By SGN | 9 Jan 2023
What makes a green building? For Farizan, it is much more than a certification.
“The certification is good, but it should not be the centrepiece,” she stresses. “A lot of thought and research goes into a certification programme, but we mustn’t use it as a rigid, sterile tool without comprehending the principles behind it.”
A green building, she says, balances resources and is in harmony with the environment. The user should also feel a connection to its sustainable features and understand the underlying processes.
These may seem like simple and reasonable ideas, but convincing others of their importance has been a long uphill battle for Farizan.
An engineer by training, Farizan was formerly an equity partner at a specialist engineering company for 15 years. During that time, she completed the Green Mark Accredited Professional course and became thrilled by the possibilities of sustainable building, but it seemed her passion was a little ahead of her time.
Apart from a couple of instances where she incorporated sustainable design – a zero-energy guardhouse powered by solar panels, a façade made of nearly 1,000 repurposed beer bottles – within larger projects, green building awareness was low, and her partners were not so interested in shaking things up if it didn’t benefit the bottom line.
Rising up as a woman in a man’s world
Working in the male-dominated building and construction industry has also brought its fair share of challenges. Early on, Farizan experienced a lack of empathy for the rigours of pregnancy and motherhood, where maternity leave is seen as a period of voluntary absence, rather than an essential part of work-life balance.
There was also the assumption that women deserve lower pay, since husbands are the main breadwinners and wives are just earning a “side income”. “No matter how hard I worked or how many targets I met, I was never given an equal standing,” she recalls.
Farizan’s long-time hero is Christine Lagarde, a world leader who exudes a quiet power and carries herself with poise. Currently the president of the European Central Bank, she too is accustomed to being the only woman in the room or the first woman to take on a role.
Propelled by a desire to equalise opportunities for women and an impulse to explore sustainable building, Farizan took the plunge and set up her own company, GreenA Consultants, in 2009.
In the beginning, Farizan radically set about hiring an all-female staff. Still today, women have a significant presence and contribute valuable perspectives on her team. “Women tend to have a softer emotional attachment to their work,” she observes. “When it relates to the environment, this develops into a passion that goes a long way.”
Growing in expertise and standing
On her journey in sustainable building, Farizan’s penchant for exploration never subsides, and her learning never ceases. Way before sustainability reporting became the norm, she took a Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) course on the subject.
“While I was doing technical consulting on building projects, I thought that corporate consulting would be the next step forward,” she explains.
Her instincts were right. Now that companies are under increasing industry and regulatory pressure to account for the sustainability of their activities, Farizan is seeing demand for such reporting catch up with the construction side of GreenA’s business.
In 2016, to broaden her horizons, she attended a month-long programme in Developing Sustainable Business Models at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). The eye-opening course put her in contact with high-level executives from the United Nations and major European firms and helped reaffirm the direction that her company was moving in, even if the markets she operated in were still catching up on sustainable practices.
Thanks to the depth of her accumulated expertise, Farizan stands out in her clients’ eyes as someone who can swiftly answer their queries or formulate solutions, as well as understand both the technical and corporate aspects of their business needs. Above all, she is known for her style of always speaking with a contagious and irresistible passion for sustainability.
Before commencing work on a project, Farizan has in-depth conversations with the client to understand their struggles and what they hope to achieve, show them the possible solutions, and ultimately offer what they are ready to receive.
She frowns at the idea of cookie-cutter solutions or pre-determined packages. Neither is she constrained by a sustainability checklist. “Dealing with environmental matters, we shouldn’t be so transactional,” she says. “It’s not like ordering a set meal at a fast food restaurant.” When a recent client asked for a super-low-energy building, Farizan’s team went above and beyond to propose a net-positive design.
Greening spaces across Asia and Africa
For over a decade, Farizan’s team has transformed buildings and spaces across Singapore and Asia, implementing sustainable features and practices that increase energy efficiency, shrink carbon footprint, and cut consumption of natural resources.
Today, Farizan splits her time between Singapore and Rwanda – the ‘A’ in GreenA stands for ‘Asia’ and ‘Africa’ – spending roughly 45 days in each location while her family remains based in Singapore.
Her love for Africa began nearly three decades ago in 1995, when she visited Tanzania to meet a client. Struck by the state of poverty, Farizan felt moved to help build better environments for communities there. “I remember coming home and crying,” she shares. “I felt like we’re just an ocean apart, yet our worlds are so different.”
Apart from building projects in Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Côte d’Ivoire, her team has worked to advance sustainability legislation, develop green building standards and establish green building councils across the continent.
While more attention is being paid to sustainable built environments, Farizan laments the drive towards achieving firsts in the realm of sustainability. “Sustainability is not a race to become the ‘first’,” she says. “The fight against climate change is a global race.”
Though there remains a long road ahead and much more to be done, she has faith in the ripple effect – how one positive action, however small, can have a multiplying impact – and this is what keeps her going on her mission to build a more sustainable world.
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Farizan is the founder of GreenA Consultants, a sustainability consultancy with projects in Asia and Africa. In 2021, the company joined a select group of Asia Pacific Net Zero Collaborators, working with the World Green Building Council to ramp up sustainability efforts in the region.
Connect with her here.