Canadian architects can lead the way in becoming better global citizens

hcma principal Darryl Condon reflects on the process of becoming a B Corp.

Any practice that’s gone through the B Corp process will understand the joy (and immense relief) when their certification is confirmed. As a framework to benchmark ongoing environmental and social targets, B Corp is one of the few global standards by which we can measure ourselves—while being held accountable for future progress.    

As forest fires and flash flooding become a seasonal reality, and isolation and economic disparity continue to spiral, architects have a responsibility to prioritize environmental and social impact. B Corp guides us in these areas, yet surprisingly few architects around the world are pursuing this path. In the UK, for example, as of September 2022, only 9 out of 1145 B Corps are architecture firms, only 21 out of 2000+ B Corps in the US. I believe Canadian practices can set an example, although right now, we are one of a very small group of architecture and design planning firms certified in Canada. 

Why B Corp? 

If we’re to make serious progress in our environmental and social performance, we need the tools to track and quantify it. B Corp helps us do this. A major part of the certification  process is the ‘B Impact Assessment’, a rigorous evaluation of your practice’s impact in five categories: Workers, Community, Environment, Customers, and Governance.  

Going through this process is no small feat. From start to finish, it took us around two years. Every aspect of your business is assessed, scrutinized, and scored. Your ownership model, your workplace policies, the social and environmental impact of your offices, your customer service, your waste production, your impact on clients. The list goes on.   

It can be incredibly challenging, but also motivating. You come away with an honest picture of how your business decisions impact both people and the planet—and how you fare amongst industry peers and other B Corporations. It also helps you understand where you can do better and make a plan to address those areas. You’re then reassessed three years down the line.  

A global framework 

As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s inspiring to see conversations in our industry continue around diversity, social value, and climate change. But, at the same time, the lack of government calls for architects to do better is also a surprise. Are there industry-specific constraints causing this? Is it because of the models of architectural practice or is it due to the fractured nature of governmental oversight for the built environment? Either way, change is needed. 

While we have industry rating systems and certification programs  that measure  these areas of impact, such as WELL and LEED, these are mostly project-focused. We also need to embed these values in how we operate as businesses. Again, B Corp helps you do this—but to what extent is up to you. At hcma, the process of conducting our carbon footprint and offsetting our emissions for carbon neutrality guided our decision to support the forest restoration work of Wild+Pine—another B Corp doing important work in Canada to restore functional ecosystems that manage carbon on a large scale. 

In speaking with other B Corp practices, some are using it to direct their business strategy over the next five to ten years, while others are continuing on the path they’ve already laid out, but using the framework as a guide to enhance their existing initiatives.   

Regardless of your approach, it’s obvious we need change. Our current economic system puts profit over people and the planet. B Corp gives us a guide to address that so we can help rebuild our global economy in a more ethical and sustainable way.  

Learning from a like-minded community 

The B Corp movement is underpinned by the belief that society’s most challenging problems cannot be solved by government and nonprofits alone. By harnessing the power of business, B Corps use profits and growth to a greater end: positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment. 

This can only be achieved through collaboration. And what excites us most is the community aspect of B Corp. Certified businesses are encouraged to work together and we’re looking forward to exchanging ideas and learning from those on a similar path—both from our own industry and others.  

We’re not naive enough to think that B Corp solves everything. We have different views on whether the assessment areas are rigorous and accurate enough, and B Corp itself recognizes the need to evolve with time. I believe they are taking action to do that. In some areas, we believe we can challenge the system to do better, while others will force us to make changes. We’re excited by the opportunity to start these conversations and contribute to the movement. 

A ongoing journey 

Our goal as a practice has long been to maximize positive impact through design. We’ve put increasing emphasis on accessibility and inclusivity in our project work, while building internal teams to help us both design for and measure that impact. B Corp Certification feels like the next step, helping us better apply those values to our business operations. This isn’t a one and done certification. Nor does it mean we’re perfect. Instead, it gives us a

framework for learning and improvement, while being part of a global community of businesses working collectively for economic change. This is an ongoing journey—and we’d love to see more Canadian architects join us. As the climate crisis intensifies, and isolation and economic disparity continue to affect our communities, B Corp is an opportunity to make a real difference—and join a global movement towards an equitable, just, and inclusive future.

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