In 2021, the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) published Integral Group’s fourth Just Label. Just is a voluntary platform that serves as a transparency tool for organizations to publicly disclose operational and HR performance.
With over 650 staff globally and 21 locations in Australia, Canada, Europe, and the United States, Integral Group’s mission is to be the leading Deep Green consulting and engineering firm in the world. United by a common sense of purpose and responsibility to our planet, their design approach was founded on and continues to be led by rapidly creating a more sustainable built environment for current and future generations. Through an entrepreneurial spirit, they inspire each other to design better-performing buildings, accelerate design standards within our industry, and nurture careers that challenge the status quo.
Integral Group’s employee-centered focus cannot be missed as they continue to lead by example. The brilliant team comprised of Megan White, Tiffany Elston, and Louise Wilkinson share more on their Just experience and how it tracks with their Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility goals.
1. Why did you choose to pursue Just with ILFI?
Initially, we pursued Just back in 2013 because it was an opportunity for us to explore leadership in the built environment in a way that we had not been looking at it before.
We continue to pursue Just because we understand the topics of social justice within our industry have a long way to go and we all have to do our individual part in order to move the needle collectively.
We most recently pursued our 4th Just label as part of our commitment to drive positive change, both within our own firm as well as the industry at large, and because our clients are starting to demand it in the pursuit of the Living Building Challenge at volume levels across their portfolio – and that requires Just organizations to be on the projects. This signals that transformation in the industry is happening, which is inspiring to see.
2. What do you think are the most valuable benefits to any organization pursuing the Just label?
The Just label signals to employees that we are committed to measuring and making improvements to how we run our business. It helps to provide another layer of transparency on top of our annual Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility (CSER) Report, helps us quantify progress on our social justice KPIs, and is a tool we can use to attract and retain talent. The label also helps us benchmark our policies, so we can push ourselves forward where there is opportunity to take a more progressive stance.
Additionally, more and more clients are requiring this of their subcontractors – for example, the market demand for ESG reporting is trickling down as a requirement on RFPs because they themselves are committed to publicly disclosing DEI metrics throughout their supply chain. It also helps with clients who are requesting partial data sets as part of the bid-approval process – these metrics are at our fingertips because we are tracking them over time. This is yet another signal of the shift happening within our industry to creating a more just and equitable future.
3. How have the employees responded to the Just program?
Overall, the response has been positive – it has opened up opportunities for candid conversations focussed on areas where we are not performing as well as we would like to. Our staff are asking about our metrics, and the label holds us accountable.
The Just label is what sparked the idea to begin our annual CSER reporting journey, which goes beyond Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and has helped us create roadmaps for improvement across multiple areas of our business.
4. In what ways are you leveraging the Just label? Are you using just in your sustainability reporting, blog articles, social media or corporate communications?
The label is featured on our website, and in our annual CSER report. We have even integrated some of the Just scores into our CSER roadmaps as key performance indicators.
We talk about the label when speaking on panels as leaders in DEI, and we have integrated the label into our work in becoming an Anti-Racist organization, which is reflected in our Anti-Racism Task Force Action Plan, which was published in early 2021.
Since the Just label is so aligned to Integral Group’s values, we use it as part of our talent acquisition strategy, and see it as a tool for engagement for existing employees.
5. What advice would you give prospective Just organizations?
Don’t underestimate the time and energy to achieve the label and educate your people around what it really means and why it is important. This is a long-term commitment, but don’t be overly concerned with your results – let it guide your organizational strategy and use it as a tool to find new ways to improve or shift your thinking.
We encourage others to enroll even if it is only to benchmark where you are currently – everyone has to start somewhere.
6. Have there been any big challenges, and if so how have you addressed them?
The first version was trying to cover all industries so it didn’t feel fully applicable to us as Engineers and Consultants, but we have seen some big shifts with the new iterations.
The new version provided us a new challenge with learning how to shift our scope so that we could attain a global label under a guideline which has a US-centric lens. We used this as an opportunity to work with ILFI to improve the label rather than a barrier and hope to see even more global applicability in the next update.
Overall, the big challenge for all companies will be to use the data to truly inform forward progress and move the needle towards company goals in an appropriate way.
7. What are some of the most important lessons learned about your organization as a result of the just application process?
The biggest learning for us was to focus on race and ethnicity through the lens of which groups are classified as minorities in different countries. Having the Just criteria anchored on this allowed us the opportunity to understand the context of each country within our firm at a much deeper level.
8. Can you describe some of the most consequential changes to organizational policies and practices as a result of Just?
Paid Parental Leave! Working through the label’s framework we identified the need to really work on improving this benefit, and as a result we have experienced greater forward movement in our gender distribution statistics.
Charitable giving and volunteer hours for all was another improvement to our company culture that was implemented because of the Just label – it helped us to recognize that this is a must-have for our employees, and we needed to implement it or fall behind.
9. Are there specific policy changes that have been particularly well received?
We featured our updated Parental Leave Policy in our annual CSER report. It has vastly improved the take-up of leave, and improved employee retention with the firm after leave is complete.
10. How does your organization intend to use Just as a management tool and framework moving forward.
Just has now been fully integrated into our annual CSER reporting metrics. Each indicator has been aligned with a specific company desired outcome statement – which is important to help anchor our why.
We are also seeing the benefit of having a third-party verification on this data when needing to report on RFPs etc.
11. Anything else you would like to share?
At the end of the day, it is not about the metrics, the processes, or the structures, but how it takes on a life within the organization. It’s the stories that we can tell from the experiences of our staff, and that is something we are seeing start to manifest years after our initial commitment to this important work. It has changed our workplace for the better
Cover photo: Redford Conservancy at Pitzer College, Claremont, CA. Adaptive reuse project, Zero Net Energy Certified by ILFI in 2019. 91% of the structural and envelope elements of the existing building were reused, greatly reducing the impact on embodied carbon.
Image Credit: Costea Photography, Inc.