How might we realize the San Francisco office’s vision for social responsibility while remaining sensitive to corporate concerns?
In addition to the work with Gensler Baltimore, I am collaborating with two members of the San Francisco team (Gail and Jane) to continue pushing for an innovative CSR initiative called JUST. Gail, a Regional Design Resilience Director, and Jane, a Consulting Analyst, were the most vocal champions of JUST before their team met internal challenges that halted their efforts. I was excited to leverage our collective passions, influence, and skills to help lead their renewed efforts for JUST.
JUST is a transparency label managed by an independent third-party foundation called The International Living Future Institute (ILFI). It is a platform for participating organizations to declare commitment to equity and to disclose their practices across the twenty-two indicators seen in the sample label below.
Four tiers of achievement earn an organization either zero, one, two, or three stars (or squares, in this case) on a JUST label. Organizations are responsible for conducting the research themselves to discover their achievement level. Findings can be kept private (hidden from both the public and the ILFI) or they can be made public. If findings are made public, the organization must submit their findings for the ILFI to verify; only then can the organization officially become JUST-labelled.
To me and to the San Francisco team, the most exciting characteristic of JUST is that it encompasses the range of factors we believe to be part of authentic and holistic CSR. JUST not only considers the corporate social generosity of “Community Volunteering” and “Charitable Giving,” but also the transformative corporate social responsibility of “Positive Products,” “Transparency,” and “Responsible Investing.”
Our theory of change is that if Gensler San Francisco participates in JUST (either publicly or privately), it will ignite a conversation about corporate social responsibility that extends beyond philanthropy and charity. It will be a call to action to reach further into transformative CSR.
As our initial intervention, Gail and I first reopened the dialogue about JUST with the San Francisco office leadership. I prepared some material which I believed would help reintroduce this social responsibility measure: a summary of financial research studies which prove that CSR yields positive returns, a synopsis of the JUST structure and program requirements, highlights of Gensler’s clients, consultants, and contacts who participate in JUST, including two past clients who specifically requested we participate in JUST, and a glimpse into the San Francisco office’s potential achievements in number of “stars” in a few select indicators.
However, the presentation met challenges immediately. For example, the leadership resisted joining a third-party CSR measure; they wondered if Gensler would be better served by creating our own. They did not agree with some of the measurement standards required to achieve stars. Lastly, they questioned the usefulness of using stars as the metric of success.
This feedback was a definite gut check for us. We realized we ignored some of the leadership’s most critical concerns about JUST. I also didn’t emphasize the most pertinent information when I delivered the pitch. We are taking these lessons learned to re-design our proposal for JUST.
We are incorporating material into our proposal which explicitly addresses the concerns listed above. Through compelling qualitative stories and relevant quantitative data, we hope to also demonstrate JUST aligns with Gensler’s values, supports our mission, AND will generate tangible returns. We are going to try to answer leaders’ questions before they’re asked. By leveraging the mistakes we made previously, we’ll tighten our pitch when we present our proposal again.
We’re excited to see this take shape because this could mean positive structural change in the internal governance of Gensler. JUST is, as one Genslerite told me, “seeing if we were actually being as ‘good’ as we thought we were.” A low star quantity in any indicator is simply an opportunity to rise to the challenge to mitigate harmful impacts and promote equity.
Project completed within the graduate program in Social Design at MICA.
Faculty Advisors: Lee Davis, Thomas Gardner, Mike Weikert.