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    How Green is Your Practice? 5 Ways to Improve Your Sustainability Cred

    How often have you come across this statement when putting together a proposal?

    Describe your firm’s experience with delivering LEED Gold-certified projects.

    Or what about this one?

    What is your firm’s approach to achieving Net-Zero Energy?

    If you’ve noticed an uptick in these and other Sustainability-related questions when vying for projects, you’re not alone. Like it or not, Sustainability has become a critical (i.e. required) element in the design and delivery of projects, especially in California. And with good reason.

    According to Architecture2030, buildings (that’s those of us who occupy them, by the way) account for nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions—28 percent from operations and 11 percent from embodied carbon. To even stand a chance of reversing the impact of climate change, the U.N. estimates that we need to cut global emissions by 7.6 percent every year for the next decade. That’s not a lot of time!

    In California, the state set ambitious goals for zero net energy buildings, including requiring  all new residential and commercial construction to be net-zero by 2020 and 2030, respectively. As of December 2020, 41 cities have adopted stricter building codes that require (or encourage) all newly constructed buildings to be all-electric.

    At the same time, the Biden Administration’s ambitious Plan for Climate Change and Environmental Justice seeks to achieve a 100 percent clean energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050 through increased Federal government spending ($$$) in green infrastructure, stricter building codes, and incentives for deep-green retrofits.

    In short, change is coming and our clients are looking to us to help them navigate this change. However, they also expect that we are up to the challenge. Is your practice green enough?

    Metrics Matter
    Nothing inspires confidence in your clients more than a comprehensive list of green-certified projects (i.e. LEED, WELL, BREEAM, FitWel, Passive House Net-Zero, etc.)—except for the fact that some of the most sustainable projects aren’t even certified. With an increasing number of clients looking beyond green certifications as a measure of Sustainability, what’s a marketing professional to do?

    Sustainability, like everything else in the A/E/C industry, is quantifiable. At the very least, it’s about resource efficiency (i.e. reductions in energy, water, material use, etc.), cost savings, and return on investment. Beyond the general numbers (which you should always have in your back pocket), having these metrics for each and every project and including them in proposals, qualifications, and presentations shows clients that you know what you’re doing (for the most part) and that you have a proven track record of success.

    Have a Plan
    What is your firm’s approach to achieving Net-Zero Energy?

    If you find yourself having to recreate a Sustainability approach for each and every proposal, I’m sorry to say that you do not have a plan. You have a problem.

    Unless the client specifically asks that you go into detail, keep your approach at a high-level (i.e., Keep It Simple, Silly) or, even better, turn it into an infographic.

    Having a simple, well-thought, step-by-step approach goes a long way in putting your client at ease, signaling that you are taking on the burden of complexity and charting a way forward.

    Oh, and please make sure your team knows what the process is, instead of passing the mic to your Sustainability Specialist. That’s never a good look.

    Walk the Talk
    Your Sustainability experience doesn’t count for anything if you don’t practice it yourself.

    What we’re seeing now is an increasing shift towards supplier transparency, with many large corporations, public institutions, and government entities requiring A/E/C firms to disclose their own Sustainability metrics and practices (cue the Arriba PTSD flashbacks).

    Is your office green-certified? Do you have a sustainable procurement plan? Does your firm purchase carbon offsets for air travel? What percentage of your employees have their LEED, WELL, FitWel, and/or Passive House credentials?

    Expect these types of questions (and more) to come up in proposals and be prepared to answer them.

    Join the Club
    Is your firm a signatory to the AIA2030, SE2050, Contractor’s Commitment, Net-Zero Buildings, and all the other industry-led carbon commitments out there? If not, what are you hiding?

    These aren’t your average, everyday pledges to reduce carbon emissions. As a signatory to many of these programs, you are required to publicly disclose the operational and embodied carbon performance on all projects and benchmark them against industry standards and all other projects in the database.

    The reason for keeping score goes back to the fact that our industry is responsible for almost half of global carbon emissions and that it will take a dedicated and concerted effort on our part to reduce that.

    By signing up to these commitments (plural), you are setting an example to your clients, declaring that you are committed to achieving the highest possible standards (Net-Zero) and that you are proactively pursuing these goals even before it’s mandated by legislation (which is coming very, very soon).

    What’s your X factor?

    If all A/E/C firms espouse the values of Sustainability, why should the client hire you? How does your practice differentiate itself from the competition? What are you bringing to the table that the client can’t find anywhere else?

    Relationships matter more than anything in our industry, but so does reputation. Especially when entering new markets or pursuing new clients, nothing beats a stellar reputation, not just for your firm but also the individuals in your practice.

    Thought leadership, research, publicity, even service to industry organizations—all of this counts toward how your practice is perceived in the public eye and how you position yourself as an expert in consistently delivering sustainable, high-performance work.

    Ultimately, clients want to know that they are in a safe pair of hands before they opt to hire you. These key points are not far off from what you would typically include in a proposal, albeit more focused on Sustainability. Tedious though they may sound, the opportunity cost of foregoing all that potential work coming down the pipeline is too great to ignore. If nothing else, emphasizing your Sustainability credentials gives clients one more good reason to hire you.

    Phillip Gangan is the firm-wide Marketing Knowledge Manager for Sustainability at HOK. As a former journalist, Phillip brings his editorial expertise to HOK’s marketing, research, and public relations endeavors. He serves the SMPS SFBAC Communications Team as a writer and editor.

     

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