When a company like Green Mountain Coffee Roasters establishes itself as a sustainability brand, there are high expectations for stakeholder engagement from the supply chain to the consumer and on into communities that host company headquarters and other facilities. Traditionally this is done through a visitor center, a primary goal of which is to engage current and potential customers. Visitor centers can also provide opportunities for local educators to engage their students in sustainability concepts, which in turn can have a powerful impact on local communities. However, designing an effective visitor center can be a bit of a challenge for back-office operations and other companies that don’t have much to offer visitors except a tour of their offices. So, for inspiration, let’s take a look at two public facilities that at first glance seem to be unlikely candidates for such a thing: The US Military and a Local Sewage Facility.
Community Engagement and the U.S. Military
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is aiming for LEED Gold certification for a new administration complex now under construction at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. Fort Belvoir already boasts some sustainability features and the new complex demonstrates a creative approach to community engagement. Though it is “just” an office complex, it includes a meticulously planned visitor center that showcases the facility’s many sustainability features – including a green roof on the visitor center itself. Even while under construction the complex is already hosting sustainability tours for students that include hands-on lessons in recycling, water conservation, erosion control, and energy efficiency. In a recent article, Dr. JoAnne Castagna of the USACE describes the impact on one young student, who was inspired to solve the problem of fitting large recycling bins into small apartments by lobbying her building’s management to have common bins installed in the mailroom.
Planning Ahead for Community Engagement
The Fort Belvoir project has the advantage of new construction, which enabled planners to attend to the details of sustainability engineering. For example, the facility will not only include racks with space for 300 bicycles, but it will also include something that will help ensure that the bike rack actually gets used by employees: a shower room. Companies with existing facilities don’t necessarily have this luxury, but any opportunity to upgrade, expand or retrofit could provide a showcase for sustainability features.
Stakeholder Engagement at the Local Sewage Treatment Plant
A sewage treatment plant seems like the last place on earth to attract visitors, but the effectiveness of a creative approach is clearly evident in space-squeezed New York City, which upgraded an its existing Newtown Creek sewage treatment plant to provide unique new opportunities for community engagement. Educational tours of the plant are part of the package, and on top of that, there are two features that don’t necessarily have much to do with education: a multipurpose area that can be used as a meeting space or event venue by community groups, and a public nature walkway along the creek that gives the plant its name. In other words, the upgrade provided a couple of opportunities for engagement that are not directly related to the facility’s operations, but do enable the community to make more use out of the facility.
Art and Community Engagement
Facility-based community engagement is also a challenge for companies with imposing manufacturing operations, but as the Newtown Creek plant demonstrates, art can be a powerful stakeholder engagement tool. A striking feature of the plant is an array of eight gigantic egg-shaped digesters, which stick out like a sore thumb. Rather than attempting to hide them within a structure, designers left them exposed in all their stainless steel glory, enhanced with a light display by a renowned lighting artist. The visitor center also includes an art gallery space that can be used by local community members.
Image: Sustainability education at Fort Belvoir, courtesy USACE.
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