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From the Design Quarterly: Stantec's CEO explores how sustainability is at the core of our business

October 08, 2019

By Gord Johnston

When I think about what I do and how it will affect future generations, I’m reminded that we do what’s right

My personal commitment to sustainability began early in my career. As a water treatment plant operations engineer, I witnessed firsthand how the environment—and what we do as designers—contributes to our ability to make clean, safe water for people to use. In my current CEO role, I think a lot about what we do—providing essential consulting services to improve our communities—whether it’s roads or transit, power or utility infrastructure, water plants or buildings. How do you provide these services that people need really in a way that reduces the impact on the environment?

With that in mind, I got certified as an Envision Sustainability Professional. I think at this point I am the only ENVSP who’s CEO of a major engineering and consulting company. For me it’s important, because at Stantec, sustainability is at our core.

Stantec president and CEO Gord Johnston, who is a certified Envision Sustainability Professional.

Our commitment to designing communities to support a sustainable future is ingrained in the services we provide to our clients, the way we treat our people, and how we run our business. Across everything we do, we strive to address the three elements of sustainability: environmental, social, and governance.

We incorporate sustainability in our work because it aligns with our values, it’s good for the environment, it’s good for the community, but also because it’s good for business. It is a differentiator for us in the marketplace. It’s important that we walk the talk—practice the kind of strategies we recommend to our clients.

Every year we issue a Sustainability Report. What I really like about our report is it makes us take stock—to write down progress against goals and to understand how we’re evolving—it gives us focus. This year’s headline is that we have moved from a C to an A- ranking in the CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project)—it’s a huge accomplishment and one not many others in our space can claim. So, I feel we’re making measurable progress toward delivering on our promise to design with community in mind.

Read and download the Design Quarterly Issue 06 | Destination Zero

Sustainability is built into Stantec’s purpose, promise, and values. See how our Company works to protect the environment, improve quality of life for people at work and in our communities, and govern our operations ethically and responsibly by reading Stantec’s 2018 Sustainability Report, available now.

And while we’re thrilled with our progress, we know there are further dimensions for us to explore. We’ve started thinking beyond well-recognized A/E/C metrics like WELL, LEED, or Envision to measure our progress.

Now, we look to measure our collective impact against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The UN’s blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all, the SDGs address the global challenges of poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice with targeted milestones for 2030.

5 goals of sustainable development

For Stantec, we’ve identified the five United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that most closely align with our business and expertise, and we’re focused on making a difference in these areas:

#6—Clean Water and Sanitation

#7—Affordable and Clean Energy

#9—Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

#11—Sustainable Cities and Communities

#13—Climate Action

Certainly, when you look at something like affordable and clean energy, No. 7, that connects to our Energy Remix approach, which is all about designing a transition to renewables, whether it’s solar, wind, biomass, or pumped storage. When you look at industry innovation and infrastructure, our work is in making cities and communities more sustainable. In our Urban Places initiatives, we are redeveloping brownfields, reimagining them as vital urban places. And clean water and sanitation, No. 6, that’s what the water group does day-in and day-out for clients around the world.

Everyone wants to be part of something bigger. Being part of an organization that is really striving to make a difference in the world is a powerful motivator, and I think one of the reasons Stantec is a great place to be.

Internally, we practice sustainability in our offices in a variety of ways that reflect our culture. As I was walking up to our office in Delft, The Netherlands, I noticed an electric vehicle plugged into a charging station, with a big sign on it that said: “Charging, brought to you by Stantec.” I thought, that’s pretty cool! The Delft staff also volunteers during Stantec in the Community Week with a group called By the Oceans We Unite, which drags the ocean for plastic, sponsoring the netting on an expedition.

I was inspired by the depth and passion for sustainability in that office. I think it’s contagious. As I travel and visit our offices around the world, I try to start the conversation with local teams by sharing these stories but also by challenging them and asking, “How can we incorporate some of those things here and continue to reduce our footprint?”

A big part of this is we do what’s right and this pays off in personal satisfaction. Everyone wants to be part of something bigger. Being part of an organization that is really striving to make a difference in the world is a powerful motivator, and I think one of the reasons Stantec is a great place to be.

One can see our commitment to sustainability outside the office in the nonprofits to which we contribute our time. Our engineers volunteered with organizations such as Water for People, a nonprofit group that provides potable water and sanitation in less developed countries, helping with wells, pipelines, or treatment—we allow them to donate time to that work. Others contribute to Engineers Without Borders, which empowers communities around the world to meet their needs.

This is how we will contribute to a better world and how we are inspiring our people to connect more fully with the work we are doing.

There’s always more we can do, and we’re really continuing looking for ways to push from a broad sustainability perspective. We’re actively adopting new technology, be it Skype, Microsoft Surface, or internal communications hubs to reduce the need for our people to always travel, drive, or fly to meetings. That’s good for business, but those are also things that are good for the environment, lessening our overall carbon footprint. In the typical Stantec way, we talk about some of these things, but not all, and a lot of the time we just do it. And maybe we haven’t stood on the mountaintop and shouted our stories as loudly as others have, but I think we’ve achieved some substantial results along the way.

We’re doing some great things. If all that happens is that it causes other firms to pull up their socks and run harder to try and catch up with us—then we all benefit. So, I’m asking you, “What are you doing to incorporate sustainable thinking into your everyday life?”

  • Gord Johnston

    With a background in civil engineering, the water industry, project management, business management, and Envision sustainability, president and CEO Gord Johnston has been part of Stantec for almost 30 years.

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