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A New Sustainable Standard for Architects

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) is a system of criteria related to the environment, social equity, governance and supply chain practices that measure how investments and services can be scored and screened regarding sustainability. Why is this important  to you as a design professional?

Let’s first define ESG.  The four components when considering ESG criteria are:

  • Positive Environmental Impact: These impacts include how a company mitigates its greenhouse gas emissions, its efficient use of natural resources, and its effectiveness with recycling.
  • Social Equity for All Stakeholders: Factors include participation in community development, such as providing affordable housing, diverse and equal employment opportunities in hiring, and prioritizing human rights wherever the company does business.
  • Economic and Corporate Governance: This refers to a company’s leadership and board, including whether the board of directors is diverse and whether it is responsive to share/stakeholders.
  • Supply Chain Diversity and Sustainability: To reach sustainability goals, a sustainable procurement program must include the supplier’s diversity of goods, personnel, and services.

In early 2021, the AIA Board of Directors adopted a sustainable investment strategy based on ESG criteria as part of its Climate Action Plan.  Subsequently, the AIA Trust approved adding an ESG criterion to their member benefit program selection and evaluation criteria.  The AIA Strategic Council followed with research and published the AIA Scalable Action Report which includes a discussion of the valuable contribution of ESG screening on climate action.

In 2019, the NSF International (originally the National Sanitation Foundation), whose mission is to protect and improve human health through national standards, and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) developed and published the NSF/ANSI 391.1: “General Sustainability Assessment Criteria for Professional Services.”  This is the first points-based criteria for professional service providers (PSP) as classified by the U.S. Federal Professional Services Schedule or NAICS Sector 54, to document sustainable business practices, meet state and federal procurement guidelines for sustainable services and guide business practices and sustainable programs.

NSF/ANSI 391.1 helps PSP implement responsible business practices that demonstrate their commitment to future generations by creating transparent policies, ethical business practices and smaller carbon footprints. The new standard allows PSP to make documented and measurable commitments to improve their performance in each of the standard’s four component areas as defined above. For more information, look into the NSF/ANSI 391.1 Sustainability Certificate Pilot program.

Integrating a holistic approach to social and environmental impacts, NSF/ANSI 391.1 was developed on the belief of equitable prosperity while protecting the environment and society. For you, as a design professional, using this standard to document your sustainable business practices can be a marketing point when seeking employees, clients, services and project work while conveying confidence in the shared human experience.

AIA members are aware of the profound effect that climate change continues to have on the profession, and in turn, the impact that architects have on the built environment.  By using NSF/ANSI 391.1: “General Sustainability Assessment Criteria for Professional Services.” criteria to document design services practices, architects can contribute toward creating a sustainable future.




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