Joelle Chen has a way of winning you over with her enthusiasm. And it is this spark—on top of her obvious credentials—that’s driven her rise through the sustainability stratosphere over the last 15 years. Describing herself on Twitter as a “recovering architect” and “accidental economist interested in the art of persuasion”, it’s clear Chen takes her role as a thought leader in the green-building ecosystem seriously. But the effervescent way she presents her views makes the multi-layered world she inhabits far more digestible.
While architecture provided the perfect springboard for Chen’s later career, she displays a certain disenchantment with the profession. Having learned the importance of sustainability and regeneration—the concept of creating space for life to flourish and renew, embracing everything from living things and energy systems to communities and businesses—she became disillusioned with the “dissonance” between theory and practice. There’s a great deal of waste in the construction process, and the sector’s reluctance to change frustrated Chen.
Returning to business school for an MBA in marketing and strategy seemed to curtail the discontent. From there, Chen progressed to the Smart Sustainable Cities team at Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB), where she secured investment from companies interested in the “smart city” concept and w