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

ElizabethPowers-web LEED, the Living Building Challenge, the Sustainable Sites Initiative and other rating systems offer opportunities to earn credit for, or require, the development of a green building education plan. The intent of the credits is to inspire and educate others by sharing the feasibility and benefits of green building. Too often however, the materials produced to meet the letter of the requirements are just a litany of LEED credits or building features, without drawing any lessons or meaning from the accomplishments. Whether a project is doing green building education for credit or out of a desire to pass on lessons learned, and whether the program will be big and splashy, or simple and low-tech, it is worth taking moment to craft an effective and compelling education plan for your project. Not only will this actually accomplish the intent of the rating system requirements, it yields better results in getting press coverage, marketing your project, developing community support, fundraising and even gaining support from building occupants and users in keeping your building green.

The foundation of such a plan is a good story. Every project has unique characteristics, challenges, and accomplishments that can teach others important lessons about green building. O’Brien & Company has found that project teams often need a little guidance in finding the heart of their story and understanding the lessons of the project.

This article talks about developing a good story. Next week, the blog will address developing content and deciding on the types of educational media to use.

When tasked with developing a green building education plan, don’t start by looking at the LEED scorecard, instead, go back to the origins of the project. Pull out the eco-charrette report, owner’s project requirements (OPR), or other documents that defined the vision and goals for the project. Reflect back – what were you trying to accomplish on this project and how did it play out?

Try writing down the three most significant challenges or accomplishments of the project as the story lines. Ask yourself and your team – When did the project get stuck on accomplishing the goals, and how did you get beyond it? What green approach failed on the project and what did you learn from it? What will you always remember about this project? What green feature will you definitely incorporate on your next project? What are you most proud of when you drive by the completed project? You could do this with the project team and stakeholders as charrette-style brainstorming exercise and see what themes emerge. Then you can pull out the LEED scorecard as another lens to think about the unique story of your project.

The best stories may not be individual building features, but human stories that resulted from the project. Here are some examples of stories that still stand out for me from one of our earliest LEED projects, Merrill Hall by the Miller Hull Partnership. This project accomplished the following:

  • A diverse community of stakeholders came together to seek alternative funding and enable the Center for Urban Horticulture to rise from the ashes of a fire (literally) and create a building that exemplified their mission of stewardship.
  • The project inspired a student group to lobby for green building standards campus-wide, leading to adoption of a LEED requirement for capital projects.
  • The design opened the space to the surrounding natural environment and created a great outdoor living room for more collaboration and education.

Do you feel your project is more boring than this? Think it won’t lead to wholesale change like Merrill Hall? Maybe, but there is still something to be learned. Here are some of the fun stories from the more mundane projects we’ve worked.

  • A contractor figured out how to collect rainwater from a nearby hillside to pressure test waste water tanks at a waste water treatment plant instead of using large quantities of municipal water which saved resources and a lot of money.
  • An industrial park building put in bike racks and shower and restrooms for tenants (something tenants usually have to build themselves) to earn LEED points, one of several LEED features that attracted tenants and caused the park to lease out quickly.
  • An office building renovation of a 1960’s building earned LEED Gold after starting out with a stretch goal of LEED Silver.

The message from these examples is that your project is unique, has a story to share, and people can learn from every green building. Tune in next week for discussion on how to turn these stories into a “credit-worthy” green building education plan.


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 Part 2 
Do I Need A Green Building Credential?
SBAi: Introducing the Next Generation of SBA Education & Service
Green Building Jobs in Lousy Market
Time to Deal with Your LEED AP Credential


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