Skanska USA signs “America Is All In”: A Q&A with three of our sustainability leaders
On March 29, 2021, Skanska became the largest construction and development company to become a signatory of “America Is All In.” This initiative is the most expansive coalition of leaders ever assembled in support of climate action in the United States. We sat down with SVP and National Sustainability Lead for USA Building (USB) Steve Clem, Sustainability Director for USA Commercial Development (CDUS) Sarah King, and Director of Sustainability & Equipment Services for USA Civil (USC) Mason Ford to learn more about how this will bolster Skanska’s sustainability journey.
In 2017, Skanska signed “We are Still In” to maintain America’s promise to tackle climate change. Since then, what has our journey toward sustainable construction and development looked like?
Steve: Skanska’s green journey and our commitment to climate action began in the late 90s—nearly 20 years before we signed “We Are Still In.” We spent the better part of two decades developing a reputation for being forward thinkers in sustainability, through our involvement with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED® framework and Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification. In 2019, we conceived and seed-funded the EC3 Tool, in partnership with Microsoft, which has helped us reduce embodied carbon in building materials. There’s a business case to be made for building responsibly and responding to our customers’ interests, which is what we’ve been focused on since signing “We Are Still In.”
Sarah: On the Commercial Development side of Skanska, we have continued to achieve a minimum of LEED Gold at all of our U.S. projects, with many achieving LEED Platinum. Since signing “We Are Still In,” Skanska also finalized our global carbon target. As a company, we articulated that very ambitious goal, which was not just about our own operations but our value chains. That’s led us to improve our own reporting and to better engage with our cities, tenants and investors around how we are working to decarbonize the built environment. Since 2017, we’ve seen more and more companies making deeply ambitious, science-based carbon targets, and Skanska is among that group of companies that’s committed to climate action.
Mason: USC’s approach has always been about supporting and navigating to a more environmentally friendly construction process and product. But, we do so with a business acumen and an approach that levels the playing field and creates better products, rather than following a “green at any cost” mentality. USC has traditionally led the industry on important safety and environmental initiatives by setting the bar high, leveling the playing field with our owners, then reaping the benefits while everyone else catches up. Sustainability is the next frontier for this approach.
How does signing “America Is All In” reinforce Skanska’s commitment to sustainable construction and development?
Sarah: It signals to the global community that we never stopped working on reducing carbon emissions. The power of “America Is All In,” and the breadth of the organizations that have signed on, signals that we’re at a turning point where we’re ready to make some significant actions. Various sectors are stepping up to make this happen. It’s a powerful time for there to be this cross-sectoral collaboration that’s going to be essential for addressing climate change.
Steve: I always tell people that we’re a multi-domestic company, not an international company, because we work, live and contribute to our communities. We don’t travel around the world and build one-off projects. A lot of the time, our customers think we’re sustainable because of our presence in Europe, so it’s nice to balance that narrative with our leadership and innovation in sustainable construction here in the U.S. Signing “America Is All In” allows us to give back to the bigger organization and show solidarity. At Skanska, our U.S. teams and our teams abroad have learned a lot from each other, and we’ll continue to do that.
Mason: Signing “America Is All In” sends the message that we haven’t wavered since we signed “We Are Still In” in 2017. We have a strong foundation in sustainable construction, and we’re continuing to move forward to address the climate crisis in innovative and significant ways.
How do you feel about Skanska being the largest construction and development company to sign on so far?
Mason: I’m proud that we’re leading this initiative. It’s a complete no-brainer to be a signatory for “America Is All In.” I listened to Anders, Skanska Group CEO, speak last week on our regular sustainability call. He and the global leadership team are committed to sustainability—it’s simply part of the process. The message is that we must be sustainable, just like we must be safe. It’s not “maybe” or “if”—it’s just the way we’re going to do things. We’re truly a company with purpose, and all our values—Care for Life, Be Better-Together, Commit to Customers, Act Ethically and Transparently—are on display through this one action.
Sarah: It speaks volumes. We know buildings are responsible for about 40 percent of global carbon emissions and many stakeholders, governments and non-governmental organizations are trying to determine how to de-carbonize our built environment and infrastructure. For us to be the largest company that represents that sector, it shows that we want to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. But, collaboration with others will be key. “America Is All In” is a big coalition of companies, organizations, investors, states and cities, and to decarbonize the buildings sector, we’ll need to work with others to make that happen.
Steve: We’re a publicly traded company with shareholders, investors and a broad spectrum of customers, and we’re showing that it’s possible to have a viable business and strong brand while doing the right thing. It’s important that we demonstrate that this is possible within several different business models—including in building, civil and commercial development—so that we can encourage other organizations to follow suit and set similar carbon targets.
What are some specific ways that your business unit plans to help reach the goals of America is All In?
Steve: For USB, it’s making sure that we’re a leader in the transition to lower-carbon structures. Our biggest effort right now is to develop a stronger presence in the mass timber market to advise and assist our customers in selecting the best mass timber solution for their project. If that’s not appropriate for their project, we provide them with the lowest carbon solution for steel and concrete. We’re working on partnerships with various innovation investors and industry partners to make this a reality.
Sarah: For CDUS, we are moving toward delivering highly energy efficient, net zero buildings. In each of the cities we operate in, there is a big push for all new construction to be net zero within the next 10 years or so. We’re getting started on that today and want to be the developer that shows it can be done.
Mason: USC is primarily focused on controlling our operational carbon through replacing our fleet of vehicles and equipment with electric vehicles and equipment over the next 10 to 20 years. We are also working with the manufacturers of those items and supporting them as they offer up products that have less carbon output.
In general, what are some ways that construction and development firms can support America is All In?
Mason: In the construction and development industry, the best way to show support is to lead by example. We must innovate our processes to show profit while reducing carbon, thus supporting the premise that carbon equals cost. True support for this initiative is our company leading the industry to profitable low carbon solutions.
Steve: In our industry, we create living-wage jobs that are a part of the green economy and a new focus on access and equity in our country. Demonstrating that there are career opportunities in sustainable construction and development is the biggest way we can support this initiative.
Sarah: On the developer side, there’s exciting collaboration happening around embodied carbon. Owners of large buildings are coming together to think about how we can work with our suppliers to make this less confusing to our supply chain, because we’re all looking for the same thing. In that effort, that compliments what “America Is All In” is all about—the more people that are involved, the greater impact we’ll make.
To see all of the communities, businesses and organizations that have signed on to this initiative, visit the America Is All In website. To learn more about Skanska’s commitment to sustainability, visit our new website.