Halie Colbourne, Sustainability Associate and Matthew Koester, Sustainability Coordinator | BCCI Construction
This year, BCCI’s Sustainability Team had the privilege of participating in the U.S. Green Building Council’s GreenerBuilder Conference, San Francisco’s premier venue for architects, contractors, owners and other green building professionals to learn about cutting edge projects and latest trends in the Bay Area.
The conference opened with Vien Truong, CEO of The Dream Corps, who led the opening plenary. The Dream Corps champions nationwide policy to advocate for and address the needs of disadvantaged communities. Truong wove several threads, including the effects of poor air and water quality on Oakland and Flint-raised children, renewable energy, and state policy into a moral imperative for green building. In building inclusively and designing to mitigate the impacts on water and air quality, Truong notes that we have an opportunity to lift up disenfranchised communities and employ the community in a green economy. This theme was carried throughout the rest of the conference.
The first session focused on Rebuilding Resiliency, a crucial topic in the Bay Area due to the devastating wildfires that seem to occur during any season in California now. Led by Ann Edminster (Design AVEnues), Robin Stephani (8th Wave) and Bob Massaro (Health Buildings) the panelists shared solutions such as the urgency for cities to develop temporary housing ordinances. The idea is to utilize prefabricated housing for temporary use during and after natural disasters, similar to what Homes for Sonoma has been doing since the massive wildfires erupted in the North Bay last October. The speaker’s firms are actively working towards connecting wildfire victims with tax credits and rebates to rebuild their homes with features including Energy Star appliances, solar panels and passive heating and cooling systems. Massaro said Healthy Building’s projects are moving away from using natural gas as this can cause dangerous flare ups in the aftermath of these wildfires. He further explains that when building for a homeowner, his firm analyzes their fire insurance policy to pressure the company to finance these measures. The panelists also noted that the wildfires can still impact buildings throughout the Bay Area with high levels of particulate matter. Indoor air quality is a major component of LEED and WELL projects, and smoke/particulate matter (PM) levels become a concern when most building systems have to accommodate a minimum level of outside air. It is important to realize that wildfires directly impacting residential homes in Northern California can also indirectly impact commercial buildings in the city. Focusing on resilient building practices supports the green economy and reinforces the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit.
The session Women in Green: The Power of Diversity was another wonderful session led by Gabrielle Bullock (Perkins+Will), Kimberley Lewis (USGBC) and Andrea Traber (Integral Group) who highlighted the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Bullock began Perkins&Will’s Diversity + Inclusion + Engagement council in 2014 as a way to foster their culture’s talent and engagement, and to create a “diverse and inclusive practice and profession”. Bullock shared some of their focus areas such as recruitment, retention and mitigating unconscious biases. At the onset of this council, they measured their workforce gender balance, finding that women in leadership make up 25 percent where the AIA (American Institute of Architects) industry average is a mere 17 percent; in 2014, 44 percent of their workforce was comprised of women. Through their devotion to diversity and inclusion they have managed to increase their percentage to 48 percent women in the span of four years.
Their commitment to workplace diversity has produced impressive project wins as their clients are looking for diversity in a project team. Traber elaborated on these metrics mentioning the International Living Future Institute’s JUST Label which has helped Integral Group quantify similar metrics around gender equality and transparency. As a participant of the JUST Label, we were pleased to hear other companies using the JUST Label as a metric. BCCI committed to its JUST Label in 2014 and since becoming a JUST company has been able to benchmark, create and improve existing policies, as well as utilize the platform to increase our company transparency. The JUST Label allows companies to understand where there might be room for improvement. BCCI is currently working on obtaining better data in the Equity category as a commitment to one of our core values, Transparency, and to continue to strive for authenticity and equality in the workplace.
As Kimberly Lewis, USGBC’s Senior Vice President stated, progress towards a green economy has not been without its moral challenges. From building resiliency for natural disasters to increasing equity in the workplace, we are excited to see these challenges being addressed by visionaries like Truong and our green building community. In Truong’s words, we will continue to “build up, build power and build the future.”
