Published 1 year ago.
About a 5 minute read.
Image: University of British Columbia
If an organization commissions a multimillion-dollar building or renovation, how can it double or triple the social and environmental benefits from its investment? Many green building standards already exist, but what if it was possible to go beyond them — to design a building process that was transformational in its execution?
Society is at an inflection point. The intersecting crises of climate change,
rising inequality and systemic racism are driving organizations to rethink their
roles in society as they mobilize their resources, reach, scale and influence to
help put humanity on a sustainable course. And there is yet one untapped
opportunity for organizations: to leverage their construction and building
projects to achieve exponential social good. If an organization is commissioning
a multimillion-dollar building or renovation, how can it double or triple the
social and environmental benefits from its investment?
Many green building standards already exist, but what if it was possible to go
beyond them — to design a building process that was transformational in its
execution? A new
Unlocking the Potential of Campus Infrastructure Projects to Build Social
Infrastructure, shows how.
It is a think piece designed to prompt visionary and “out-of-the-box” ideas at
the outset of a building or renovation project. It targets Canadian
universities, but it is relevant to any organization anywhere that is
commissioning a building or major renovation. It is especially relevant in a
world with rising social divisions, inequality and
The report is a call to action for organizational leaders, real estate
developers, architects, engineers, procurement and facility managers, and others
who are planning significant construction or renovation projects to have those
projects become catalysts for social change. Following the ideas in this paper
as set out below can help builders create social good by mobilizing the building
process itself to tackle society’s challenges.
The Project Social Purpose Continuum below sets up the options available to
organizations to accelerate societal benefits through their building
Early in the effort, project teams should consider what level they aspire to,
beyond levels 1 and 2, where most building projects tend to operate today.
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The level of ambition chosen will start to align project stakeholders and signal
to them the larger purpose of the undertaking. Next, project teams should
determine the social purpose of the project and plan to cascade this purpose
through all phases of development and operation — going beyond conventional
considerations of building users and uses. A social purpose acts as the
project’s North Star and guides decisions and trade-offs, setting the course and
guide rails for the project’s execution. Answering the following questions can
help the project team define the social purpose of the project.
Once you have determined the social purpose of your project, you can develop
goals to achieve that purpose, and can agree on the organizational assets you
plan to leverage for your project to further your societal goals. Assets can
include products, services, employee bases, technology platforms, supply chains
and relationships with industry, academia, suppliers, contractors, training
institutes and others. You can harness these assets and competencies to help
bring your purpose to life and advance the social goals of your project.
With this in hand, you can develop social-change initiatives to pursue along the
full lifecycle of the project, from pre-planning to project initiation,
planning design and
closeout; and evaluation, opening, operations and legacy.
In addition to adding your social goals to the planning, design and delivery
stages of your project, you can do the same with your project’s value chain. How
can the value chain be a force for good and generate societal benefits in the
process of the building project? Here’s a schematic to help you think about
This is an ambitious new mandate for building and infrastructure projects, but
the times call for nothing short of a hard-driving rethink of the purpose of the
building process. If it seems overwhelming, start small – you don’t have to
figure it out overnight and you don’t have to do it all.
As you go down this path, you will learn how much people gravitate to this. Your
organization will benefit from the pro-social efficiency that comes when people
contribute — even overcontribute — to your success because they can see
themselves in the value your organization is creating through this project.
While there are hurdles ahead, these investments will benefit organizations over
the long term. The business case or the spreadsheet should not drive this
direction; nor should challenges — though real and immediate — be allowed to
stall the effort. This is the 21st-century reality of organizational
driven by the social issues and imperatives of the era.
gives organizations a resource to help them uncover a potent way for building
projects to contribute to the greater good. By reimagining the investment,
pursuing a societal North Star, and harnessing and mobilizing underutilized
assets, organizations can set the course for greater societal impact through the
building process. By looking up and down the development process and the
building value chain, organizations can broaden their lens on opportunities and
partners. There is untapped and exponential potential for organizations to
unlock greater social good from their building projects. In doing so, they will
unleash powerful solutions for tackling society’s greatest challenges.
Published Jan 21, 2022 1pm EST / 10am PST / 6pm GMT / 7pm CET