But are you JUST?

LAS Earns Its JUST Label

By Jim Nicolow, AIA, LEED Fellow       February 03, 2017

But are you JUST?

The Living Building Challenge (LBC) doesn’t just compel designers to design resilient, sustainable buildings, it also now gives attention to the workplaces where living buildings are designed, requiring firms to look in the mirror and assess the degree to which they are “JUST.”

While the Place, Water, Energy, Health + Happiness, Materials, and Beauty Petals relate primarily to the built environment, the Imperatives of the Equity Petal seek to support “a just, equitable world.” Its requirements include the creation of human-scaled places, universal access to nature, charitable contributions and, as of Version 3 of the LBC, a JUST Organizations Imperative. This Imperative requires that at least one of the project team members have a JUST Label for their organization.

Undertaken as part of our work on the Living Building at Georgia Tech, Lord Aeck Sargent earned its JUST Label on February 3, making the firm among the first 20 architecture firms in the world to achieve a JUST Label.

The program supports voluntary disclosure of business policies and practices as a vehicle for positive social change.

“Similar to the Living Building Challenge’s Declare program, the JUST program serves as a ‘nutrition label’ for socially just and equitable organizations.” – Just. User Manual

Firms must report performance on 22 “Indicators” organized by topics of Diversity, Equity, Safety, Worker Benefit, Local Benefit and Stewardship. A firm’s policies and performance—scored at a zero-, one-, two-, or three-star level for each Indicator—are publicly disclosed on the JUST website. An organization cannot fail to obtain a JUST Label if the process is completed, though they might not like the results: transparent disclosure of performance provides the impetus for positive change.

Lord Aeck Sargent began by forming a JUST Label task force with representatives from business operations, human resources, firm leadership and the design team. A tracking spreadsheet was created and each of the 22 Indicators assigned to a task force member. A preliminary ‘gap analysis’ was conducted to review and assess current policies and likely performance against the JUST label policy and performance criteria. Where policies did not exist, they were drafted and adopted.

In our case, the need to create policies/statements for nine indicators was identified (Union Friendly, Hazardous Chemicals, Worker Happiness, Local Control, Local Sourcing, Responsible Investing, Positive Products, Charitable Giving and Transparency).

Once the requisite policies were identified, or drafted and approved where necessary, they were uploaded to the JUST web portal and the corresponding performance data was collected and uploaded as well, where required.

But are you JUST?

Taking just under a year from start to finish, the JUST Label process provoked passionate, in-depth discussions about the mission of the firm in the context of social equity and justice. The Worker Happiness Indicator required a two-question staff survey assessing job satisfaction and likeliness to recommend Lord Aeck Sargent as a good place to work, on a scale of one-to-ten. We expanded the survey to include a field for comments on each question and found the comments provided great insights into what we do well, such as creating a positive, balanced firm culture and supporting professional development; as well as some areas with room for improvement, such as articulating a clear vision and providing resources for project managers, which we’ll attempt to address in the coming year.

I believe that Lord Aeck Sargent is a better firm for having pursued and achieved a JUST Label, and I look forward to leveraging the program, with its two-year recertification cycle, as a tool for ongoing improvement as we focus on further opportunities to improve our lower-scoring Indicators.


#1. Posted by Jonathan Clay on February 08, 2017

Very cool undertaking.  Impressed and impressive.

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