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Are Architects Hurting Manufacturers’ Sustainability Progress? Sustainability Lessons from ArchitectureBoston Expo (ABX)

The SSC Team December 15, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Last month, we headed out to ArchitectureBoston Expo (ABX) to get the pulse on sustainability from the perspective of architects, engineers, builders, contractors, manufacturers, and other AEC professionals. We spoke to dozens of representatives from the more than 400 exhibitors about sustainability programs, sustainability strategy, and what they think of it all.

Our conversations resulted in two really great questions:

  • Are Architects Hurting Manufacturers’ Sustainability Progress? and
  • Future of the FSC: What Happens When Manufacturers Reject Certification? (Check back on Dec. 22 for our thoughts!)

Additionally, we took extra time and conducted a survey specifically targeted at companies that manufacture products (as opposed to service providers and distributors) used in the AEC field to delve deeper into what types of companies are doing what types of sustainability programs and why. We'll post our survey results in early January. 

So, are architects hurting manufacturers’ sustainability progress?

Talking to small-to-mid sized manufacturing companies, the most common strategic sustainability headache cited is being asked either directly or through the RFP process by an architecture firm, project management team, and/or developer whether or not they “have” or “can get” a specific certification, accreditation, or report to be competitive on the bid.

Some pressure is good

For example, most mid-sized companies (15-50 employees) we spoke with are aware of and able to offer LEED credits, at a bare minimum. And some have done and EPD or HPD reports. And others track specific sustainability metrics.

But nearly all of the smaller companies (1-15 employees) and start-ups told us that they wanted to figure out how to be able to offer LEED credits (and most hadn’t even heard of an HPD or EPD or LCA), but the certification process was unclear at the time – especially considering they are generally running a small, lean firm. To the folks we talked to, chasing certifications that don’t really mean much to them at this phase of their business wasn’t a smart financial choice right now, but they have it on the list.

This is where the pressure can be good. Even small companies are looking ahead to some of the industry’s most recognizable program – LEED – which, we believe, will eventually push them to open their eyes to why LEED exists, what consumer and regulatory pressures are driving “green” buildings, and to ask themselves “what’s next?” in terms of sustainability strategy and certifications.

After LEED, it gets hard

With all of the mid-sized companies offering LEED credits, we asked them “what else are you doing in sustainability? Some said nothing. Some said tracking waste or water or something relevant to their own corporate mission.

But most of them essentially ended with: We try to do what the client, usually the developer or architect wants, in terms of certifications or data submissions with regard to our environmental and social impact, but almost every time, each architect and each developer want different things.

Essentially, a single mid-sized manufacturing firm supplying coatings or interior glass to multiple clients on multiple projects all at different times faces being asked for multiple things, and often not presented in the same format.

One mid-sized interior finishings company representative said (and I paraphrase), “After awhile, as a mid-sized manufacturer, we can’t keep going around spending money and time on a dozen different certifications to meet the needs of a dozen different clients all wanting a different type of certification from us. The architecture industry needs to really figure out what it wants to know about the sustainability efforts of the companies they use to supply goods and services, and standardize that better.”

The overall feeling, was that an industry association – whether it is architects or developers, or both together – needs to take a leadership role and start developing an industry-wide reporting tool that works for the AEC industry, tailored to the process of design-build-maintain. Similar to what the Sustainable Apparel Coalition is doing for clothing.

Buildings and the built space are unique in so many ways, so having their own sustainability reporting program that actually tells us what the total environmental and social impact of a given building is needs to be the future of the industry.

So, who will step up?

In the meantime, we are here to help companies figure out the certifications or reports or data sets that will serve their own business operations best as clients and customers increase their demand for sustainability information. If you’re just getting started, we can help you understand the smartest path forward to keep you one step ahead.

 

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