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Celebrating Earth Day: A Discussion with RS&H’s Resiliency & Sustainability Leaders

April 22, 2024      By Linnea Brudenell, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Alex Howard

Tags: Aerospace, Corporate, Aviation, Federal, Science, Healthcare, Transportation

Every April 22nd, Earth Day serves as a reminder to celebrate the achievements of the environmental movement and raise awareness about environmental consciousness. To commemorate the international holiday, we sat down with Linnea Brudenell, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, and Alexandra “Alex” Howard former college classmates and rugby teammates at Reed College turned professional peers at RS&H. Despite the years and distance, their reunion at RS&H was driven by a shared commitment and sense of duty towards environmental stewardship.

Understanding the Why

“I’ve always advocated for the underdog, and I am passionate about protecting our most vulnerable populations,” said Brudenell. “Working for RS&H has allowed me to develop initiatives and partnerships, both internally and externally, that align with my values. Ultimately, my work in resilience and sustainability aims to limit the negative consequences of industrial development, especially for children, the elderly, and the disadvantaged communities that are often most impacted by climate change, and to ensure generations ahead of us inherit a safe and secure future.”

“We can’t control things like the weather and other natural systems, but our infrastructure and planet will be better off in the long run if we learn to work in balance with these systems,” added Howard. “There’s clear evidence of rising sea levels, more intense storms, and more intense wildfires, but you never know exactly what those are going to look like. You’re dealing with something with high consequences and, in some cases, a lot of uncertainty.”

For instance, Overseas Highway (U.S. 1 in Monroe County, Florida) is one of America’s most scenic and vulnerable highways, spanning over 113 miles, with 55 bridges connecting the U.S. mainland to Key West through the Florida Keys. The climate change shocks and stressors affecting Overseas Highway today are those that coastal infrastructure elsewhere will face in the near future. The vulnerability exemplified by this critical piece of infrastructure inspired state agencies to select RS&H as a partner to complete a comprehensive assessment of feasible and readily implementable adaptive actions, which spanned the full spectrum of RS&H’s planning, environmental science and design services.

Being authentic when discussing Earth Day & Solutions to Our Environmental Reality

Merriam-Webster’s 2023 word of the year is ‘authentic’ – something both Brudenell and Howard take to heart when approaching their work. In today’s landscape, the public increasingly expects leadership from large corporations to develop climate solutions and deliver tangible commitments to environmental progress.

With so much uncertainty, “it’s important to be authentic and honest about the limits of our knowledge and work together with clients to help them find options that match their and their constituents’ values,” said Howard. “I joined RS&H because I was impressed by the firm’s interest, genuine commitment to advancing resilience, and authenticity in environmental stewardship,” said Howard. “It was a big move to come over after 20+ years in the public sector, and knowing that RS&H has played a leadership role in the field was key to my decision.”

People crave responsible consumption and production, climate action, and sustainable city and community development– goals aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. However, despite approximately 96% of large firms claiming to report on their sustainability endeavors, many face accusations of greenwashing, a term referring to the practice of prioritizing the marketing of sustainability efforts over actual environmental impact reduction.

“I’ve been in this space for nearly 30 years, and I’ve seen many firms talk about and project these amazing green statistics. I’ve seen them talk about how green they are, how amazing they are,” said Brudenell.

 “Anybody who says they’ve got it figured out is not being authentic with their results. That’s what sets RS&H apart. We’re transparent about where we are in our journey, and we know our strengths and weaknesses; we know there is room for improvement, and that’s okay.” – Linnea Brudenell, National Sustainability and Resilience Director

RS&H embodies our commitment to sustainability through various initiatives , including the AIA 2030 Commitment program, a program developed by the American Institute of Architects that aims for net zero and decarbonization in the vertical built environment, our sustainability action plan, and our annual Year in Review report.

AIA 2030 Commitment & RS&H’s Transparent Progress Reporting

As part of our participation in the AIA 2030 Commitment program, aimed at achieving carbon-neutral buildings by 2030, RS&H has fostered an open dialogue surrounding environmental initiatives and established authentic public objectives. RS&H endeavors to meet the 2030 energy reduction targets by deliberately including energy modeling and analysis from the earliest phases of design, reviewing how progress and practices are tracked with the firm’s delivered projects, and eventually through post-occupancy energy audits and commissioning. Reporting the honest progress of the firm’s portfolio toward meeting the 2030 goals by using the AIA 2030 DDx.

Remaining transparent in showcasing our successes and addressing our challenges resonates more deeply than making empty promises or engaging in greenwashing tactics.

“Authenticity translates in many ways to honesty and being true to yourself and others with the information that you share,” said Howard. “In the world of resilience, you’re dealing with a high level of uncertainty, so, again, I think it’s important to be honest about what you know and what you don’t.”

RS&H annually shares progress towards our sustainability and resilience initiatives in our Year In Review, a report that showcases a summary of the firm’s fiscal year. During a recent annual audit included in the Year in Review, we shared that RS&H’s investigation identified additional sustainability opportunities equating to nearly $1.8 million in savings per year for one of our long-time clients, the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCa).

Authenticity Highly-Valued by Next Generations

Maintaining authenticity can hold significant weight in retaining talent, especially among younger generations. Millennials and Gen Z, in particular, prioritize issues like climate change and environmental consciousness more than the generations before. As of 2022, Gen Z has surpassed Baby Boomers in the workforce and is steadily gaining ground on both Millennials and Gen X. This demographic shift signifies the increasing influence that Gen Z wields in shaping the fortune of the workforce across the nation. The future is constantly changing, just like the environment, so it makes sense that a younger workforce’s priorities will also bring change.

“We have to be able to steer our next generation through this uncertainty,” said Brudenell. “We have to keep the realistic vulnerabilities of the environment at the forefront of our discussions because we know the impact it has on younger generations.”

Looking to the Future

Thanks to RS&H’s partnership with environmentally conscious partners across the industry, the firm sits in various markets that will allow us to make real, positive changes in our local communities and the environment.

“It’s an exciting place to be,” said Brudenell. “We are positioned very well, with tremendous growth opportunities in our existing markets where we are seeing a lot of funding and opportunities to offer solutions. The possibilities are limitless.”

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