Beyond the Environment: Corporate Social Responsibility

In the past few years, the green movement has grown from a small group of activists to a worldwide initiative. Members of the building industry have quickly adapted our designs, services, and products to meet the demand from our customers for sustainable spaces. Our industry’s ability to evolve quickly is justified by the numbers: green building product sales have increased from $7 billion in 2005 to $60 billion in 2010; 20,000 buildings will be LEEDÂ ® Certified by June 2011; over 100,000 professionals have earned accreditation through USGBC .

As a building professional, it is rare to see a project that doesn’t incorporate environmentally sustainable products or are following LEED or equivalent protocols. With federal and local governments passing ordinances that all new public-owned buildings meet these rigorous environmental criteria, one can argue that “green” is no longer a trend but the new standard.

We’ve done green. Now what?

The next trend may be a mainstream movement for corporate social responsibility (CSR). This initiative will combine sustainability, supplier diversity, and charitable giving into one category.

Today’s employee wants to know that their company is engaged in the greater good; that they are in business to contribute to society and not only for the bottom line . While many Fortune 1000 companies already participate in annual rankings of the Corporate Social Responsibility Index, this trend will trickle down to the smallest business and become a mainstream benchmark.

As more millennials move into the workforce, companies and organizations of all sizes will be pushed to incorporate CSR practices into every aspect of operations. They will demand that businesses “walk the walk” and not just give token contributions for public relations or marketing benefit.

CSR will affect the Building Industry both internally and through client requests. As LEED documentation and small business plans are standard in RFPs, the next step may include action plans for every item and vendor to show how that product, service, or supplier has contributed financially or physically to charity. Proving CSR may become part of the LEED process — evolving into its own checkmark outside of Innovation in Design and Reducing Landfill Waste.

As real estate costs rise and the footprint of workstations shrink, CFO’s look for ways to reduce their overhead costs and get additional tax incentives.

Larger companies may increasingly “donate” or “subsidize” space for charitable groups within their own offices.

Interior designers and architects will be tasked with maximizing the utility of the space; making it flexible and affordable for both the giver and recipient.

Real Estate brokers may become responsible for selling this option to their clients — as with current affordable housing initiatives — affordable commercial real estate spaces for disadvantaged or charitable organizations may be a new requirement. Brokers will be responsible for securing space, finding a charity, and providing the financial modeling to show how the donation of space will benefit the client.

Suppliers within the building industry will further grow donation and refurbishing programs. Many major contract furniture manufacturers such as Herman Miller, Steelcase, and Haworth already engage third-party contractors to help their customers donate unwanted furniture to charity. The manufacturers arrange all of the details — from teardown to assembly to assisting with documentation for tax credits. These programs reduce landfill waste, help growing charities, and make it the responsibility of the supplier to find equitable homes for their products.

Innovating in advance

Despite major hits during the recession, the building industry was able to adapt our practices and grow “green” business substantially in the past five years. As the economy improves and profits rebound, we will be tasked by our clients to innovate on how to further differentiate them. Consider the aspects of CSR when evaluating project criteria — dare them to innovate in advance and be a trendsetter.

You can remind them that “doing good is good for business.” And, it doesn’t hurt to send out a press release and get a tax write-off.

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