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Green Building Design as Stakeholder Management Tool: A Case Study

The Change Initiative is a sustainable lifestyle concept located in Al Barsha 1 that includes a shop, café, conference center and green building solutions center. As the highest rated LEED Commercial Interiors building in the world, this article looks at how their green building education program has doubled as a vital community engagement tool for The Change Initiative.

From Elective to Mandatory: The Underlying Drivers Endure

Following Dubai Municipality’s long anticipated ratification of the Green Building Regulations and Specifications on March 1st, 2014, the Emirate is awash with discussion surrounding sustainability in the built environment. It is no secret that questions abound surrounding implementation logistics and feasibility of the new guidelines. However, let’s bring the discourse back to the key drivers behind (the formerly elective) green building design principles in Dubai. 
There are the classic direct financial implications of lower operating costs due to energy and water savings and resulting higher property values. Contractors and suppliers are keen to engage in this discussion by providing solutions that promise to deliver on lower life cycle costs. Then there are government entities, building owners and developers who want to curate environmental stewardship for a host of reasons including economic diversification, sustainable development, and reputational strength. The Change Initiative story highlights green building design as a yet another viable tool for value generation: through community engagement.

From LEED to a full-fledged Community Engagement Program

The Change Initiative was in its soft opening phase in the summer of 2012. The project team was hard at work preparing and submitting tedious documentation to the US Green Building council with the hopes of achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification at the highest possible level: Platinum.  Under the Innovation in Design category, one point stood to be gained by documenting an Engagement through Education program. The intention was to provide information about green buildings to visitors by providing an educational experience on practical and innovative solutions for improvements in built environment and sustainable living. This was to be achieved through a signage system and a guided tour program. The submitted documentation included a floor plan of the building that showed the route of the tour and content that was adapted from the May 1st 2012 opening night script which highlighted the development of the business and several of the green building design elements.  The signage went up in the store and staff member were trained to deliver the script. 
In September 2012, The Change Initiative team was invited by Emirates Green Building Council to facilitate sessions at elementary schools on green building design as part of World Green Building Week.  The feedback from the school was astoundingly positive as there was a direct link to the curriculum, however it was obvious that more tailored green building education material was necessary for elementary schools. Around the same time, several teachers had visited The Change Initiative and enquired about bringing their students into the building for a field trip, with several teachers approaching multiple times. 
From the aforementioned factors it was clear that there was a community need for a student-friendly green building field trip destination but The Change Initiative was not yet adequately resourced to facilitate the necessary learning experience. In November 2012, Peter Milne of Target Green lent his expertise as an educational consultant to design an elementary school education program suitable for 3 hour field trips for grades 4-6 (ages 8-12). The 3 part module started with an interactive introduction to sustainability and the 5 principles of green building design, followed by a critical thinking exploration of building to search for the elements in action. Students lastly got to test their newfound skills by designing their own dream green building. This program formed the basis for what is now The Change Initiative Community Education program.

Market Reception: The Snowball Effect

Due to overwhelmingly positive feedback, over the next year a half the initial elementary module was adapted for high school and university classes seeking real life applications for traditionally taught concepts. Corporates looking for employee engagement sessions and audiences with technical backgrounds began to request regular workshops. Audiences loved learning about building design for water conservation at a theoretical level and then walking outside to see our own regional species garden, mulched and drip-irrigated using condensation runoff from AC units on the roof. 
Based on audience learning objectives, additional modules such as responsible consumerism & life cycle assessment, carbon emissions, food waste, green business strategy and careers in sustainability were also developed and piloted. 
In May 2013, The Change Initiative building was awarded LEED Platinum certification. At 107 points, this made The Change Initiative the highest scoring LEED Retail: Commercial Interiors in the world. The win generated an enormous amount of publicity for The Change Initiative and further positioned the company as a platform for best practices in the built environment. The win further contributed to education program’s visibility, bringing the initiative full circle since LEED was the original birthplace of the program.  To date, 4089 individuals have participated in The Change Initiative education program.

Learnings for other Green Building Education Programs

  • Using Education as a Marketing Tool: Participants who engage with The Change Initiative education team, whether for an in house workshop or an external seminar, inadvertently take part in a brand building exercise. Elementary and high school students return home to discuss mission of The Change Initiative with their parents, who may then come in for a weekend visit. University students, who are our future leaders of sustainability, will enter the work force with the knowledge of the business’ capabilities.  Corporates and industry groups ideally walk away with the image of The Change Initiative as thought leaders.  It is important to know the audience of the program not just for content development but also to build the business case for investing in its development.
  • But don’t Dilute the Message: The crucial point from a governance perspective is to ensure that those facilitating the modules carry a separate responsibility from marketing or commercial functions, and most importantly that the core educational content and messaging is not diluted with a commercial intent. If full time resources are not available to develop and facilitate the program, then it is best practice for separate job responsibilities to be carved out and incentivised in a responsible manner.
  • Cross-Functional Team to Tell the Story: It’s impossible to read a green building design text without the mention of cross-functional team participation. This truism extends to setting up an education program. For participants to learn about green buildings, including the trials and tribulations, the story must be told with the voice and perspective of the various team members involved in building and maintaining the site. Getting team members involved, the earlier the better, is recommended for developing a holistic program.
  • Consider Measurement 2.0: Truly measuring the impact of investment in a green building education platform involves a look at measurement beyond participant numbers. Depending on learning objectives, potential future measurement areas for The Change Initiative participants include number of: first time visitors to a green building, uplift in percentage of participants learned an education concept such as the definition of sustainability, and repeat visitors to the business as a result of the program. Regardless of the measurement metrics, the ability to quantify the programs impact is invaluable. 

The Way Forward

Although The Change Initiative is the highest rated LEED Commercial Interiors building in the world, the certification covers the design and construction phase. To ensure ongoing commitment to the philosophy, The Change Initiative has recently embarked on LEED Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance. We look forward to using this as a tool for further engaging the community on matters of green building design and beyond.
Sheena Khan is a Knowledge Manager at The Change Initiative. She enjoys daydreaming of a sustainable future and talking about sustainable tourism in the UAE and around the world.
You can contact her at: sheena.khan@tci-mail.com 
Keywords: Green building education, green building tours, LEED Platinum, community engagement