The notion of corporate sustainability is now upfront and center in the minds of many. It’s a needed national conversation. At BAW Architecture we have always pursued the timeless tenets of efficiency, minimizing exposure to risk, and return on investment for our clients. Where does corporate sustainability, or corporate social responsibility, fit in to that picture? I am taking the opportunity to articulate that now.
The mining, petrochemical and transportation industries have elevated the standard of living for people worldwide over the last century. My life, and probably yours, would be unimaginable without these catalysts of prosperity, so pervasive is our expectation of personal mobility, global travel, and access to goods such as tennis balls and smart phones. We have all benefitted tremendously on so many fronts. Our control buildings support these industries, which form the backbone of our economy. For me, sustainability goes beyond an LED light bulb or recycling bins. It is a way of doing business. Allow me to clarify.
Quality is Sustainable
Corporate sustainability, according to most definitions, recognizes that corporate growth and profitability are important, but also requires the corporation to pursue societal goals. To me, quality is a societal goal worth pursuing, and poor quality is not sustainable. Cheap is actually extremely costly, because cheap things do not last, and therefore must be replaced often, which puts tremendous pressure on all the natural resources it takes to produce that thing, whether it’s a jacket or a control building. Disposable is expensive and environmentally irresponsible—in a word, unsustainable. We see companies spending a fortune on control buildings that don’t perform their function, and are subsequently abandoned, or turned into storage or other facilities that have nothing to do with their intended original use. All that human effort amounting to nothing—the waste is staggering. At BAW, by contrast, we build things with a view to the long term, to last generations. We emphasize quality, and do it right the first time. Our buildings endure. That’s not just good business practice, it’s a sustainable business model.
Ethical is Sustainable
What resonates most with me is to hold myself to the highest level of integrity. What does that mean? It means to be trustworthy. It means to put the interest of the client—from owner to manager to operator—first. It means ethical business practices. Not to simply be in compliance with the law, but to be good citizens. Never greedy. Never corrupt. Because reputations matter, and here at BAW we are in it for the long haul. We strive to stand with resiliency in the face of market fluctuations and flash-in-the-pan fads, to build relationships based on trust that stand the test of time. Because ethical is sustainable.
Safety is Sustainable
Catastrophes make headlines but safety rarely does—and that’s kind of the point. Safety best practices prevent situations large and small from escalating or taking place at all. When sound safety systems are in place, uneventful time goes by, and that’s a good thing in a control room setting. To mitigate error is a worthy goal, but to prevent the error from happening in the first place is the Holy Grail, and this ethos informs all of our designs. The BAW control buildings and rooms that have been built around the globe have quietly prevented countless potentially dangerous situations from occurring. The well being of plant employees, surrounding communities and adjacent ecosystems are thus protected.
Catastrophe Prevention is Sustainable
What would have happened during the BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe if its control room had been ISO compliant, and embodied human factors engineering best practices? I’ll go out on a limb: it would have been prevented, and I am not alone in that conclusion. According to the New York Times, operators were “frozen by the sheer complexity of the Horizon’s defenses, and by the policies that explained when they were to be deployed. One emergency system alone was controlled by 30 buttons.”* BAW employs human factors engineering in its control rooms specifically designed to avert this type of confusion in the event of an abnormal event, and deescalate the situation in the event of an explosion. According to scientists at the National Wildlife Federation, more than 8,000 birds, sea turtles, and marine mammals were found injured or dead in the six months after the spill. The Deepwater Horizon incident was the worst environmental disaster in the history of the United States and the earth can ill afford another spill of that magnitude. Incidents like this should be, and can be, prevented.
Best Practices Are Sustainable
Perhaps your control room operator is sitting in a soulless, windowless bunker that lacks proper attention to human factors. Perhaps in these circumstances s/he is grinding out work that requires the highest levels of concentration coupled with potentially extreme consequences should an abnormal situation arise. If so you have created an unsustainable situation for that operator. Poor ergonomics can lead to repetitive motion injuries, fatigue-related error and the inability to react quickly due to line-of-sight or arc-of-reach considerations, while bad acoustics or lighting can cause confusion and disorientation in an abnormal situation. Furthermore, dank, dark, dated workspaces that resemble subterranean prison cells are unlikely to retain the talented, experienced personnel needed in your high-stakes industry. We go to the mat for the operators, because a well designed control room makes a worker not only happier, but more efficient, which in turn makes a plant more productive and profitable. If we are going to drill for oil or mine for minerals we should do it right. Bad workspaces lead to unstable workforces. Good workspaces lead to sustainable workplaces and sustainable industries.
Local Economies Are Sustainable
BAW has built control rooms around the world, from Asia to Africa, for many a petrochemical and mining company. These companies create something out of nothing. They go in and bring the skills and technology necessary to extract natural resources, and employ locals who are taught how to continue the process. They leave a legacy of skills, jobs and technology that economically sustains subsequent generations. Not only that, when BAW is called in to design the building we study and incorporate historic motifs and patterns of the local culture, bolstering pride in and helping to honor that culture.
Efficiency is Sustainable
BAW always has an eye to efficiencies large and small. Whether it’s designing floor plans that maximize useable space, or installing daylighting windows that cut down the need for electricity, we always strive to produce the smallest footprint possible while getting the biggest bang for our clients’ buck. Our ethos is “Do More With Less.” Is that not the essence of a sustainable future? It’s also just good business, and that’s something I can really get behind.
When I come to work each day I feel like I am doing something meaningful, something that is benefitting people, and thus making the world a better place. We make things safe, energy efficient, profitable and yes, sustainable—it’s a win/win for all involved. This synchs with me, with my heart and my life. It’s something I believe in.
Brad Adams Walker
Architect, President and Founding Principal
* Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours
By David Barstow, David Rohde and Stephanie Saul
Published in the New York Times, December 25, 2010