Sustainable design is a rollercoaster ride

Canadian entertainment design agency FORREC gives five tips on how to promote sustainability to clients

As a global leader in entertainment projects, Toronto-based design firm FORREC has an opportunity to impact environments, the people who experience them and the developers who create them. What does this have to do with sustainability? Everything.

Like many, I am committed to supporting a sustainable future at an individual and family level. As a CEO, I have the opportunity and responsibility to create an even greater impact: making a difference and sending a message that reaches many. To accomplish this, our management team has taken on a corporate initiative to become industry leaders in sustainable design.

We’ve decided to put sustainability on the agenda whether a client requests sustainable design or not, and whether there are government regulations in place in the applicable region or not. We challenge our clients, the many consultants we work with and, most importantly, ourselves, to push the boundaries and incorporate sustainable principles at the core of every design. There’s no doubt that this can be challenging—especially given cultural differences, budget limitations and the immersive nature of our projects. So, how are we tackling this challenge, and what lessons can be shared in weaving sustainability and environmentally conscious values into the client’s mindset?

Here are five tips on how to promote sustainability to clients.

Tell the story of sustainability

Incorporating sustainable features into the narrative of the design is crucial for securing buy-in and creating a clear vision for a project. It can’t just be about including a sustainable feature, it has to be about how sustainability is part of the entire STORY for the end-user, the consumer.

Think of the marketing bonus! Brands worldwide are realizing that consumers are requesting sustainable features in every aspect of their lives. There is a rich storytelling opportunity to get consumers excited and leverage sustainability as a competitive advantage when people are choosing which attractions to visit on their next trip.

Take Cinderella’s Castle at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. In 2009, Cinderella’s Castle replaced 200,000 traditional light bulbs with LEDs for its holiday light show. While the energy savings were massive—the entire light show now runs on the same amount of energy needed to run three laundry dryers—the transition itself was a compelling story and part of Disney’s sustainability positioning. Plus, visitors to the park still get the same great entertaining experience. 

Show the ROI

The business case for sustainability always needs to be top of mind. It is important to speak the same language as your clients, and this often comes down to the bottom-line. Renewable energy opportunities are rapidly becoming more affordable to implement. For example, we challenge the client’s assumptions that solar power is out of their budget and show the value-added. We push clients to consider raised solar panels in parking areas, where they provide a dual purpose: generating power and creating shade, thereby reducing the impact of the sun’s thermal energy on individual vehicles during hot summer days.

Water management systems are not top of mind for theme park guests, but from an operator’s perspective, there are simple things that you can design to reduce potential environmental impact and increase savings. Proper water management can minimize the use and waste of potable water and increase client ROI, with the integration of water-efficient fixtures, stormwater recycling systems and the use of native plants. The latter are adapted to the local environment and require much less additional watering.

Re-imagine, reduce, reuse, recycle

In the world of theme park design, it is already common to reuse or recycle elements of past attractions and rides. It is easy to get distracted by the latest green technologies and materials, but sometimes the most sustainable option is to repurpose what you have, rather than constructing something new from scratch. In addition to being more environmentally sound, this approach can also prove to be beneficial for clients—saving them both time and money.

For example, when FORREC was designing an expansion project for Dollywood, we repurposed the stair towers of the retired adventure play area and re-imagined them as a new part of the new Firechaser roller coaster experience. Thematically, these towers became forest fire lookout towers and served multiple important functions—including providing a shade structure for the queue as well as pass-throughs for the coaster ride itself, adding an extra thrill to the guest experience.

Courtesy FORREC

Reduction of use can be just as important. For LEGOLAND Deutschland, FORREC designed a parking lot to include permeable asphalt roadways and parking spots with permeable concrete pavers. Stormwater is captured into bioswale percolation ponds, which allows for regeneration of the water table. Any overflow is captured within stormwater retention ponds, and plants filter the water further before it is released into the natural water system. Oil and other products—an unfortunate reality of parking lots—are captured by the biomass, which is removed and treated off-site every few years and then replaced. The result is that rainwater is now able to replenish the local water table and contribute to a healthier ecosystem, rather than being diverted to an off-site stormwater system.

Photo by Klaus Leidorf 

Take advantage of the Canadian advantage

As a Canadian company working in the global entertainment market, FORREC’s sustainability principles and expertise give us the unique ability to change opinions and perspectives on sustainable design. Coming from Canada—a country that is perceived as vast and rich in natural resources—FORREC is often asked why we concern ourselves with sustainability. Clients are often surprised when we demonstrate to them how sustainable design can be functional, fun and help the bottom-line.

Working around the globe, we understand the realities of what sustainability means for each country. For example, the changes Asia has undergone in the last 25 years are monumental, and sustainability is only now becoming top-of-mind in the region. Being from Canada, FORREC can share Canada’s history of implementing sustainable features into projects. This Canadian advantage allows us to knowledgeably weigh-in on and pitch sustainable features to our clients—as we know which ones will work, and which ones won’t.

Globally, the biggest hurdle for environmental design is typically the same—the initial capital costs. For many sustainability initiatives, cost savings may not come to fruition until years, if ever, after the project is built and operational. Being from Canada, FORREC is lucky to have many examples of sustainable features to point to that offer a great ROI once built, or a positive corporate message that speaks of its culture. For example, green roofs serve multi-purposes: they reduce stormwater run-off, create a habitat supporting biodiversity in urban areas, provide a cooling effect on buildings, reduce energy costs, and are a positive aesthetic influence reinforcing a sustainable culture.

Courtesy FORREC

Walk the walk: embody sustainable living internally

Selling sustainability to clients is only half the battle. If you want to take this to the next level, firms need to be able to walk the walk and talk the talk. This means making sure that sustainability is at the core of how you live and breathe as an organization. It means empowering your team to make sustainable decisions at every level.

To do this at FORREC, we have a sustainability task force that examines how to make our work more sustainable internally at our offices. The FORREC sustainability task force has implemented some real changes that can easily be replicated elsewhere. For example, we’ve recently purchased a company bicycle and helmet to reduce our carbon footprint and encourage healthy living. Employees are encouraged to use it to run office errands or when travelling to nearby project sites. The FORREC Bicycle is a great example of how everyone can easily implement environmentally friendly choices into their workplace: not every change has to be huge to make a difference.

Cale Heit is President and CEO of FORREC.