News & Events

LAF News

Stay up to date on LAF!

Subscribe to RSS Feed

Equity and Inclusion in Practice: Mithun

mithunphotobyjuanhernandez-ibarramedia530pxPhoto by Juan Hernandez, Ibarra Media; Image courtesy of Mithun

In issuing the New Landscape Declaration, the Landscape Architecture Foundation has made a commitment to strengthen and diversify our global capacity as a profession and to cultivate a bold culture of inclusive leadership, activism, and advocacy within our ranks. To promote these values, LAF is publishing a series of articles to showcase the ways in which design firms are demonstrating leadership on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, from providing targeted support for students and emerging professionals to seeking outside guidance and evaluation of internal policies. This article continues the series by sharing Mithun’s experience with the International Living Future Institute’s JUST program and the firm’s motivation to pursue a JUST Label.

Mithun is an integrated design firm that merges architecture, interiors, landscapes, urban design, and planning. Working across the U.S., the firm is made up of a diverse community of 200 employees in offices in Seattle, Washington and San Francisco, California. Mithun recently completed an introspective, community-minded evaluation process that culminated with the assignment of a JUST Label. A program of the International Living Future Institute, JUST is a voluntary disclosure tool for organizations to report on social justice and equity within their operations, using a range of organization- and employee-related indicators.

In addition to serving as a transparency tool, the JUST Label offers a standardized method of comparing one firm’s performance to another’s. Mithun chose JUST over other options like the B Corporation designation because the JUST Label is already in use within the design community, and other designations did not align as well with Mithun’s service model. Created and managed by the organization behind the Living Building Challenge, JUST has grown out of the green building industry and has been used by many architecture firms, as well as a few landscape architecture firms including PWL Partnership and Biohabitats.

Mithun’s longtime commitment to equity is what brought the firm to the JUST program as a way to demonstrate its values at the organizational level. Since its founding over 60 years ago, Mithun has placed great importance on being an active member of the communities its offices exist within. Many senior-level employees serve in leadership roles with community organizations, and all employees are encouraged to contribute to the community through volunteer opportunities and community design projects.

The firm further saw the JUST registration process as a thoughtful tool to consider issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion across the workplace. The label looks at gender and racial diversity, pay scale equity, gender pay equity, and family friendly policies.  Surveying worker happiness is required, and stewardship metrics that span charitable giving to community volunteering and responsible investing are evaluated.  For Mithun, pursuing a JUST Label meant formalizing policies around many issues previously addressed on an ad hoc basis, such as the creation of a company policy providing employees with up to 16 hours of paid time off annually to volunteer in the community.

The process also led Mithun to reconsider its human networks. There has been a shift in recruitment as the firm considers what networks it reaches out to and who may have been excluded from recruitment methods of the past. Mithun has intentionally become involved in new networks and has been able to find talented student  interns by connecting with communities of color that are underrepresented in design practice. Further, Mithun has found that rising designers are especially interested in working for firms that demonstrate commitment to transparency and inclusion, and the JUST Label allows Mithun to do exactly that.

mithunhometeamnorthrichmondcabgroupshotsmphotobysamholman530pxAs part of the Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge, Mithun collaborated with the North Richmond Community Advisory Board - a diverse group of local residents, elected officials, public agencies, and community organizations - to turn investments in sea level rise adaptations and aging infrastructure into opportunities for all. Photo by Sam Holman

Mithun has also shifted the scope and organization of its work to more holistically involve and empower the communities it partners with, as most clearly demonstrated by the firm’s entry to the San Francisco Bay Area’s Resilient by Design challenge. Mithun co-created a solution with the affected community, approaching resilience through a racial equity framework with a broad awareness of how the design process can be grounded through deeper community engagement with community liaisons, offering stipends to community leaders and growing local jobs through the structure of the design solutions. 

From engaging in the JUST program, Mithun has seen many positive outcomes and expects to see further benefits as conversations continue. Overall, the firm’s work is now done with greater intention regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels. And the JUST process isn’t a one-time exercise. The JUST Label is valid for two years, and organizations can update or renew at any time. In 2019, Mithun plans to reengage in the process to update its JUST Label and reaffirm its commitment to transparency and the well-being of its employees. 

Visit justorganizations.com to see Mithun’s JUST Label and the details behind the indicators, along with the information for the over 70 other firms and organizations that have participated in the program. If your firm is interested in learning more about Mithun’s experience with the JUST program and evaluation process, please email Rory Doehring, LAF Communications Associate, who will put you in contact with a member of Mithun’s JUST committee.

