AECOM greenlights 2020 carbon cuts

If you were in the construction industry when Back to the Future came out in 1985, and a magical DeLorean picked you up and deposited you in 2016, many, many things would amaze you. Donald Trump aside, you would likely be shocked to learn that the following established architects, engineers and contractors all had just pledged to reduce their respective carbon footprints 20% in the next four years:

Of course, today, those firms — and a few others — collectively are known as AECOM, a Los Angeles-based multinational, multi-disciplinary titan that dates back only to 1990. Combined, it now manages about 100,000 employees worldwide and boasts more than $18 billion in annual revenues.

By any measure, it is a big, big dog.

And now that dog is bent on leading the pack. On Aug. 10 in Los Angeles — where AECOM’s name this year physically joined the downtown skyline (see below) — the firm announced a commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20% across global operations by 2020 (based on 2015 levels). To achieve this goal, the company says it will focus on its own largest sources of emissions: fleet vehicle fuel, purchased electricity, and heating/cooling for its hundreds of offices worldwide.

The new goal follows AECOM’s commitment, made alongside other industry leaders at a White House roundtable in 2015, to reduce collectively GHG emissions by 5 million metric tons by 2020. The transition to less-carbon intensive operations is consistent with AECOM’s mission “to transform communities, improve lives, and build a better world,” the company said in a statement.

“Our company is built around the power of connected expertise and collaboration to reimagine and create new potential for built and natural environments,” said Michael S. Burke, AECOM’s chairman and CEO. “Together, we strive to make a lasting and positive impact on society.”

Green + = + green

Added Josh Sawislak, AECOM’s global director of resilience: “This target helps [us] measure our progress managing our carbon footprint… We recognize the business opportunity connected with this. [It] is more than just being a good corporate citizen. It’s smart business to reduce our costs and position us for a sustainable future environmentally and financially.”

A former DMJM executive, Sawislak rejoined AECOM in April 2015 after serving as associate director for climate preparedness and resilience at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The announcement also came on the heels of AECOM’s recent release of its 2015 Sustainability Report, which features these three standouts from the U.S., Australia, and Malaysia:

  • USA: Golden 1 Center in Sacramento CA, which aims to be the world’s most sustainable arena by achieving a net-zero energy goal through using solar energy for 100% of its electricity, saving 700,000 gal. of water annually;
  • AUSTRALIA: Gateway W.A., a highway and interchange upgrade project in Perth, which is the first road project in the country to earn an “excellent” rating from the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia for its achievement of being designed, delivered and operated “in a socially and environmentally responsible manner”;
  • MALAYSIA: Kuala Lumpur Centre for Sustainable Innovation (see below) is a joint venture between AECOM and the Malaysian government that focuses on public and private sector engagement to develop sustainable innovations for improving livability.

Elsewhere in the movement

While AECOM and its many arms now move to reduce carbon use, they are far from the only prominent industry actors who have publicly pledged to do more to help. Others in the pack also argue that improving the environment will improve their respective bottom lines, as well.

So far, more than 50 U.S. firms — including Autodesk, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill ArchitectureARUP, HOK, JLL, Magnusson KlemencicNBBJ, Perkins + Will, and WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff — have signed the ongoing Building and Real Estate Climate Declaration, released 10 months ago by the U.S. Green Building Council, the Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF), and Ceres, the pro-business, Boston-based environmental advocacy group formed in the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Ceres’ mission: To mobilize investor and business leadership to build a thriving, sustainable global economy.

“As an innovative business, we stand to gain financially from good policies that recognize the reality of climate change”

— Gunnar Hubbard, Principal, Thornton-tomasetti

“For us, signing the declaration was common sense,” explained Gunnar Hubbard, a principal and sustainability practice leader at structural engineer Thornton Tomasetti. “As an innovative business, we stand to gain financially from good policies that recognize the reality of climate change. And because we believe reducing greenhouse gases is the responsible thing to do, our firm continues to do its part to reduce emissions through our core business practices and services,” he added.

Yes, in 1985, such words would have been unthinkable coming from this, or any industry. But much has changed in the last 31 years, perhaps even more than Doc Brown or Marty McFly could have imagined.

Below, the latest list of building and real estate firms to have signed. To add your name, click here.