Walking the Talk: WRNS Studio is the First Design Firm With a Head Office in California to Earn the International Living Futures Institute’s Social Justice Label
WRNS Studio Partners Melinda Rosenberg and Pauline Souza explain why earning the JUST Label became a top priority and how it reflects the WRNS Studio ethos. We celebrated with a visit and presentation from JUST Program Manager Francis Janes.
Updated Just Certification (2019)
When you ask Partner/Director of Human Resources Melinda Rosenberg why WRNS decided to file for our JUST Label, she’ll tell you, “It was just the right thing to do.” The International Living Futures Institute describes the JUST Label as a nutrition label for socially just and equitable organizations, which allows companies and organizations to disclose their commitments to the following social equity indicators:
- Worker Benefit
- Local Benefit
These indicators align closely with WRNS’ values, and as we’ve grown, our commitment to them has only amplified. Stewardship, in particular, is something we are continuously exploring: As we grow, how can we do more?
Francis Janes, JUST Program Manager stopped by our San Francisco studio to share more about the program and his process working with Melinda and Pauline: “In a relatively short timeframe since program launch, the JUST Program has garnered worldwide interest and has helped organizations to develop better employee engagement policies and community stewardship practices…WRNS Studio has earned the distinction of being the first JUST labeled architecture firm with a head office in the State of California. The JUST Label is reflective of WRNS Studio’s long standing commitment to sustainable design and the role that social equity plays in truly sustainable organizations.”
“It was easy for us to earn the stars, because our success hinges on our people, and we run our business with their interests at heart,” says Melinda, “But JUST is also a great opportunity for us to identify areas where we can improve. For example, we noticed that we have room to improve in the gender diversity and pay categories. This is an industry-wide issue, and while our percentages are quite good relative to industry standards, we want to do even better.” Much like the work Equity by Design is doing with their surveys (according to their 2016 survey, women still earn less than their male counterparts across all levels of experience), the JUST Label arms WRNS Studio with data for making improvements across all equity indicators.
The JUST Label is part of a series of efforts WRNS is implementing to do our part to promote equity and transparency. Partner/Director of Sustainability Pauline Souza explains, “We have supported initiatives like the Health Product Declaration and systems like LEED and the Living Building Challenge that ask manufacturers and clients to embrace transparency. We know that we should expect the same of ourselves, but we also know you cannot improve what you don’t measure. The JUST System allows us to celebrate what we are doing well, and focus on areas we can do better.”
The JUST program, launched in 2014, provides companies with a framework to begin conversations about social justice and reconsider how work being done now fits into the six indicators. It’s a language — a way to codify those social elements that were heretofore lacking in metrics-based thinking. “JUST allows companies to opt out of three categories, and we opted out of ‘Union Friendly,’ ‘Local Sourcing,’ and ‘Animal Welfare,’ because they seemed the least applicable to our business,” Melinda explains, “Even though we opted out, the policies got us thinking about how our work relates to these indicators — even the ones least relevant to us! We design projects using locally sourced materials all the time, and much of our work restores natural habitats and makes use of bird-proof glass, protecting wildlife. We’re also doing pro bono work from our New York Studio helping the Bideawee Animal Hospital use their assets to their fullest potential. The JUST Label helps us frame our thinking about the work we’re already doing, which is great.”
Armed with the data we’ve compiled through our JUST Label, Melinda and Pauline are exploring ways to honor employees while inspiring other firms to commit to transparency and social justice. Being the first architecture firm with a head office in California to earn the JUST Label is an honor and a responsibility. “If we can spark an industry trend in this direction, everyone wins,” says Melinda.