Equity and Inclusion in Practice: Sasaki

sasaki-530px-939On June 12, 2018, Sasaki partnered with LAF to hold a panel titled “Design for Equity and Inclusion” at the Sasaki Foundation's new incubator space in Watertown, Massachusetts

In issuing the New Landscape Declaration, the Landscape Architecture Foundation has made a commitment to strengthen and diversify our global capacity as a profession and to cultivate a bold culture of inclusive leadership, activism, and advocacy within our ranks. To promote these values, LAF is publishing a series of articles to showcase the ways in which design firms are demonstrating leadership in diversity, equity, and inclusion, from providing targeted support for students and emerging professionals to seeking outside guidance and certification of internal policies. This article kicks off the series and highlights the efforts undertaken by Sasaki to promote a design culture that is welcoming for all.

 
Sasaki is a global design firm with international staff working at offices in Watertown, Massachusetts and Shanghai, China. By acting with intention, Sasaki has created an atmosphere in which meaningful conversations on the issues of diversity and inclusion can take place and where ideas, not authors, guide projects. These actions are undertaken in pursuit of Sasaki’s vision statement on diversity: Sasaki believes in an inclusive culture that powers human potential. We build our ecosystem on parity, respect, accountability, candor, and trust to reflect our commitment to our people and their contributions. We take this action because diversity is essential to design.
 
It is not new for Sasaki to emphasize equity in its culture and policies. Over a decade ago, the firm’s leaders recognized a trend in the design industry, and in the wider workforce. Women were frequently passed over for promotions because it was often assumed they would put their careers on hold to raise families. To confront this issue, Sasaki focused on promoting gender equity in its own workforce. The firm brought in a diversity consultant to ensure they were following best practices and, in the years following, continued its focus on equity and inclusion by conducting an annual work/office climate survey, having conversations with staff, and holding focus groups. Sasaki also saw the need to explore what diversity meant in the workplace as the firm was contracted for projects in new locales around the world and attracted more global talent as a result. Further, Sasaki’s projects include public spaces and university campuses where the firm recognized changing demographics in the user base. From all of these influences, Sasaki gained different perspectives on the importance of diversity in design, and a greater understanding of the ways in which team composition plays a vital role in both workplace culture and project design.
 
Sasaki first looked for a role model within the design professions but found little public discussion of diversity, equity, or inclusion and few resources available. Furnished with data from the American Institute of Architects’ annual survey of architectural firms, Sasaki forged its own path and developed its own research to identify the best strategies for promoting equity and inclusion within its ranks. After reflecting on conversations and insights gathered from staff, Sasaki created a Diversity Committee with four subcommittees, each led by a Principal, including current LAF Board Member Michael Grove. The firm chose this approach because internal discussion demonstrated the need to be intentional in the way these issues were addressed. Each subcommittee is tasked with actionable goals to further discussions of diversity and inclusion surrounding staffing, project design, and the business case for diversity both internally and externally. Sasaki is able to create and disband these ad hoc subcommittees as needed, thus allowing for greater flexibility and ability to target specific needs.
 
Sasaki wants its work to be a springboard for a bolder, louder, more inclusive voice pushing the design professions to consider diversity and inclusion with intention and to have a stronger voice in activism, especially on issues that impact design. With forthcoming data gleaned from measuring the effects of its initiatives on firm morale, productivity, and output, the firm is strengthening the business case for diversity because, while diversity should be valued in and of itself, demonstrated positive impacts often help to push idea into action. Sasaki sees an exciting path forward to continue promoting diversity and inclusion internally and to engage new voices in public dialogues about moving the profession forward.

Sold-Out New Landscape Declaration Book is Back in Stock!

book-yellow-530w

After a sold-out first print run, The New Landscape Declaration: A Call to Action for the Twenty-First Century is back in stock. The book is available in hardcover and ebook form through online retailers, including Powell’s, Indie Bound, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

With original essays from a powerhouse of 33 designers, this landmark book provides a broad snapshot of current thinking on the role of landscape architecture today. Get or give some #landarch inspiration during World Landscape Architecture Month!

A copy of the book has been mailed to each university landscape architecture department library. These books were provided compliments of Permaloc to inspire students and encourage them to continue the conversation. The mailing also includes copies of a commemorative New Landscape Declaration poster, provided with support from Cadence.

Get your copy of this historic publication today!

The New Landscape Declaration: A Call to Action for the Twenty-First Century
ISBN: 9781945572692
Hardcover, 240 pages
Publisher: Rare Bird Books
List price: $29.95

Powell’s  |  Indie Bound  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Amazon

Bulk rate available for orders of 6 or more books. Contact hwhitlow@lafoundation.org for details.

