Architectural Collaborative Is Slashing Emissions and Finding New Energy
For Architectural Collaborative (Arcollab), an innovative architecture and design firm based in Athens, Georgia, there is little distinction between good design, business priorities, and climate action. Quint Newcomer, the firm's director of sustainability and business administration, believes that the vast majority of environmental problems could be improved or even eliminated with the right kind of design choices, and that includes the design of how businesses run. He emphasizes that every business decision the company makes has an impact on the environment, and that’s why Arcollab has set an ambitious goal of cutting its emissions in half by 2030.
“As an architecture firm, we’re very aware of the impacts—positive and negative—that design and the built environment have with respect to our environment, including emissions which exacerbate the changes to our climate,” he says. “We’re inspired to take action because we care about our local community, we care about our kids and their kids’ futures, we care about life on this planet in general.”
To reach its goal, Arcollab first tracked its emissions to establish a baseline, then created a policy with emissions reduction targets and incentives for employees to help reach the goals, such as encouraging biking to work, turning off computers, and recycling. They track each employee’s vehicle emissions related to work use, calculate emissions associated with the monthly electric bill, and measure recycling and trash-to-landfill volumes. Company policies also dictate how to purchase everything from lighting and filing cabinets to paper and cleaning supplies to reduce environmental impact. Continued emissions tracking allows Arcollab to measure progress. In partnership with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (www.b-e-f.org), Arcollab purchased offsets for all of 2020-2021 emissions.
The company also implements green policies in the way it designs for clients, specifying climate-smart materials, finishes, fixtures, and furnishings to the extent possible on every project. Where possible, project plans might incorporate solar panels, on-site water recycling, and ultra-efficient mechanical systems.
Arcollab’s experience surfaces best practices for other small businesses that are taking climate action. Newcomer emphasizes the importance of educating and empowering employees about climate challenges and how they relate to business operations and design priorities. Company leaders should incentivize creative solutions and assign a point person to coordinate emissions-cutting efforts across a company.
“Ideally there is support both from the top down and also interest from all levels of employees,” says Newcomer. He finds that at Arcollab, employees embrace the focus on climate action to such an extent that it has become a retention tool: “Our employees know they work in a place that cares, and they appreciate that and want to keep working with us.”
On a practical level, Arcollab sees prioritizing environmental action as the only rational choice for businesses that are looking to establish a thriving, long-term operation. Unmitigated climate change, after all, promises to wreak havoc on industries across the economic spectrum.
“The smartest economic decision making for long-term business success is to stabilize climate and other significant pressing environmental challenges,” says Newcomer. “Sadly, we’re past the point where we can keep kicking the can and pretending to deny there’s a problem.”
Newcomer doesn’t believe that admitting there’s a problem automatically breeds despondency and fatalism; in fact, just the opposite. For Arcollab, working to address environmental concerns has injected the business with a new and urgent energy. The company is working on becoming certified as a B Corp, and has joined initiatives such as SME Climate Commitment and America Is All In.
“Ultimately, the benefits will be that we’ll stay in business and grow our business,” says Newcomer. “We hope to stay ahead of the curve and be a leader.”