RSP’s Jeremi Van Wave explains how design, architecture and strategy are powering sustainability, wellness and ESG initiatives around the world.
It feels like something is about to start. After decades of working towards a more resilient, low-carbon future through design, regulation and the public seem to be catching up. We may finally have the critical mass to change climate change, or at least mitigate its trajectory. In addition, we may be looking to a healthier and more inclusive path. Companies around the world are rethinking what that means for their employees and office space.
New Regulations, New Opportunities
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced a major new rule last year. New regulations require companies to disclose more information about their climate impact. Until the final document is out, we won’t know what it is, but many of us believe it ties in with what the Greenhouse Gases (GHG) Protocol defines as Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. In other words, it is a factor directly related to the energy efficiency of a building.
In fact, this could be the biggest regulatory change to office buildings since the Americans with Disabilities Act. Publicly traded companies need to track, report, and display their progress towards their emissions targets, and this will almost certainly permeate all companies over time. All workplaces should be designed with these metrics in mind. And both workplace designers and clients will look to the future of these regulations. Not just the current rules, but also what the requirements will be in 3, 5 or 20 years. In most cases, it is far more cost-effective to put in place the infrastructure to reduce and track all emissions and act now.
It’s up to designers, architects, and other professionals to help organizations of all sizes meet these requirements and metrics.
In fact, we can already see a future where regulations are more advanced and scope 3 tracking is required. This means not only tracking the carbon footprint of a company’s real estate assets, but also the emissions of its entire supply chain. Companies already doing significant federal work ($50 million or more) should report and track this information. It’s only a matter of time before this extends to smaller government contractors as well. The EU has stricter reporting requirements, and companies doing or planning to do business in Europe are already tracking these data. Helping organizations of all sizes meet these requirements and metrics will increasingly fall to designers, architects, and other professionals. And we hope that this will significantly reduce our carbon footprint, benefiting the planet and humanity.
No more greenwashing
The pandemic brought about many social changes, but the shift to remote work overnight was especially significant. At the same time, for those of us who pay attention to ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) reporting, greenhouse gas reductions have led many companies to claim that they have reached their interim climate commitments years ahead of schedule. But the reality is that many of these emissions have simply been moved into people’s homes rather than true reductions. Similarly, corporate sustainability claims have come under increasing regulatory scrutiny, some even leading to litigation. In addition, the increased sophistication of the market for understanding and scrutinizing claims will create significant demand for better data and assurance related to environmental metrics, the built environment, and ESG.
…what kinds of metrics should be tracked to have the greatest impact on sustainability?
As we have learned through discussions with some clients with significant real estate portfolios, all of the new guidelines need to be validated. If a company says he planted 1000 trees, it needs to back it up. When an organization says he created 500 high-paying jobs in a developing country, it needs to be verified. Even companies that have been reporting on ESG, Scope 1 and Scope 2 metrics for years will require this additional scrutiny to provide more precise and detailed information.
And that brings us to the issue we’ve been investigating since March 2020. How much square footage should an organization really dedicate to the workplace and what kinds of metrics should it track to have the greatest impact on sustainability? It does not mean. But he continues to talk to Fortune 500 companies about the smartest ways to reduce office space and what that means for his climate efforts and his ESG goals. Again, everything should be tracked and reported. Ultimately, we need to reach our goal so that we can reach net zero overall by 2050.
What New Regulations Mean for Designers and Clients
As more companies measure and report on their ESG efforts, designers must continue to up their game. There are modeling and predictive aspects that create energy efficient workplaces, and operational and implementation aspects. Better and better technologies continue to be designed into the workplace to measure what we need to know today (such as energy consumption) and what we want to know tomorrow (the amount of carbon associated with our entire operations).
Our clients are becoming more informed about their options for making their workplaces more efficient and reducing their carbon footprint. As metrics are identified and measured, many clients are asking more questions about the big picture of reducing their environmental impact over the long term. The move is gaining momentum in other areas of his ESG related to the workplace. Specifically, recognizing that we minimize our impact on biodiversity through design and product selection, WELL certification.
More and more technology is being designed into the workplace to measure what we need to know today and what we want to know in the future.
In both cases, this shift is creating new opportunities for new types of built environment professionals. To minimize impacts on biodiversity, organizations should consider themselves stewards of their natural environment and identify exactly what kinds of materials, processes and plants have the most adverse impacts. You need to hire an expert who can tell.
WELL straddles the E/S line of ESG. And just as the new regulations have been announced, there is a scientific method and evidence-based rigor to this certification that has not been seen in the last few years. It’s another framework for making your organization more productive and efficient, and keeping your workplace and employees healthy. For designers, this means increasingly moving away from aesthetics and talking about issues that will affect clients for years to come.
Overall picture of sustainability
As a sustainability professional, architect and global citizen, the move to more rigorous ESG reporting feels like very good news. Across one organization and even across workplace departments, this will have a domino effect. Design standards will become more sustainable across the board. Many more buildings and spaces will be net zero from the start. The office remains a comfort for our clients with all the collaborative spaces, technology, aesthetics and branding we have always embraced.But it also reduces our overall impact on the environment. , creating healthier people and a healthier planet.