Environmental Awareness Not Just a Week at CannonDesign

Environmental Awareness Not Just a Week at CannonDesign

by ROB McMANAMY | Nov 9, 2015

Talk about walking the walk.

Two weeks ago, when I first met CannonDesign's Marion Lawson, LEED AP, chair of the firm's 13th annual, internal Environmental Awareness Week (EAW), she was wearing plastic gloves, bent over a 55-gal barrel, elbows deep in trash, separating compost and compacting the contents to make room for more. We cordially agreed not to shake hands.

EAW Chair Lawson

EAW Chair Lawson

Smiling and slightly out of breath, she described Buffalo-based Cannon's unusual, firm-wide commitment to educating the staff and leadership in its 15 global locations, including Chicago where she is based. The goal is to expose everyone internally to outside experts who convey the latest thinking in environmental stewardship and the impact such factors can, will, and already are having on their daily work.

"EAW does distinguish us among other A/E firms because we were the first that I know of to put on an event like this, and at this scale," said Lawson, who holds degrees in both architecture and civil engineering. "Since we started our program, other firms have asked us about it and then emulated the event on their own. But it’s also important internally because it gives us a focused week to celebrate sustainability and give staff a chance to further get engaged in the topic."

When not organizing or planning EAW, Lawson works the rest of the year with clients and AEC teams to set performance goals and integrate sustainability throughout each project's entire process. She is also the primary researcher behind CannonDesign’s investigation into the embodied energy of building products and the analysis of projects’ carbon footprint. "A sustainable approach to design is simply the right thing to do," writes Lawson on her own bio page. "My commitment to sustainability is not just my day job; it is the way I choose to live." 

EAW has its own web page, describing itself as the firm's "annual celebration of smart ideas, innovative technologies and iconoclastic thinkers that help guide our progress toward becoming a regenerative practice." This year's consecutive keynotes were broadcast "live" Oct. 27, 28, 29, from CannonDesign's offices in NYC, Pittsburgh, and Vancouver, respectfully. They featured lunch hour presentations from Prof. Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, of the City College of New York, School of Architecture; Prof. Vivian Loftness, FAIA, LEED AP, of Carnegie Mellon University's School of Architecture; and Michael Harcourt, former Premier of British Columbia, and currently chairman of the Quality Urban Energy Systems for Tomorrow (QUEST). He also is one of the authors of City Making in Paradise: Nine Decisions that Saved Vancouver, published in 2007.

UN Sustainable Development Goals: Brown urged attendees to 'Google' the new goals (#9-17), just released this fall, and take extra note of #11, which urges aggressive efforts to create "Sustainable Cities and Communities" by 2030. 

UN Sustainable Development GoalsBrown urged attendees to 'Google' the new goals (#9-17), just released this fall, and take extra note of #11, which urges aggressive efforts to create "Sustainable Cities and Communities" by 2030. 


70 sponsors, Net zero cost

In addition to her colleagues' heightened focus on sustainability, Lawson is particularly proud that the week-long event has drawn five tiers of 70 sponsors. Mostly manufacturers and vendors servicing the AEC market, their donations make the entire firm-wide event possible, says Lawson. "Many have been donating to the event for over 10 years," she adds. 

Another broader, even more significant impact of EAW is its “net zero cost” nature. All money left over is donated to international and local non-profits that focus on sustainability and environmental advocacy. As a result, over the last three years, CannonDesign and its EAW sponsors have donated between $25K-$33K per year to the cause. “The impact of the week goes far beyond educating our staff," says Lawson. "It reflects our commitment to sustainability and the role it plays in the architecture and engineering industry.”

For more on EAW, click here. To see the Loftness and Harcourt presentations, visit the USTREAM site.

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