Your firm'€™s sustainability matters

November 2010 » Departments » COMMENT
Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.

Log on to CH2M HILL’s website and you’ll quickly learn just how important sustainability is to the firm: “Our company’s effects on the environment, people, and the economy result from two distinctly separate spheres of activity: the conduct of our internal operations (facilities, procurement, and other functions) and the delivery of client projects. In both arenas, and as a signatory to the U.N. Global Compact, our executive leadership is fully committed to ensuring that our business policies incorporate and support sustainability goals for environment, people, and economy.

“As a leader in the industry and one of the first engineering and construction companies to publish a sustainability report in 2005, CH2M HILL continues a tradition of excellence and transparency in reporting on internal operations related to sustainability. Our goal is to both manage the impacts of our own operations and apply our company’s portfolio of services to help our clients’ organizations become more sustainable ...”

What stands out to me is that in all instances, the firm notes its internal practices before those it performs for its clients. Most civil and environmental engineering firms — regardless of size — focus more on what they do for clients and less about what they do internally when it comes to sustainable practices. This is a philosophy firms should rethink.

In a recent report from independent analyst firm Verdantix, a customer panel of independently recruited customers of engineering firms in the private and public sectors shared sentiments that what firms do internally matter when they are choosing which firms to work with. For example, the report states that the customer panel indicated that they would hire engineering firms with strong internal sustainability credentials. Unlike CH2M HILL, which is cited as a stand-out, many of the largest players in the market, like Bechtel and Fluor, do not focus sufficient resources on their own sustainability strategy to meet the requirements of the independent customer panel. Buying criteria include innovation for sustainability, a track record in delivering sustainability projects, and implementing an internal sustainability strategy.

Specifically, when asked to rate the importance of engineering firms “having an internal sustainability strategy with objectives,” 47 percent of potential customers rated it as very important and 47 percent as important. “Maintaining a low operational GHG footprint” was rated as very important by 33 percent and important by 33 percent. Meanwhile, “design of traditional infrastructure incorporating new sustainability objects” was rated as very important by only 13 percent of respondents and important by 60 percent.

Since this group of potential clients expects to commission a significant number of sustainable engineering projects during the next two years (93 percent are planning a green building, 87 percent a waste management or small-scale/onsite renewable, and 80 percent a water management project), firm leaders should be adjusting their emphasis on internal sustainability practices.

Firms that applied to the Best Civil Engineering Firms To Work For ranking — firms much smaller than those assessed in the Verdantix study — indicated the following ways they are practicing sustainability in their offices (percentage of firms):

  • Paper recycling program (96 percent)
  • Aluminum and plastic recycling program (94 percent)
  • Supports/encourages staff to obtain education and/or registration for providing sustainable services to clients (86 percent)
  • Energy-efficient appliances (70 percent)
  • Office(s) location/site design incorporates green principles (58 percent)
  • Has a sustainability or a green practices coordinator or committee (54 percent)

How does your firm stand up? How might you improve? Whether you are just starting out with installing energy efficient light bulbs or already have a chief sustainability officer, plow ahead and be sure your corporate messaging educates potential clients about your internal commitment to sustainability. The adage “lead by example” rings true once again.

Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.,

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