Juneteenth: An Update from Our Founder

Today we celebrate Juneteenth. It’s a good time to reflect on our society’s legacy of racism and slavery.  And it’s a good time also to consider our own actions and attitudes that contribute to the problems we see today.

A little over two years ago I wrote to you in the aftermath of George Floyd. Reflecting on those events, I promised to work with my team to make The Green Engineer, Inc. an anti-racist organization. Today, I went back and re-read what I had written. (2020 Statement) I’d like to share some thoughts, and give you an update on our progress to date.

The world has changed a lot in those two years. In June 2020, we were deep in a pandemic with an uncertain path. Naively, we thought about a return to the office in September 2020. The future seemed in doubt, but we all hoped for a return to “the way things were”, whether that meant 2019, 2016 (or for some folks, 1860). Today, while there are concerns about inflation, like many firms in the design and construction industry in New England, we’re very busy. At the same time, we never really made it back to the office. Instead, we’ve adapted to, and perhaps even enjoyed, a more flexible, hybrid, workplace. But the divisions in our society are ever more clear: whether it’s our economy, climate change, gun violence, the lingering effects of the pandemic, or women’s rights, the negative impacts fall most heavily on people of color. The legacy of more than five hundred years of racism exists in our lives every day.

At The Green Engineer, we continue to be committed to helping to end this legacy. What actions have we taken? Let’s start with the easy stuff. We have reviewed and revised our internal policies on gender and racial diversity. We expanded our recruiting to target schools we might have overlooked in the past. We have adjusted our Board of Directors make up to create a more diverse set of voices and to make explicit our company wide commitments. And we did this all in a transparent manner, as evidenced by our recent B Corp Recertification, and our pending re-labeling under Just v2.

We’ve put a little bit of our money where our mouth is, by revising our charitable giving policies to target non-profits working in the social justice realm. In the last two years, our staff has voted to support groups including the Indigenous Environmental Network, Black Girl Ventures, the Bail Project and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, among others.

Like I said, the easy stuff. Writing a check is pretty painless. It gets harder when we start looking at ourselves, at our own attitudes and actions, at our clients, and the impact our projects have on our community and the world at large.

Internally, we’ve held company “retreats” (virtually of course) to discuss and discover. We have a JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) Committee, who meet regularly to plan anti-racism and JEDI initiatives. And we continue to talk and listen to each other, and others outside the firm, to learn and grow. We’ve scheduled more training, and more retreats. Progress.

The intersection of anti-racism and our project work is perhaps the toughest nut to crack. We’ve always felt that there is a strong connection between environmentalism and social justice - they are two of the pillars of the triple bottom line, after all. But not all of our projects really support equity and inclusion.  It’s hard to turn down paying clients, and existing clients don’t always want to listen. But we’re getting better at this. We have turned down some work,  and targeted other projects with reduced fees and/or pro-bono services. And we’re learning to have this conversation with all our clients, by making social equity part of our standard charrette agenda, and by introducing the LEED Social Equity checklist. We can and will do more.

Personally, I’ve done a lot of reading, learning, and reflection. Recognizing the privileged position I occupy, I feel a responsibility to do more than I have. Two years ago, I approached the problem naively, and in classic engineer think, assumed we could just sit down and fix this problem. Now I know I still have a lot to learn and a lot to do. As do we all.    

I remain committed to change and to act swiftly.  What do you think? What are you doing? Let’s continue to work together to create a more just and sustainable world.

Chris Schaffner

Founder and CEO

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