Atlanta-based Lord Aeck Sargent is the first architectural firm in Georgia to earn the International Living Future Institute’s JUST Organizations label.
LAS Sustainability Director Jim Nicolow notes in a post on the firm’s blog that the achievement ties closely into to the Living Building at Georgia Tech. LAS is lead design firm on the Tech project, and the Living Building Challenge Equity Petal requires at least one project team member to attain a JUST Label.
The Living Building Challenge (LBC) doesn’t just compel designers to design resilient, sustainable buildings, it also now gives attention to the workplaces where living buildings are designed, requiring firms to look in the mirror and assess the degree to which they are “JUST.”
While the Place, Water, Energy, Health + Happiness, Materials, and Beauty Petals relate primarily to the built environment, the Imperatives of the Equity Petal seek to support “a just, equitable world.” Its requirements include the creation of human-scaled places, universal access to nature, charitable contributions and, as of Version 3 of the LBC, a JUST Organizations Imperative.
JUST is a transparency and disclosure program fashioned by ILFI as “The Social Justice Label.” It doesn’t include performance standards. But the process forces companies to research and think about their metrics in such areas as diversity, worker benefits, local benefits and stewardship.
For example, LAS reveals in its disclosures that 20.4 percent of its employees are non-white, that its lowest paid employee makes 28 percent more than a “living wage,” and that it has a thoroughly defined policy to use sustainable materials in its buildings. Nicolow writes:
Taking just under a year from start to finish, the JUST Label process provoked passionate, in-depth discussions about the mission of the firm in the context of social equity and justice. The Worker Happiness Indicator required a two-question staff survey assessing job satisfaction and likeliness to recommend Lord Aeck Sargent as a good place to work, on a scale of one-to-ten. We expanded the survey to include a field for comments on each question and found the comments provided great insights into what we do well, such as creating a positive, balanced firm culture and supporting professional development; as well as some areas with room for improvement, such as articulating a clear vision and providing resources for project managers, which we’ll attempt to address in the coming year.
In an email exchange, Nicolow added: “The driver [in seeking the JUST Label] was our involvement with the Georgia Tech project, where all key members committed to pursuing the label. But we think it will have recruiting benefits, too, as well as hopefully providing continuing impetus to make us a better employer over time.”
LAS isn’t the only firm involved in the Georgia Tech building to be designated a JUST Organization. The Seattle-based Miller Hull Partnership, the Atlanta-based Epsten Group, and Atlanta’s Southface Energy Institute are among 45 organizations that previously attained the label. While most of those companies and nonprofits are tied to design, construction or building products, the label isn’t restricted to any particular industry.