Kena David, Sustainability Manager | BCCI Construction
Amanda Sturgeon, CEO of the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) and keynote speaker, kicked off the conference with this year’s four-letter word, a word that we should all be mindful of throughout the conference: FAIL. This was shocking, especially for those of us in the sustainability world, revealing to us how we fall short of the goals set forth by ILFI. Her message was that we must acknowledge our shortcomings and not dwell on them in order to focus on how we can change our approach to make a difference in our own lives and within our business. To improve initiatives, we must look at our current state.
Two of the primary values of ILFI are social justice and community. The JUST program was created by ILFI as a transparency platform to help organizations assess their operations, policies, and financial and community investments. At BCCI, our journey with JUST began in 2014, reviewing our existing company policies and financials to benchmark our current state of social justice, equity, and stewardship.
This year’s unConference featured a track with sessions focused on equity, including “Taking Action to Advance Social Equity in the Workplace” in which I spoke about BCCI’s JUST Label. The panel consisted of early adopters of the JUST program who shared what changes they have made since becoming a JUST organization. Our own experience with JUST has resulted in improvements to a number of company policies and procedures.
For BCCI, benchmarking has been the most valuable benefit to pursuing the JUST Label. It gives companies the opportunity to assess current social justice measures, quantify them, and make objective decisions to optimize future efforts. For example, at BCCI we took a second look at our Charitable Giving activities, as that is an area that significantly contributes to our company culture. Through obtaining our JUST Label and analyzing how well we performed in Stewardship, we were able to quantify our current efforts, improve future charitable giving, and align the goals of our Community Builders committee, an internal group committed to supporting the communities in which we work through volunteering and fundraising.
One other area in which we are looking to improve is Safety. As a general contractor, we have an excellent safety record, with an experience modification rating well below industry standard. However, the way in which Safety was measured by JUST, with all industries measured equally, our score was on the lower end of the scale. In our resubmission to renew our JUST Label, the JUST Program Manager realized that the difference between recordable incidents to cases with a job transfer, restriction, or days away from work was significant; and therefore, adjusted our stats for Safety to reflect our 12+ months of no lost time injuries.
Resonating with the unConference’s theme of Authenticity + Action, BCCI is not only interested in documenting our efforts as a JUST organization, but also how we can improve on our policies and future initiatives. In the session I was a part of, both the panelists and the audience shared ideas on how organizations can push to grow and increase their commitments to social justice and equity in the workplace. As BCCI prepares to renew our JUST Label again later this year, we are working to gather and disclose even more information about gender equality to continue to improve equity and diversity. As a JUST organization, BCCI will continually strive for authenticity and transparency to bring and to maintain social equity in our workplace.
The International Living Future Institute is part nonprofit, part think-tank and part regenerative design framework. The institute’s most prominent rating system, the Living Building Challenge (LBC), has congruent aspirations to other systems. Like LEED, LBC strives to reduce our impact on the environment by encouraging commissioning and efficient water fixtures. Parallel to WELL, LBC underlines the importance of human health in facilitating healthy lifestyle choices and less toxic material selection.
The ILFI and LBC, however, move past LEED and WELL in beckoning a paradigm shift in how we consider green building. Instead of innovating within established norms, the breakouts, keynotes and networking sessions at Living Future were oriented around building in ecologically and socially restorative ways. The ILFI is interested in how structures can enhance and restore systems in communities, whether it involves water cycles, embodied carbon in materials, urban agriculture or energy storage. We spent several days discussing ways in which buildings could be viewed as habitats for humans, and contribute rather than take from local geographies. The LBC’s framework allows designers, architects, and contractors to step outside of the box- striving towards constructing impressive buildings such as these:
Kern Center, Hampshire, NH: 46 acres dedicated to permanent conservation; 1.6 acres for organic farm production
Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes, Pittsburgh, PA: Embodied carbon in materials; net zero energy
ARCH | NEXUS, Sacramento, CA: Contribution to public bicycle infrastructure; net zero water