Here at Waterleaf, our B Corporation certification is important to us.  Being a B Corp means being a new kind of business, one that strives to balance purpose and profit. We believe that using our power as a business for good is not only the right thing to do, it is the future of business.  It is the future that we should all want to see as we make our way towards an inclusive and sustainable global economy. You can read more about this international movement here.

B Corp certification is achieved by completing a rigorous assessment that distributes points in the following categories: governance, workers, community, environment and customers.  This tool has been invaluable in aligning our values with our business practices.  Since our certification in March 2016 and a recertification in 2018, we have used the assessment as an internal framework to guide our decisions.

The following is a conversation with Marketing Manager Abigail Bokman, Associate Ellen Krusi, and Associate Partner Karen Lange who share their collective thoughts about working for a B Corporation.

What is it like to be working for a B Corp now, in 2020?
Right now, it feels good to work for a B Corporation. This is an architecture firm that took the time to lock in a set of ethics as their process of doing business. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. How do we function strategically when each week brings a new crisis: health, economic, and social? Throughout all of this, knowing that we work for a firm that puts our health first is comforting. Also, this pandemic has provided some insights regarding our sustainability goals. In the beginning of this crisis, we saw what reducing our impact on the earth looked like. Being at a firm that focuses on building sustainable buildings and cities helps to focus us on these two parallel crises: social justice and climate justice.

Let’s talk more about social justice. As a predominantly white business, how are you using your privilege?
This year has brought racial issues to the forefront with a real sense of urgency and awareness. (See our recent post here.)  We are reading, listening, and acknowledging our privilege and approaching this process with grace and humility. We are focusing deep introspection on ourselves and our organization and are taking meaningful action to fully see people. Being in a community with other local B Corporations, we can share resources and ideas and find ways to follow Black voices calling for change. This is a process that we started several years ago with the B-Corp Inclusive Economy Challenge, each year committing to at least three measurable improvements to metrics within the diversity, equity, and inclusion field. Through that process we have improved our hiring practices, changed our policies regarding flexible work schedules, we have re-designed our website to be more accessible, and we have changed how we represent people in our renderings in order to show more diversity. Every year we set new goals and continue to push ourselves to learn more and do better.

Within the architecture industry, we are very cognizant of the fact that our work leaves an imprint on communities and the landscape for a long time. It’s our responsibility to make sure that imprint is not only equitable but uplifting. The B-Corp assessment not only encourages us to use energy-efficient and sustainable design practices, but also emphasizes community-building and equity which is something that certifications like LEED fail to address. Accessibility is one approach to equity that we feel strongly about, and we are focusing on applying the principles of Universal Design to our work. We track every project against these metrics and assess ourselves yearly to see how we did and discuss as a firm how we can do better.

Our success in implementing these project goals is best when we work with a like-minded team. B-Corp encourages us to partner with consultants and suppliers that value diversity and environment. We especially strive to work with clients who share our values and drive their mission with a greater vision for equity by providing environments for their communities to thrive, such as: the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp, Community Vision, Yamhill Carlton Together Cares, and the Rockwood Center.

What do you see as some of the biggest problems unearthed by the coronavirus pandemic and what are some ways B Corps can help solve them?
B Corp certification requires that we set metrics to improve. These metrics are based in equity and sustainability. Access to healthcare, childcare, sick leave, pay equity, and safe working environments are key parts of these metrics. The pandemic has crystalized our vision of what is equitable and acceptable in our community and what is not. We see a lot of the underlying values of B Corporations supporting equitable work, flexible schedules, access to work, safe essential working conditions, healthy workers and environments, fair wages, equitable hiring practices, childcare, and care for the community and environment. B-Corp asks that these benefits be extended all workers, regardless of wage level or part-time status. This is a vision for the future that is really exciting. We are fortunate to work for a company that already has these values in place and provided flexible hours and remote work options even before that became mandatory this spring, but we see now more than ever the need to support workers at all levels of the economy.

Healthcare is an obvious concern this year. Has being a certified B Corp been a benefit for, well… benefits?
Healthcare and sick leave are two really important issues right now. We see that access to these resources are what can keep our communities healthy and well in the best of times but especially during a pandemic. B Corps foundationally require that business make these benefits available to their workers.

Also, there is comfort in knowing that if we need to return to the office, we will be working in a safe environment. Focusing on how to operate during the pandemic so that all the employees are safe is a leadership priority.

B Corporations represent a huge variety of companies. What is a B Corp architecture firm doing now to be leaders in the AEC industry?
In the past, architecture firms had a very harsh culture that glorified long hours, competition, and a sink or swim attitude. It was not an environment that was welcoming to women, minorities, or anyone who couldn’t fit the mold. That outdated model is overdue for a change and we are proud to be in the position to help lead the way and be an example for others. Some specific things we have focused on in the last 5 years, driven by the B Corp assessment framework, are: flexible schedule and remote work, pay equity, inclusive hiring practices, increased training on “JEDI” topics (justice, equity, diversity and inclusion), 100% offset of greenhouse gas emissions, and participation in local learning and networking events such as a Peer Exchange Group, B Local PDX lunches (see our presentation on the Seven Corners Collaborative here), and the annual BLD Conference. 

Our industry has an amazing impact on how our communities are shaped. As architects we are trained to solve problems, and we can use this training to seek out solutions in many ways beyond the specifics of the site plan or building envelope.  Incorporating B-Corp goals into our projects keeps us focused on a holistic approach to design that values environment and community. We continue to look for opportunities with clients who want to go above and beyond with sustainability goals such as LEED, Path to Net-Zero, and the Living Building Challenge as well as projects that incorporate affordable housing and are integrated into their communities such as transit-oriented development (such as Fuller Station Housing). 

Any final thoughts or takeaways for those thinking about how to operate like B Corporations, whether or not they choose to certify?
First of all, feel free to reach out to any one of us if you want to talk!  Even if your company is not certified as a B Corp, you can take small steps in an inclusive direction, such as considering flexible work schedules or reexamining hiring practices to ensure that you are pulling diverse candidates from a wide pool.  Focus on creating a safe and healthy work environment. You can also take steps to become a sustainable business with your suppliers, products, and your waste stream. This is a moment to rethink how we do things, and businesses have so much power in creating a society that is healthy and equitable. Put your workers first and invest in the people you serve. We are all connected and together we can achieve a more equitable and just economy.