David Baker Architects

DBA BLOG

Building Our JUST Practice


See all Blog

By Taylor Dearinger, Designer

See our JUST 2.0 Update!

How a new transparency platform spurred us to keep “walking the talk”—and where we go from here

 

In 2015, spurred by signing the AIA 2030 Commitment, DBA began having broader discussions about what sustainability means to us which led to us developing a firm-wide sustainability action plan and exploring the role that social equity plays in our goal to be a truly sustainable organization.

As a socially progressive company, we believe in the concept and the practice of equity. I personally first heard about the JUST Label—a transparency platform for socially just and equitable organizations—while participating in an International Living Future Institute (ILFI) webinar. I was inspired by the program's emphasis on transparency and advocacy. It felt like a good fit for DBA, and our firm leaders agreed. In 2017, in order to quantify our commitment to equity and to explore it more systematically, we decided to apply.

 

Background

ILFI’s Living Building Challenge was the first green-building program to incorporate equity criteria. In 2009, the program launched the Equity Petal (one of seven achievable Petals that emphasize different aspects of design and performance) with the intention to “transform developments to foster a true, inclusive sense of community.” ILFI created the JUST platform and included the requirement that one of the major team members have the JUST Label for a project to achieve the Equity Petal.

We were initially motivated by the idea and format of the JUST reporting, but DBA can now offer our JUST status as a benefit to teams with LBC Goals. DBA is currently moving two projects through the Living Building Challenge Pilot for Affordable Housing.

 

 

 

 

Click here to see DBA’s JUST Label page.

Format

JUST helps companies formalize and disclose their standing in different categories of social equity. Organizations have to provide documentation for specific indicators that gain a one-, two-, or three-star level. These indicators are then organized on a Social Equity Label that can be used for promotion and advocacy. 

Indicators include: Diversity, Equity, Safety, Worker Benefit, Local Benefit, and Stewardship. Detailed information about each indicator can be found in the JUST Manual.

The goals of the JUST program are simple yet profound:

1. to elevate the discussion around social justice in all organizations,

2. to create a common language for social justice issues,

3. to elevate the causes of those individuals who lead these issues,

4. to change the policies and practices of thousands of organizations worldwide,

5. to make life better for people from all walks of life.

Stewardship: SPARC-it-Place, a temporary community marketplace we undertook as a pro-bono project with our housing client EBALDC. Image: David Baker Architects

Starting Strong

DBA decided to participate in the JUST program to support and elevate the equity conversation in our own organization as well as to encourage and model transparency for the consultants, manufacturers, and clients who shape our community.

As a mission-driven architecture firm, our practice is a direct reflection of our commitment to be “multipliers of good.” We strive to be active thoughtful community members in each of the cities where we have an office (San Francisco, Oakland, and Birmingham, Alabama).

 

Local Benefit: Public interactions with the DBA_Lab peepSHOW installation during the Market Street Prototyping Festival. Image: David Baker Architects

We can point to several examples of how we are achieving this goal: by collaborating with local arts organizations, by undertaking numerous pro bono and DBA_Lab projects, and by prioritizing community engagement in our design process, and by using design strategies that foster community.

We were confident that we would rate highly in categories like Stewardship and Local Benefit because of the work we do, but we were still interested in turning a more discerning lens on our business practices. The JUST Label gave us an opportunity to see what we are currently doing right and provided clear paths for improvement.

Equity: Collaborating at the weekly office Pin-Up gives everyone in the office a opportunity to help shape project design. Image: David Baker Architects

Digging Deeper

Our initial foray into the JUST Label metrics, while positive, was not exactly what we were expecting. We found that a lot of our office culture and policies were unspoken and hard to measure. Over the period of a year, we worked to articulate policies that reflect our office culture and allow for transparency within our firm and to the public.

We developed a firm Handbook and Culture Guide that that we felt were truly representative of our practice. We reported our more thorough findings and received our JUST Label. We feel that this is something we can continue to develop and share to encourage other organizations to embrace equity and transparency as well. To maintain a JUST Label, you re-submit your data every two years.

 

Diversity: Our Women in Architecture Group. Image: David Baker Architects

The biggest impact of the process is finding where we fell short not of the Label’s requirements, but of our already established goals as a firm. For example, we found that although we have a very gender-balanced office (53% of staff is female), we have struggled to maintain gender diversity in leadership (38% at the senior management level). Although this is an industry-wide problem, it highlighted a need for us to pay attention to our hierarchy and how we provide opportunities for advancement in our firm.

Also, we opted out of one category—responsible investing—because our firm does not currently use a community bank or credit union for our banking services. Responsible investing was not something our firm had discussed, and this indicator provides us with an unexpected opportunity to think about how that would benefit our local community and how we can move forward with that as a goal.

Worker Benefit: DBA South Bay bike tour stop at Mayfield Place in Palo Alto. Image: David Baker Architects

The process of applying for the JUST Label has been an immensely positive growth experience for our firm. It has given us the opportunity to celebrate the things we are doing right and has made it easier to identify areas that could use more focused attention to align with our commitment to building, maintaining, and promoting an equitable practice.

 

 

Taylor Dearinger is a designer at David Baker Architects and a co-founder and ongoing participant in DBA_Lab, our research and experimentation studio. You can reach Taylor here.

Diversity: Our Women in Architecture Group. Image: David Baker Architects

Equity: Collaborating at the weekly office Pin-Up gives everyone in the office a opportunity to help shape project design. Image: David Baker Architects

Equity: DBA Designer Taylor Dearinger and DBA_Inside Lead Julie de Jesus attended the 2018 Equity by Design Symposium. Image: David Baker Architects

Safety: Fabricators Barrett Karber and Kevin Neilan in the DBA_Workshop. Image David Baker Architects

Worker Benefit: DBA South Bay bike tour stop at Mayfield Place in Palo Alto. Image: David Baker Architects

Worker Benefit: Some of the DBA women participating in a firm-wide self-defense class. Image: David Baker Architects

Worker Benefit: Monday Morning Yoga before the all-hands staff meeting. Image: David Baker Architects

Worker Benefit: DBA's staff retreat in Napa, California. Image: David Baker Architects

Worker Benefit: DBA Designers Will Bloomer and Taylor Dearinger volunteering with Build Lightly Studios in Guatemala on a design-build project for a local school. Image: David Baker Architects

Local Benefit: Public interactions with the DBA_Lab peepSHOW installation during the Market Street Prototyping Festival. Image: David Baker Architects

Local Benefit: At Bayview Hill Gardens, a collaboration between DBA and Creativity Explored, a local art studio that supports developmentally disabled artists. Artist: Hung Kei Shiu; image: Matt Edge

Stewardship: SPARC-it-Place, a temporary community marketplace we undertook as a pro-bono project with our housing client EBALDC. Image: David Baker Architects

Stewardship: DBA at SFMOMA for a tour of the Noguchi exhibit as part of our PARK(ing) Day installation. Image: David Baker Architects

Stewardship: Binita Pradhan of La Cocina receiving her building permit for Binis Kitchen, her first brick-and-mortar restaurant, for which DBA is contributing pro bono design and fabrication. Image: David Baker Architects

Stewardship: Staff volunteering at the Saint Anthony Free Clothing Program for International Womens Day. Image: David Baker Architects