Sustainable habit: green buildings

In a world that is becoming ever-more environmentally conscious, does an eco-friendly building have the power to change the outlook of an entire company? finds out

When His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, opened the new Dubai Electricity And Water Authority (DEWA) service centre in Al Quoz in February, there were plenty of plaudits regarding its “green” credentials. And rightly so; it’s the largest government building in the world with a Platinum rating from green industry body LEED, fitted with sustainably sourced wood, solar panels, water recycling units and high performance insulation.

Innovative developments in areas of sustainability are high on the emirate’s agenda as it bids to host World Expo 2020, and the Crown Prince highlighted in his opening speech the hope that the groundbreaking construction would change the culture of the entire organisation.

So can a green building change the behaviour of a community or a company?

One man believes it can. Russell Smith is the Estate Manager for Engineering and Building at the University of Bradford in England and in 2011, in preparation for a move to a new, more energy efficient building, he set up the award-winning EMU Project. What’s interesting about the initiative, which aimed to “maximise engagement in carbon management”, is that it started before the move, when the staff and students of the School of Health were still in the old facility.

“They were in an awful building,” laughs Smith. “So we installed real-time monitoring, where people could see the difference made to energy use when they turned off their PCs and chargers and so on. But rather than do all this from afar we taught the staff how to use the system. It became a nice little challenge for them to see how much they could individually save, and we developed a really good relationship. It meant that when we moved into the new building they’d already given their ideas and feedback about how to make it run to its maximum capability. It had become ‘their’ building.”

Incredibly, the initiative was so successful, the University of Bradford received an emergency call from its energy supplier, which believed its meters had broken.

“That’s a great little story, and it does prove behaviour change is possible,” Smith cautions, “but you do need to keep on top of it and keep the initiatives going. People need to see that they are actually making a difference. We don’t have any wastepaper bins by our desks, for example. It caused a bit of an issue to start with, but the culture has changed now. There’s a bigger aim here than just cutting bills.”

Although, of course, that does help. Smith is now regularly asked for advice on how to implement similar projects because institutions can see the clear benefits for their business. So what one piece of advice does he give them?  “Senior management buy-in, without question,” he says. “If that’s in place, you can get on and encourage changes.”