Sustainability Progress Check: Manufacturing Firms in the Architecture and Engineering Industry – Sustainability Lessons from ArchitectureBoston Expo (ABX)
In November, 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?
- Future of the FSC: What Happens When Manufacturers Reject Certification?
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 gathered survey results from 30 manufacturers ranging in size from 1-10 employees to 550+ employees to gauge their sustainability performance and pressure from stakeholders. Exactly ⅓ of the respondents are doing little to no work in sustainability - not tracking any metrics other than those required by law and, in most cases, offering LEED credits. On the flip side, ⅓ have completed full sustainability reports and many had done EPDs, HPDs, and/or LCAs or carbon footprints for their core business. The remaining ⅓ was - obviously - somewhere in the middle, having a largely uncoordinated sustainability program that has been pieced together based on stakeholder pressure - certifications, submitting energy or water or supply chain data based on customer requests.
Essentially, the industry seemed evenly split with regard to tracking sustainability information, but as predicted, the companies with the most employees and most visible global brands are doing the most work and completing more comprehensive analysis - and seeing financial returns on their sustainability efforts. The larger the company, the more resources to dedicate to sustainability, the more they benefit.
However, companies across the board reported that they were feeling pressure from stakeholders - whether architects or builders or developers - to report more thoroughly on sustainability. More than 42 percent of respondents said they have been asked for carbon footprint data, LCA, and/or HPDs/EPDs in the past year. Nearly 30 percent of respondents have been asked for specific data points - water use, supply chain certifications, energy use, and/or waste information. An additional 7 percent have been asked by shareholders or clients for a full sustainability report.
Although stakeholders are asking for information, very few draw hard lines when the information isn’t readily available, with companies noting that the frequency of being asked for the information is increasing, but they have yet to feel a negative effect for not having the information on hand.
The question is: When will the critical tipping point be reached when an LCA or EPD or HPD be required as a standard part of an RFP for a major construction project, and will the ⅔ of companies with little to no comprehensive data be ready in time to be competitive on the project?
The average GRI-compliant sustainability report, an HPD or EPD, or a comprehensive, third-party verified life-cycle assessment can take more than six months to complete, start to finish. And the investment in a sustainability project for a small to medium sized manufacturing firm can range from tens of thousands of dollars to 10-times that amount...
So what should your company do?
We believe it’s time for companies to build a sustainability reporting strategy into the overall operating budget so all of the reporting mechanisms and comprehensive data are on-hand when that critical tipping point is reached.
The next questions are:
- What type of reporting should your business be focused on?
- What should you budget for sustainability?
- How do you use the sustainability tools to your competitive advantage?
Luckily, with more than 10 years’ experience in the field, we can answer all of these questions for you in less than it cost to attend ABX in the first place.
We encourage all of our potential clients to invest in training for their employees so they understand the advantages of strategic sustainability implementation, the material issues for the industry segment you compete in, what your peers are doing, and how you can take a leadership role in sustainability through effective planning.
Instead of engaging us for a year-long life-cycle assessment project, when you really just need an EPD or to start your first annual sustainability report, take advantage of our 1-Day Sustainability Assessment and Rapid-Decision Making Workshop. For a fraction of the cost of your sustainability program, we will guide you and your team through
- Sustainability 101
- Give you our recommendations for the best-course for your company
- Facilitate a rapid-decision making discussion to further narrow down a path forward that meets your company's needs, budget, resources, and goals.
We'd love to hear from you! Check out our full service offerings and submit a contact form and we'll be happy to schedule a 15-minute phone call to help you clarify next steps on your sustainability journey.