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June 23, 2011: Smart Business

Reflecting Green Customer Initiatives

When a company's projects include cleaning nuclear reactor test sites, building clean coal power plants and restoring wildlife habitats, you don't have to look too deep into its operations to label it sustainable.

But environmental services alone weren't good enough anymore for MACTEC Inc., which was recently acquired by international engineering and project management firm AMEC plc. Both inside the company and out, people started asking what really made it so sustainable.

"Whereas answers like, 'Yes, we provide sustainable solutions,' may have been acceptable in the past, people want you to demonstrate today how and what it is you do, both internally and externally," says MACTEC Director of Sustainability Sarah Hansen.

As the conversation around sustainability matures from environmental generalities to business specifics, leaders like Hansen keep up by walking the talk, both through operations and projects. After all, industry credibility and image are on the line — not to mention client shareholder value.

"Our clients have certain expectations of a company that they hire because their stakeholders have certain expectations of them. It's somewhat of a flow-down," she says. "The ability for us to say, 'Yes, we've been able to reduce our water use. Yes, we've been able to improve our recycling program,' — we are asked those questions as part of proposal processes. Our internal performance does feed directly into what clients are asking of us."

To answer some of those questions proactively, MACTEC released its first Sustainability Report, detailing the company's accomplishments through 2010 and outlining plans and metrics for moving forward. It was a way of actively engaging dialogue around the question: How is your company sustainable?

"The scope of the question has expanded beyond health and safety, diversity, wellness, cost savings, risk reduction, etc.; today it is an integrated 'sustainability' perspective that seeks to measure organizational behavior and service delivery in terms of social responsibility, environmental stewardship, and economic benefit," the report reads. "The challenge in measuring sustainability in our projects is establishing a shared understanding with our clients of what is to be measured and the expectations of performance."

Building the big picture

MACTEC's leadership had to connect the dots of sustainability's shifts to be able to lay out expectations for clients. The first step was defining what sustainability meant and how it would be measured, inside the organization and out.

"We at MACTEC see it as having a responsibility to see that future generations have the resources they need to grow and prosper. That's the global perspective, and everybody's going to say something similar to that," Hansen says. "More locally, sustainability means providing a preferred workplace for our employees, creating value for our shareholders, improving our community and preserving the environment through what we do."

Most companies have general commitments, but MACTEC went one step further by breaking sustainability into three pillars that would be used to measure it, both operationally and through client projects.

"With sustainability, it's a balance between the economics of the situation, the environmental impact and the social impacts," she says.

When it came to measuring sustainability on a project-by-project basis, then, Hansen looked at three criteria within each of those three elements. For a project to pass the test, it had to satisfy at least one from each category:

  • Social responsibility: enhancing community stability, health and welfare, and aesthetics
  • Environmental stewardship: resource conservation, habitat restoration and ecosystem diversity improvements
  • Economic benefit: avoid/save costs, avoid/mitigate risk and enable client goal

Return to: 2011 Feature Stories