Three Harvard Business School students participated in a volunteer consulting project in Jordan over January term to promote environmentally sustainable building practices. The project was sponsored by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Global Impact Experience (GIX) program, a new program at HBS that gives students the opportunity to work for an international development organization during winter break.
Julien Bert (OI), Laila Kassis (NJ) and I arrived in the capital city of Amman soon after New Year’s to begin our two-week project. We each brought our own unique skills to the project. Laila Kassis worked previously in Amman with Endeavor to promote local entrepreneurs and speaks fluent Arabic. Julien Bert worked four years in consulting with The Boston Consulting Group where he honed his strong modeling skills. And I worked previously in energy trading and consulting and plan to spend my career focused on energy.
Green building is an important topic in Jordan right now for several reasons. First, the country is undergoing rapid expansion and investment, which provides a ripe opportunity to incorporate sustainable design. Secondly, Jordan has limited resources – it is the fourth poorest nation in water resources and imports 96% of its electricity – which makes conservation a priority for both the government and the citizens whose utilities bill may soon cease to be subsidized. Finally, the country is interested in Western culture and is open to American frameworks such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building standards. It’s exciting to have the chance to work on such a critical topic of energy efficiency with the backing of USAID, which is a very influential development organization in Jordan.
One main component of our team’s project was an analysis of the upfront financial costs and long-term utilities bill savings of environmentally sustainable design. Though there are many detailed financial analyses of LEED certified buildings in the US, the cost of green building is different in Jordan. Renewable energy technology and other building materials need to be imported and the added time required for first-time green builders to understand the LEED requirements add an additional premium. We concluded that developing a LEED certified building in Jordan would cost 15% more than developing a traditional building, but that these added costs could be recouped within 11 years due to lower subsequent electricity and water consumption.
To support our analysis, we met with more than 30 local architects, contractors and politicians to identify the challenges to green building. Due to the early stage of the green building industry in Jordan, these meetings and record of opinions is a comprehensive snapshot of the green building community in Jordan. “I am so impressed with what the HBS team was able to accomplish in two weeks,” said USAID project sponsor Ramzi Sabella, Project Management Specialist.
In addition to the many interviews over chai tea and time spent building a financial model, we had a chance to explore the city and greater Jordan. We hiked through the natural rock formations and Nabataean ruins at Petra, slept in Bedouin tents in the Wadi Rum desert, caked ourselves in salty mud from the Dead Sea and climbed the steps of Artemis’ temple in the ancient Roman city of Jerash. In addition to these trips, we also had the pleasure of exploring the local cuisine. Favorite local foods for the team included Labneh, a sour cheese (Laila), fresh falafel sandwiches (Julien), and Turkish coffee with pistachio-crusted sweets (myself).
The GIX program was piloted last year with USAID offices in three countries: Jordan, Morocco and the Philippines. Now in its first official year as part of the January Term programs, GIX has expanded to four countries: Bangladesh, Jordan, Morocco and Uganda. GIX founder Rich Chung (OI) says that the program has struck a chord with students who simultaneously wish to travel over break and contribute their tremendous talents to a worthy cause. He hopes the program will continue to grow and measurably improve the HBS experience.