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Robyn James

A&U BU Project Delivery & Performance Director, U.S.

Renewable energy, sustainability, carbon neutrality—these are some of the world’s most critical issues, and certainly some of the most talked-about challenges facing the architectural/engineering (A/E) community today.


More than ever, practitioners can and do influence the increased use of sustainable materials in the built environment by incorporating environmental performance criteria such as energy efficiency, water conservation, and waste management into their designs. There is also mounting pressure on corporations to demonstrate tangible efforts toward positive change, for example by implementing corporate environmental policies, increasing recycling programs, or even by planting trees to offset carbon emissions. That pressure, somewhat surprisingly, is being driven in large part by Wall Street as consumers and investors work to become more educated about the environmental and social values of the brands they use and invest in. 

Global awareness and attention on emerging environmental and social issues, from climate crisis to pay inequity, has piqued the interest of everyday citizens and highlighted the ways in which their individual purchase and investment behaviors can have an impact on the world we live in. People want to be associated with firms they feel good about, that are focused on solving these problems, not contributing to them. One tool helping to provide a “peek behind the curtain” is environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting, a framework that provides transparency into an organization’s environmental philosophy, social responsibility, and risk management strategy. This framework gives stakeholders (employees, clients, investors, etc.) a whole new vantage point from which to assess an organization’s values, from resource efficiency to climate change mitigation, to labor standards and diversity, equity and inclusion practices. Examples include:


  • Renewable fuels
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Energy efficiency
  • Climate risk
  • Water management
  • Recycling processes


  • Health and safety
  • Working conditions
  • Employee benefits
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Human rights
  • Impact on local communities


  • Ethical standards
  • Board diversity/governance
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Stakeholder rights
  • Pay for performance

The ESG concept gained traction around 2010, following in the footsteps of other regulatory frameworks that used regulation to manage negative externalities, which occur when the consumption or production of a good causes a harmful effect to a third party (i.e., pollution or noise consumption). Starting with Environmental Health & Safety in the 1980s, Corporate Sustainability in the 1990s, and Corporate Social Responsibility in the early 2000s, these movements paved the way for the development of the ESG framework and provided financial advisors with tangible data from which to educate investors.

While criticism around the value of ESG exists (Elon Musk called it ‘a scam’), it appears it’s here to stay. A 2020 survey from NAVEX Global, a compliance management software provider, indicated that 88% of public companies had already established ESG initiatives. In 2019, Wall Street solidified its ESG commitment with the introduction of the S&P 500 ESG Index, which measures the stock value of those companies meeting certain sustainability criteria. Similar to the S&P 500 Index, this index, coupled with the availability and use of annual ESG reporting and scoring systems, provides a valuable benchmark for investors seeking companies based specifically on their commitment to strong ESG goals.

Given the evidence that ESG is gaining favor in the market, it seems fair to surmise that having a formal corporate strategy can help build trust and goodwill with investors while also providing valuable data points for clients and prospects as they make their real-time purchase and investment choices. It stands to reason then that A/E firms in particular can benefit twofold from embracing ESG – in their own business operations as well as in their approach to the clients they serve. With that in mind, Arcadis has committed to transparent performance reporting and, in fact, has been ranked first in our industry for ESG performance by Sustainalytics and in the top 1% of firms by EcoVadis for successfully integrated sustainable practices. This recognition speaks volumes about our internal philosophy and suggests that not only do we fully understand how to set and achieve sustainability goals, but that we can provide clients with a roadmap to do so successfully as well.

Ultimately, ESG provides a unique perspective into critical business areas that were previously unnoticed (and in some cases concealed), allowing clients and investors to make more thoughtful and informed decisions about the firms with which they do business. Whether you agree or disagree with the framework, ESG encourages transparency across the board and brings to center stage an entire category of business practices that have long gone unexplored. Either way, I call that progress.

Robyn James

A&U BU Project Delivery & Performance Director, U.S.