Wed. Aug 21st, 2019

Meet Lindsay Baker, WeWork’s first international sustainability chief

For a lot of, WeWork is reworking expectations about workplace area. It’s the largest workplace tenant in New York Metropolis, for instance, with 60-plus areas (it is arduous to maintain observe). At one level, my son noticed each of his dad and mom working in WeWork areas and assumed that everybody labored in locations like this. Sooner or later he may be proper, as extra individuals are becoming a member of daily. WeWork’s international footprint has grown to just about 690 areas throughout 120 cities globally, and now consists of WeLive and WeGrow, which collectively are known as the We Firm. Thus, because the class chief in shared working areas, the corporate’s stance on sustainability is attention-grabbing to look at.

One factor I’m exploring on this column is the tipping level at which corporations understand they want this function. In Lindsay Baker’s expertise from the startup world, she noticed corporations reaching that time at a sure variety of workers.

That bought me fascinated about the businesses I’ve labored with as a sustainability guide and written about. Within the handful of corporations I’ve featured to this point, two reached that tipping level after an acquisition — one as a inventory trade itemizing requirement, and one as a result of the corporate’s social and environmental ethos had turn into a differentiating characteristic of the model. Exterior of the startup world, the variety of workers may be fairly different. But regardless of the completely different drivers and firm sizes, one factor is obvious: These getting acknowledged with their work are doubling down on how they’ll make an affect with the problems most related to the corporate.

Right here’s what Baker needed to say about creating this perform at WeWork: 

Mia General: How did you discover your technique to WeWork?

Lindsay Baker: I’ve labored on sustainability and actual property for over 15 years. I began out on the Inexperienced Constructing Council on the time that LEED was developed, then did a grasp’s in constructing science on the College of California at Berkeley. I began working at Google on the true property sustainability staff, and after a while joined a office expertise startup known as Cozy. WeWork turned a shopper of Cozy so I bought to know the management staff.

Finally I began asking why they didn’t have a full time sustainability particular person they usually stated, “Sustainability is form of everybody’s job.” We had a superb relationship they usually have been curious about having me be a part of the corporate, so I made a case for making a devoted sustainability program.

It’s been nice to consider how the sustainability perform and social points can work in live performance.

My tackle it’s that rising corporations have a tendency to rent their first sustainability particular person once they attain a headcount of round three,000 individuals, so the timing was proper. Usually, sustainability packages are primarily about advertising, and so at first, WeWork’s management was skeptical that they may do it otherwise, however in actual fact there was numerous potential for actual affect. The corporate was rising quickly and has actual shopping for energy, together with with issues like furnishings — a few of which we make ourselves. Plus, we’ve been in a position to put some construction round a spirit that was already there.

General: How has the function grown over time?

Baker: After I began, I had desires of what I may obtain on this function, however that preliminary imaginative and prescient was only one p.c of what it has turn into. The mindset of the management staff right here more and more has shifted towards addressing local weather change, which is basically the difficulty of our time. WeWork homes companies of all sizes, together with many startups, so there are a lot of kinds of interventions we are able to make to assist assist them.

On the similar time, WeWork itself nonetheless has very a lot a startup mentality in that the scope of roles is all the time evolving. Lately, I’ve began to consider the mixing of social affect and sustainability. I’ve been getting much more captivated with addressing the methods the sustainability trade hasn’t all the time completed an ideal job of fixing social issues so it’s been nice to consider how the sustainability perform and social points can work in live performance.

General: WeWork is a large property holder. What does that imply in your function on sustainability in cities?

Baker: Roughly 70 p.c of individuals will dwell in cities by 2050. Our buildings and our cities have to adapt sooner to satisfy the challenges that include fast urbanization and mounting local weather affect. We’re fascinated about that in some ways at WeWork. We just lately welcomed a brand new staff devoted to creating future cities. That staff and mine shall be working intently collectively on some initiatives, that are largely round fascinated about sustainability on the metropolis scale, and ensuring that we’re nice residents of the cities and communities we’re in.

General: You’re a LEED specialist however WeWork hasn’t pursued LEED certification.  What’s your stance on this? 

Baker: That is one thing I’ve needed to be very considerate about as a result of I’ve such a robust connection to 3rd social gathering certification as a market driver. LEED is a instrument for particular classes of decision-making: new development initiatives; business interiors initiatives; and many others. However at WeWork, we don’t match nicely in classes — we don’t simply design workplace area, we function our areas, we function areas for different corporations, we have now colleges inside our areas, we even make a few of our personal furnishings and constructing assemblies.

So from a enterprise perspective, it’s not an ideal match as an overarching coverage or a central objective. LEED remains to be one thing we pursue for some initiatives, and we’re additionally actually impressed by WELL, FitWel, and the opposite ranking programs on the market. Nevertheless it’s actually vital to me that our neighborhood focuses on the affect objectives, not the intermediate objectives of certifications. So our sustainability work is structured in the direction of outcomes: discount of our carbon footprint; discount of power use depth; provide chain affect discount; well being end result metrics; indoor environmental high quality metrics; and many others.

