For years, people in the green building movement have talked about social equity issues as the missing element in sustainability, but few results followed from these discussions. This year, the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) decided it was time for action and created JUST, a label that will rank a company’s progress in social sustainability. Could the results reach reshape not just green building, but business on a larger scale? 

“One organization or tool won’t solve this issue, but we need to inspire discussions that engage people in a deeper way,” asserts Jason F.  McLennan, CEO of ILFI. “By providing a platform for transparency in workplace practices, JUST will bring us together as a community to positively embrace social equity issues.” 

Slated to launch in October, JUST is modeled on ILFI’s DECLARE, a label that discloses a product’s ingredient list. JUST is more than a list, however, as it comprises a detailed program of metrics, indicators, and thresholds. 

After an organization submits in-depth documentation on more than 20 aspects of workplace equity and justice, it receives a rating across four boxes indicating inferior to exceptional practice. Some of the indicators are straightforward (such as gender equity in hiring, gender diversity at various levels of the organization, and employer-provided health insurance), but others, like responsible investing, become more complicated to assess. ILFI turned to organizations  that have been analyzing these issues for years for input on which metrics to include and how to best assess them. 

In order to truly understand how JUST works, ILFI will perform the assessment on its own organization first. Then, a handful of companies, including some in the architectural and engineering sectors that the organization is not yet ready to announce publicly, will participate in the pilot phase. “We know the feedback we receive will be critical as well as affirmative, but we aren’t expecting to have it all figured out right away” McLennan explains. “What’s important is to start the process, then we can see where to make adjustments.” 

McLennan imagines a day when people won’t buy products without JUST and DECLARE labels, where employees will look for JUST labels before applying for a job and students use it to select their universities. He believes counties and cities should be required to have JUST labels and may require them of vendors, perhaps to the point where an architectural or engineering firm can’t win a commission if it doesn’t have a positively scored JUST label. 

“The whole point is to give consumers a choice,” McLennan says.” People want to do the right thing whenever they can, and JUST uses market forces rather than regulations to drive businesses to the top. The potential for this is really exciting–it could be the beginning of a revolution.”

Building on its successful launch in 2012, ECOHOME’s Vision 2020dycfftxqtbycyerfv program continues in 2013, focusing on eight critical areas in sustainability. Track our progress all year as our panel of visionary focus-area chairs, our editors, and leading researchers, practitioners, and advocates share their perspectives on initiating, tracking, and ensuring progress toward sustainable priorities and goals in residential construction between now and 2020. The program will culminate in an exclusive Vision 2020 Forum in Washington, D.C., in September 2013, and with a special edition of ECOHOME in Winter 2013. Click here to see the 2012 Wrap-Up.