Let’s put the same energy into DEI that we put into sustainability

August 11, 2021

Let’s put the same energy into DEI that we put into sustainability

By Trish Nixon and Angie Cole
Aug 2, 2021

Sustainability has become so entrenched in our industry that it is easy to forget that LEED — the most prominent certification standard — has already been around for 23 years. In its infancy, only a few visionary architects and developers were ready to jump on the “green bandwagon.”

In 2005, Hillsboro Civic Center was only the second City Hall development in the U.S. to achieve LEED Gold certification. There were just 296 buildings with LEED certification in the U.S.

By 2018, that number had already grown to 67,200. One year later, USGBC achieved a major milestone by certifying its 100,000th project. The first multifamily Passive House project built in the United States, the KILN Apartments in Portland’s North Williams neighborhood, also arrived.

Our companies are proud that our home state is one of the top 10 in the country in terms of sustainable projects. The vast majority of buildings designed and built today are sustainable. Non-LEED projects might be affiliated with BREEAM, Green Globes, WELL, Passive House, Earth Advantage, SITES or any of the other green standards.

Most developers who don’t seek formal certification typically use sustainable materials or embed green features, such as green roofs or EV charging stations, in their projects even if existing codes don’t require them. Such measures are a response to tenants’ increasing demands for sustainability. From an economic perspective, it is widely recognized that in the long-term, sustainable features make sense.

So, what’s next? We’d argue that for work environments and communities to be truly sustainable, our collective attention now needs to focus on the sustainability of people. Not only should there be a focus on health and wellness but also much more attention to equity, diversity and inclusion.

Sustainable communities and workplaces aren’t simply made of bricks and mortar. Truly robust workplaces and communities are sustained by equity, diversity and inclusion. As architects, contractors, developers, and owners, we have taken pledges to design and build sustainably. We have made the commitment to transparency in our selection and use of materials, and to respect and preserve the environment.

The next step is to be more committed to equity, diversity and inclusion as critical aspects of the environment of our economy; to be transparent in our support for and promotion of equity, diversity and inclusion in our own workplaces and our own communities. There is already a broad movement for this in business. Institutional investors, such as pension funds and their advisers, are laser focused on ESG — environmental, social and governance — as areas of risk but also opportunity.

The growth of socially responsible investing is promoting a wide range of businesses, from green to minority-owned and disadvantaged firms.

We know that equity, diversity and inclusion within the real estate industry has significant room for improvement, and acting on this is going to be especially important within real estate along with architecture, engineering and construction. The state of Oregon has programs like COBID (Certification Office for Business Inclusion and Diversity) to foster an environment where women, minority, and disadvantaged-owned businesses can compete fairly, regardless of race, gender, disability or size, something that we strongly advocate.

But companies throughout our industry can move the needle even more by supporting efforts at every level, from education through hiring to advancement, in order to create a more representative and resilient AEC community. This means supporting women, minority, and disadvantaged-owned firms, many of which are too small to take on large scale projects in our industry, even if they have the capabilities. It means expanding racial and gender equity throughout the sector. It means supporting industry groups like the Urban Land Institute and CREW in pushing diversity and inclusion nationally as well as here at home.

Creating a truly diverse AEC sector and real estate industry is not only a timely thing to do, it will ensure the sustainability of our broader economy moving forward. That alone is a worthwhile cause. Because a sustainable, vibrant and diverse economy is the one thing absolutely guaranteed to preserve the viability of the AEC sector for future generations.
Trish Nixon is president and managing principal of LRS Architects, a majority women-owned firm. Angie Cole is director of marketing for Lorentz Bruun Construction.