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MSR at the 2018 ILFI unConference: Part 1

Author: Susan Morgan

Knowing your values at a gut level is relatively easy. Articulating your shared values as part of a practice strategy is harder. Translating firm-wide values into professional practice on a daily basis is an exercise in determination, commitment and patience. Attending the International Living Futures Institute unConference this year in Portland, Oregon proved to be a great resource for understanding how a range of practitioners from the single to the multi-national, have translated their values for sustainability and ethics into how they run their firms and projects.

Our firm’s strategic goal is to be the leading design firm that achieves inspiring, generative impacts across the board on every project by 2026. Embedded in this statement are aspirations about leadership within the profession, achievements in design excellence, and exploration of sustainability and high-performance through a design approach which yields creative, engaging, and yes, inspiring outcomes. Ambitious, across-the-board goals require specific, incremental, and consistent action. This year’s conference presented lessons learned from a range of businesses and organizations who have made similar commitments, offering different pathways for translating written goals into implemented business strategies.

A consistent theme was that of a strong voice of leadership: from Amy Johns, Director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives at Williams College, to Tim Weller, Manager of Codes, Standards, and Sustainability at Allegion (a global hardware, security, and technology company), speakers showed that advocacy of values is critical at every step of a project – whether from planning through design of a single building or from acquisition of firms through reconciliation of international standards and regulations. These voices of leadership speak up at every opportunity: truly being the voice of the institutional values in rooms where decisions are made. It is imperative that as any and every decision is made, that these be held up against the stated values and goals; this ensures mindfulness in decision-making and ensures that no decision great or small pulls action away from aspiration.

At the institutional level these champions are fundamental requirements to ensure the viability of achieving sustainable and performance goals, as they hold both individuals and collective decision-making bodies accountable at an internal level. But how can we make a difference when we take our values outside the walls of our practice? Chris Trott, Head of Sustainability at Foster + Partners, offered a great piece of advice: “If you can’t win the communication game, you can’t win at all.” It is all too common for performance achievements to be endless metrics or complex graphs; per Chris’ advice it pays to remember that as design professionals we need to connect and communicate our values and our achievement targets to our clients – individuals and groups without our same backgrounds in design and visualization. For us to succeed in bringing our values to life on a project requires our ability to clearly and succinctly communicate the value of investing in infrastructure and responsible material and assembly choices in ways which resonate with our clients.

As we continue to make progress towards our strategic goal, our firm continues to nurture advocates at all levels: from practice management through project managers and design staff so that both internally and externally we have many voices at the table speaking up and out for our values. We continue also to explore new ways of communicating: using different graphic techniques and working towards standards that allow us to lay out target benchmarks and projected performance in ways that transform our clients into advocates themselves.

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