If we get certifications alongside the trail in the direction of these objectives, that’s nice, however they don’t seem to be the objectives themselves. This isn’t one thing that each sustainability staff can do — it’s like creating your personal recipes as an alternative of utilizing another person’s. However we have now a stellar staff and a transparent directive from our management to innovate and blaze a brand new path, in order that’s what we’re doing.

General: What are you most happy with attaining?

Baker: I’m happy with having employed a staff of world famend consultants in sustainability points that relate to actual property. They’re actually actually superb and I feel we’re simply attending to work in some ways. The accomplishments I get most enthusiastic about are those we haven’t completed but.

That stated, I’m proud that we’ve dedicated to attaining carbon neutrality by 2023 and that we did it shortly and aggressively. Corporations actually need to begin setting carbon targets and do their finest to attain them. We are attempting to point out that it’s potential (and actually, mandatory) to select up the tempo.

I’m proud that we eradicated single use plastics and that the corporate has determined to not serve meat at firm occasions.

To be clear, individuals can eat meat at WeWork, however we aren’t spending firm cash on meat.

These are examples of the form of issues different corporations have completed and may do, however I’m happy with our velocity making selections like this and the common consensus round them. Additionally, because of this, most individuals within the firm at the moment are conscious that defending the surroundings is a vital worth.

General: How did individuals react to the no-meat coverage?

Baker: There have been quite a lot of responses. At first we bought numerous questions, however now, it’s simply part of how we function. To be clear, individuals can eat meat at WeWork, however we aren’t spending firm cash on meat. Many individuals suppose it’s actually impactful. Analysis signifies that avoiding meat is without doubt one of the greatest issues a person can do to cut back their private environmental affect. It’s arduous to argue with the coverage from a carbon footprint perspective. Plus, we function all around the world, together with many communities the place individuals don’t actually eat meat in any respect. It was an ideal second when individuals realized that we wished to spend firm cash towards advancing our values.   

General: How have you ever navigated selections round the place to focus your time?

Baker: I used to be fortunate that I had a few months earlier than I began my job to consider this and I requested different individuals in comparable roles. As a guiding construction, daily we take into consideration the place our greatest impacts may be, what our points are as an organization and the place we are able to do essentially the most good. It’s much less about ensuring each subject is roofed or hitting sq. footage metrics than it’s about doubling down on key points.

For instance, we’re prioritizing local weather change. In comparison with different points, we see it as one thing we have now to deal with. For us this implies tackling our personal local weather footprint but additionally serving to entrepreneurs begin companies to assist deal with local weather. We’re additionally disproportionately attempting to have a optimistic affect in areas of the world which might be impacted by local weather change. In that sense, we’re taking a very international/worldwide strategy which implies pondering greater than a U.S. firm usually would about points dealing with the worldwide south. It is simply actually attempting to remain centered and centered on a extra worldwide strategy.

General: It seems like we may be listening to extra on this within the close to future.

Baker: Keep tuned.

General: The scope of your function consists of Wellbeing. What does this imply at WeWork? The corporate has a repute for being a grinding place to work. Is that this true? As the corporate’s chief on Wellness, what has it meant to strategy “human” sustainability within the office?

Baker: I’ll begin from the fundamental definition and imaginative and prescient right here. I imagine that sustainability goes hand in hand with well being as a result of it is a query of offering a world that’s wholesome to dwell in. Well being is a essential a part of the work we do, particularly because it pertains to buildings. We pay numerous consideration to indoor environmental high quality in every single place, and particularly in locations like India and China the place air high quality is basically unhealthy. We even have to verify constructing enhancements are completed with a stability of lowering consumption and ensuring individuals are wholesome. My staff is most involved about basic wants like acoustics, lighting, temperature and air high quality, and we work arduous to verify our areas dwell as much as our requirements on these areas.  

Over time, corporations are in a position to [build] infrastructure to allow individuals to dwell wholesome, balanced lives.

Because it pertains to the dynamic of the office, I’ve seen that has loads to do with the maturity of the corporate. Like many corporations which might be going by massive development spurts, individuals right here work very arduous, together with by placing in lengthy hours. As we get extra mature as an organization, one of many issues that occurs is that groups like mine present up and begin to concentrate on ergonomics, for instance. I noticed the identical factor at Google once I was there.

General: What recommendation do you have got for different first sustainability leaders?

Baker: It strikes me that one of many widespread challenges skilled by first time sustainability leaders is wading by the query of who you’ll align your model with. You’re going to get requested a whole bunch of occasions by individuals to lend your model to a particular effort. Many, if not all of these requests shall be coming from a very good place.  But when we’re going to have a partnership or signal as much as a dedication or type an allegiance, I would like it to be significant. We have now had only a few partnerships within the first yr and I wished them to be significant, equivalent to becoming a member of RE100.

One factor that has been an actual studying expertise for me is determining if you need to join one thing and to make use of your identify sparingly. I’ve been grateful for the assistance of a number of colleagues in studying methods to maneuver by this. The very first thing I did was to determine on our objectives and points, what we wish to take a stand on. So when well-intentioned staff and others ask for our assistance on one thing, we are able to determine shortly if it’s a excessive precedence or not. Then we exit proactively and search for essentially the most superb individuals and corporations engaged on the problems we care about, and forge partnerships with them. We could have extra bulletins coming quickly on this entrance, so keep tuned.

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