In 2014, GGLO started to explore the new nutrition label for socially just and equitable organizations being developed by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). Known as the JUST Label, the program is a voluntary disclosure tool founded on simple, yet profound goals:
- Improve organizational focus on diversity and inclusion
- Provide a robust framework to measure social equity in the workplace
- Offer a roadmap for organizations to improve employee satisfaction and happiness
- Demonstrate a strong multicultural and inclusive atmosphere
- Establish a culture of trust
- Strive for happy employees who are motivated and strongly connected to organizational purpose and values
JUST highlights aspects of an organization that are difficult to ascertain from a website or financial report. The JUST Label sums up 22 indicators, each rated from one to three stars and grouped into six categories: workforce diversity, equity, safety, worker benefit, local benefit, and stewardship.
Over the years, GGLO has invested significant resources to improve the environmental performance of our practice, while supporting triple bottom line business models of our clients. We recognized the opportunity to incorporate subtle and complex issues of social equity more intentionally in our daily business.
As we finalized our transition from our founding partners in 2012, our next generation of partners looked into emergent business practices. Dozens of our projects had achieved local and national sustainable certifications. We were one of the early signatories of the AIA’s 2030 Commitment and we had fully implemented an Environmental Action Plan to minimize our office’s environmental impacts. However, we had not yet intentionally measured our own performance regarding social justice or equity.
We set goals to diversify and expand our influence into new areas of practice and to more clearly distill, communicate and live our firm’s purpose and values. Throughout our history, our aim has been to enhance the community through our work. GGLO’s purpose in applying for JUST was to increase transparency about social equity and to understand how we might lead the industry. By completing the survey and going through the application process, we gained a common language and a series of actionable goals toward becoming “more JUST” in the future. Eventually, we became the first design firm in Washington state to earn the JUST label. GGLO is one of five architecture firms in Seattle (and one of 24 worldwide) with this distinction. We believe there is enough value that others can and should embrace JUST as we have.
After participating in the program and completing the JUST assessment twice, we ask ourselves what we have learned and what we can share with the greater community of businesses like our own. Did we become more just? Through compiling our data, we see that we have, though not as we had initially expected.
In the diversity and safety categories, GGLO maintained the highest ratings for all indicators. Equity indicators remained unchanged, except living wage, which dropped by one star. For years, we have significantly exceeded the impending $15 per hour Seattle minimum wage and still currently surpass the JUST minimum of $19.98 by 6%. As this minimum has increased, the percentage by which we exceed it has decreased, impacting our score in this category. However, we believe that our efforts to increase the number of local housing options and to stabilize costs are integral to impacting living wages, and where we can best help overall.
The worker benefit category had mixed results. We believe in work/life integration versus work/life balance. We recognize work and life are interdependent, and one does not simply turn off when the other occurs. This year, we made great strides in improving our performance evaluations, mentorship, coaching, leadership, development, flexible work, teaming, and health benefits; a positive progress which should improve our employee happiness rating on an ongoing basis. Expanded training and knowledge sharing are also underway on technical, financial, business development, and HR topics to teach the many facets of running a successful firm.
We achieved the highest recognition in the local benefit and the control and sourcing categories this year. We’ve been intentional in sourcing our external goods and services locally, and supporting businesses in our community as a general practice.
The stewardship category remained unchanged. GGLO has always maintained stewardship as a core value, being recognized multiple times for charitable giving and community volunteering efforts. Several years ago, we compiled our staff’s volunteer activities into a self-published book, Giving By Design, which we distributed as a holiday gift to employees, clients, and friends. This is a strength for most design firms in Seattle, built into the culture of design. We still have room to grow and look forward to doing so in the years to come through sponsored volunteer activities focused on our external and internal communities.
The one indicator we omitted and found is lagging in the industry are viable options for responsible investing. While our 401K plan offers multiple options for investing in social responsible investing (SRI) companies, our portfolio does not yet have 50% of its value in SRI, meaning 50% of our total investment as a firm is not currently in SRI companies. Another contributing factor: our bank is not a registered community bank or credit union. We anticipate improvement in this category as more companies adopt SRI requirements and staff are educated on the benefits of aligning their investment dollars with companies that support these values.
Being a JUST Organization reminds us of how important it is to provide a healthy community for design. By being transparent about our makeup and policies, we hope to attract and retain employees and clients that align with our firm’s purpose. We believe the JUST label is imperative to this effort.
Another benefit of the JUST Label is the impact on our LEED and Living Building Challenge projects. For example, on LEED projects, we earn a point under the ‘social equity within the project team’ pilot credit by being on the project team, as long as our contract value is 20% or more of the overall design contract. Living Building Challenge (specifically, Imperative 18 under the Equity Petal) requires a primary team member to hold a JUST Label and submit letters to ten other team members advocating participation in JUST.
In the end, the JUST assessment and renewal process is insightful and provides us with a roadmap for continuous evolvement in the future. Upon reflection—and several years into it—we found that the system meets its intent; we encourage others to explore it to improve their organizations.
We believe JUST is an innovative and effective tool to encourage transparency among organizations, create healthy and equitable workplaces for organizations and their employees, and to contribute to businesses for our planet!