “For the Executive Management Team and me, we take it very seriously to encourage our staff, and one of the most important things you can do is to recognize people. We can’t be a success without everyone coming together to do their part,” she outlined. As a female sustainable development champion, she believes that women are the foundation of the movement, remarking that women have the capacity to imagine beyond our lifetimes and “we must do everything in our power to not affect the decisions that our children can make and do better in the future.”
Always noting the existing gap in the responsiveness to individual needs and the infrequent adaptations and cross-sector regulations to improve sustainable measures, Heather Pinnock is committed to advocating for this crucial culture of change in her homeland as well as the Caribbean region. “I should always be living the truth that I share with you. So, when I say to people ‘you should eat local and conserve water’, it’s serious. I take the time to change out my water closets, my light bulbs (…) I make a point to live exactly the way I encourage my employees and peers to,” concluded Pinnock. She believes that the COVID19 pandemic in particular plays an indispensable role as a learning tool. “The more we learn and the more we understand, the better decisions we will make. Climate Change affects everything and has taught us that everything is connected, and so the decisions that we make now make a huge difference in how we live later on.”
This article is part of the CARICOM Energy Personality Series, an activity of CARICOM Energy Month 2020 and is produced by the CARICOM Energy Unit, the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE), and the European Union (EU) and the German Federal Ministry of Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) funded, Technical Assistance Programme for Sustainable Energy in the Caribbean (TAPSEC). The series aims to give recognition to regional energy champions who have made exceptional contributions in the areas of renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy access, resilience, and rural electrification throughout the Caribbean Community. To read more features within the series, please visit us at https://energy.caricom.org.