LAF Olmsted Scholars: Ready to Act on the New Landscape Declaration, Part 4

Inspired by LAF’s 2016 Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future and the New Landscape Declaration, a group of ten Olmsted Scholars developed their own response focused on moving forward with deliberate actions to meet the ambitions set forth in the Declaration’s four calls to action.

Through a series of blog posts, we are showcasing their action plans. Over the course of the past few months, we’ve introduced Action 1Action 2, and Action 3. Today, we conclude with Action 4:

We will work to support research and champion new practices that result in design innovation and policy transformation.

osp-declare-action-4-530w

ACT NOW

  • Partner with an academic institution and a professional office to implement a research project.
  • Implement a short/medium-term demonstration project to create knowledge and showcase effectiveness for long-term change.
  • Experiment with innovative tools and technology.
  • Become your own client. Support in-office research to proactively identify issues that can be solved with landscape architectural services.

PLAN NOW

  • Establish metrics to prove the environmental and cultural value of ecosystem services.
  • Expand funding sources for cross-disciplinary knowledge-building in both academic and professional practice.
  • Require ecosystem services, environmental justice, and research experience as requirements for ASLA membership and/or licensure.
  • Advance the integration of sustainable techniques and culture in our practices. Divest from fossil fuels and offset CO2 footprints.
  • Evaluate existing project delivery methods and test new platforms.

You can download a PDF copy of the full The Olmsted Scholar Agenda: from Declaration to Action, which includes all four action plans and corresponding precedents for reference and inspiration. The document is a framework for a more detailed action strategy that can be used to inspire, direct, and hold us all accountable. It is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to be the beginning of a larger dialogue to address the concerns and hopes stated in the New Landscape Declaration.

As 2017 comes to a close, please take a few minutes to review and reflect on which calls to action resonate with you.

What is your action plan for 2018?

Thank you Olmsted Scholars for your leadership and inspiration! The Olmsted Scholars who contributed to this effort are: Leann Andrews (2013 National Olmsted Scholar), Andrew Bailey (2014 Olmsted Scholar), Zach Barker (2013 Olmsted Scholar Finalist), Marin Braco (2012 Olmsted Scholar Finalist), Nina Chase (2009 Olmsted Scholar), Kim Dietzel (2015 Olmsted Scholar), Karl Krause (2008 Olmsted Scholar), Tim Mollette-Parks (2009 Olmsted Scholar), Andrew Sargeant (2016 Olmsted Scholar), and Nate Wooten (2016 Olmsted Scholar).

LAF’s Olmsted Scholars Program recognizes and supports landscape architecture students with exceptional leadership potential who are using ideas, influence, communication, service, and leadership to advance sustainable design and foster human and societal benefits.

LAF Olmsted Scholars: Ready to Act on the New Landscape Declaration, Part 3

Inspired by LAF’s 2016 Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future and the New Landscape Declaration, a group of ten Olmsted Scholars developed their own response focused on moving forward with deliberate actions to meet the ambitions set forth in the Declaration’s four calls to action.

Through a series of blog posts, we are showcasing their action plans. We recently introduced Action 1 and Action 2, and this week we present Action 3:

We will work to raise awareness of landscape architecture’s vital contribution.

osp-declare-action-3-530w

ACT NOW

  • Use clear, relatable language in public presentations. Do not use jargon.
  • Foster citizen urbanists and community partners.
  • Promote the profession via social media. 
  • Educate the public on the benefits of working with landscape architects.
  • Evaluate current communication strategies and explore non-traditional and contemporary communication methods.

PLAN NOW

  • Partner with branding/marketing professionals to create a campaign to position the landscape architectural design process as relatable and relevant to the public.
  • Increase opportunities for idea competitions or conferences that foreground multi-functional, “artful and performative” landscapes to stimulate fresh solutions to local and global issues and gain visibility for the profession.
  • Seek short-term and alternative projects for their ability to catalyze public conversation, stimulate new ideas and teach the profession how to fail forward.

You can download a PDF copy of the full The Olmsted Scholar Agenda: from Declaration to Action, which includes all four action plans and corresponding precedents for reference and inspiration. The document is a framework for a more detailed action strategy that can be used to inspire, direct, and hold us all accountable. It is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to be the beginning of a larger dialogue to address the concerns and hopes stated in the New Landscape Declaration.

Stay tuned later this month for our final post in this series on Action 4: “We will work to support research and champion new practices that result in design innovation and policy transformation.”