Image courtesy International Living Future Institute
From the organization that created the Declare “nutrition label” for product ingredients now comes Just, a framework for evaluating and reporting on social responsibility. Although Just was initially designed to promote social equity in the green building community, any corporation or organization can participate.
“The green building industry has been talking about social justice for a long time—and then they go about their business and don’t do anything about it,” claims Jason McLennan, CEO of the International Living Future Institute (developer of the Living Building Challenge and the related Net-Zero Building Certification program). “We are trying to push our industry and other industries to consider these things.”
Now in its pilot phase as of October 2013, Just began with a month-long "pre-pilot" in which four organizations, including ILFI, participated. The Just manual sets out criteria for each area addressed in the program:
• Gender and ethnic diversity
• Equity, including union friendliness, wages, and family friendliness
• Safety for workers, including proper management of toxic chemicals
• Worker benefits, including health insurance, worker happiness, and continuing education opportunities
• Benefit to the local economy
• Social and environmental stewardship, including responsible investing, “positive products,” and animal welfare
The power of transparency
Although ILFI reviews all documentation, Just is not a certification program in which participants are held to a certain standard (a company could, in theory, publish a label with no stars on it). McLennan says that ILFI decided on this “nutrition label” approach because Declare had shown the “real power of transparency and the real potential for providing a forum to share information and create a lot of good, positive change.”
ILFI has already fielded inquiries from several building product manufacturers, says McLennan—mostly from “companies that tend to take corporate responsibility seriously anyway,” he adds. “We’re guessing that they’re going to be our first adopters.”
Just for self-awareness, and more
Users may be taken off guard by their scores in some areas, McLennan notes. “None of the categories are where we want them to be,” he says of ILFI’s own assessment, but some results were more surprising than others. We can look around and see that we’re not as diverse as we should be, for example, in part because of a lack of diversity in the design industry generally, he claims. ILFI also found that it did not have explicit statements to support some of its goals. “The COO told me, ‘We agree with this stuff, but we don’t have policies about these things.’ My response was, ‘Well, we better write one!’”
Other organizations have found—and bridged—similar gaps. One Pacific Coast Bank, a pre-pilot participant, wrote its first animal welfare policy while reviewing its stewardship activities, according to McLennan. The bank does not work directly with animals, but it will now consider animal welfare when lending to companies that do.
There is currently no fee to participate in Just, but ILFI suggests a donation for use of the label on a sliding scale that is based on organization size.
Copyright 2013 by BuildingGreen Inc.