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Part 2: What’s The Story? Developing a Green Building Education Plan – Elizabeth Powers, LEED AP BD+C, CSBA Reports on Developing a Green Building Education Plan

ElizabethPowers-web This is Part 2 of a two- part blog. Before you read this blog, please take a moment to skim last week’s article (Part 1).

Now that you’ve got a good storyline for your green building education plan, let’s talk about how to put together an effective presentation and earn credit for it in LEED or other rating systems.

It is fundamental to good storytelling to know your audience. A building’s green building education program should be geared toward the audiences to which the building most directly relates or the groups of people that are most interested in stories about that type of building. There are usually two or three groups to target which will involve using different communication tools with different messages. Let’s look at two examples.

For a university campus academic building, the most direct audience is the faculty that teaches or A window into the wall of the Bertschi School in Seattle works in the building and the students that take classes there. Communication tools with this group should be physically linked to working and learning in the building, like building signage, electronic kiosks, and visible sustainable design features. The messages can share what features were built into the building, the benefit of those features, and how they, as building users, can help keep the building green.

Other audiences include alumni and funders, potential students, and the nearby community. Communication with these groups is more likely through electronic media or one-time events like grand openings or potential student tours. The messages for alumni and funders can demonstrate responsible use of funds by reducing operating costs and how building features improve teaching and learning. Potential students (and their parents) are also concerned about costs, but more likely want to hear how green building supports a good education. The environmental stewardship message fundamental to green building will resonate with alumni, funders, students and the community.

Educational website content aimed at prospective residents of Thornton Place( in Seattle, WAFor a residential apartment building, the obvious primary audience is building tenants. Good ways to reach this group are electronic kiosks or a display of building features in the lobby, an informational brochure provided on move in, and building newsletters. For prospective tenants, your green building message is a sales tool. You can use signage on sample green features in a leasing center or model unit, create a take-away brochure, and develop a tour script for use when walking prospects around the building. The message for current and prospective tenants is that the building is efficient, helping them save on rent and utilities, and is better for the environment than other apartment buildings. As any building, the education should also enable the tenants to live green in the building by explaining how to use, take care of, or benefit from green features, and providing additional ideas of activities they can engage in on their own. A good example is providing all new tenants a green cleaning kit upon move in that also points out the durable, easy to clean finishes used in the building.

A secondary audience for all buildings is the greater real estate, design, and construction Interactive tour element, measuring the level of rainwater in a rain cathment system at Cascade People’s Center pump at South Lake Union community. This group is the audience most likely to be interested in how many LEED points the project received and how it was done. As this group is often responsible for developing green building education, a lot of what is produced is about the LEED story on the project. This can be a good story on a project, and the role of LEED should not be excluded from the story, but think carefully about what makes this LEED project unique from others and what elements of LEED the targeted audiences care about. A good way to reach out to the building industry audience is web based case studies and tours with local green building organizations. These industry case studies and tours can share detailed lessons learned about green design and construction practices and LEED documentation.

The process of identifying the audiences and communication tools for stories is a natural set-up for putting together a package that will earn a LEED Innovation point, meet the Living Building Challenge education imperative, or earn the Sustainable Sites Initiative credit. Let’s look specifically at the requirements for LEED.

To take advantage of the educational value of the green building features of a project and to earn a LEED point, any approach should be ACTIVELY instructional. Two of the following three elements must be included in the educational program:

  • A comprehensive signage program built into the building's spaces to educate the occupants and visitors of the benefits of green buildings. This program may include windows to view energy saving mechanical equipment or signs to call attention to water-conserving landscape features.
  • The development of a manual, guideline or case study to inform the design of the buildings based on the successes of this project. This manual will be made available to the USGBC for sharing with other projects.
  • An educational outreach program or guided tour that focuses on sustainable living, using the project as an example.

 Following this structure, the first step is to decide if you will do a building signage program. This is probably the most durable and long lasting tool in your communications tool belt and can support a tour program as well. More engaging signage like window or “truth” walls, or electronic kiosks showing energy and water usage make a “signage” program one of the most effective education elements.    
KCR Case Study In some cases, a signage program may not  make sense, as with buildings that have a very small audience or limited public access. In that case, a good approach is provide an overview sign next to the LEED plaque in the building lobby or put information from a case study on an electronic kiosk.

   A building case study does make sense for almost all projects, although there may be different versions distributed to different audiences. For the audience most likely to learn about the building on your organization’s website or marketing, use your storylines to organize and write the most effective case study for your that audience. [Example Left – BSCS] For sharing the technical details and lessons learned with the building industry, we recommend completing a project profile in the High Performance Buildings Database. This comprehensive resource is recommended and used by the USGBC and others to produce case studies and stories about green buildings. Its detailed structure is a great way to make sure you collect and organize all the green building information about the project.

The third option for the LEED innovation credit, an educational outreach or tour program, is a good place to leverage what you’ve already done in preparing signaConstruction tours for the zero energy Zhome in Issaquah, WA were part of an educational program, ge and/case studies to do additional outreach. If you conduct a grand opening or LEED plaque event, distribute hard copies of the case study or make a brochure and do a building tour. Collaborate with local green building or industry organizations to provide another tour or two, or to do case study presentations, and you have the foundations of a educational outreach/tour program.  Round it out with an article in the local media, ongoing green building blurbs in a newsletter, or an annual tour.

The above elements can be combined in ways to best match your building’s purpose and audiences, whether it is hands-on with signage and tours, or more arms length with digital case studies, presentations, and newsletters. Whatever the method, remember that a green building education program is most effective and engaging when it tells a unique story that is compelling and appropriate for the audience(s) you are trying to reach.

Elizabeth Powers is Principal/Owner of O'Brien & Company, a mission-based firm in its 20th year focused on achieving sustainability in the built environment. Powers leads the green building consulting services team and is a regular contributor to the Building Capacity blog. O'Brien & Company publishes the blog as well as a monthly newsletter. For the most current edition of the newsletter, please see

Did you enjoy this article? You might also like these Building Capacity Blog Articles:
CSBA Reports on Developing a Green Building Education Plan
SBAi: Introducing the Next Generation of SBA Education & Service
Time to Deal with Your LEED AP Credential
Green Building Jobs in Lousy Market
Do I Need A Green Building Credential?

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