Texan by Nature is excited to recognize HDR as a 2021 TxN 20 honoree for their leadership in conservation and sustainability. HDR’s commitment to conservation, their projects/programs, best practices, and lessons learned are an example and inspiration for us all.
Honoree Industry and Size: Engineering and Architectural Consulting & Design – Enterprise
HDR believes that the way we work can add meaning and value to the world; that ideas inspire positive change; that coloring outside the lines can illuminate fresh perspectives; and that small details yield important realizations. Above all, we believe that collaboration is the best way forward.
We specialize in engineering, architecture, environmental, and construction services. While we are most well-known for adding beauty and structure to communities through high-performance buildings and smart infrastructure, we provide much more than that. We create an unshakable foundation for progress because our multidisciplinary teams also include scientists, economists, builders, analysts, and artists.
Our employees, working in more than 200 locations around the world, push open the doors to what’s possible each and every day. HDR has more than 10,000 employees, including 804 in Texas offices located in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, Round Rock, San Antonio, Houston, and Corpus Christi.
What is HDR’s conservation and sustainability mission and why is it important to your culture?
We are known for challenging conventional thinking as we create places where people want to live, work, and play. We offer our clients the best possible economic, social, and environmental value by delivering integrated solutions, both in the projects we deliver to clients and in the way we conduct our business. Balanced sustainable solutions result in sound choices that are resource-sensitive; provide private and public sector opportunities for economic growth and development; create quality and diverse places; are socially equitable; and consider the broad context of each decision. All segments of the company are tasked with making environmental sustainability our standard way of doing business and helping to create lasting change that will benefit our clients, communities, and the environment. To do this, we have woven sustainability and resiliency throughout our brand story, values, strategic plan, and Environmental Policy Statement, which states: “We are committed to reducing our environmental impact through responsible practices to our clients, employee-owners and communities.”
These principles guide our actions:
Our environmental policy supports our commitment to leadership, quality, safety, and corporate responsibility through our actions and the services that we provide.
How is conservation and sustainability a part of HDR’s business strategy?
Sustainability and resiliency are woven throughout our Strategic Plan. Our strategic focus areas include client focus, creativity and innovation, and community building.
HDR’s Office of Sustainability and Resiliency helps coordinate efforts to integrate sustainability and resiliency into client projects, as well as our internal business practices and initiatives. Common topics addressed include water, energy, and waste reduction; material selection; resource conservation; climate action; sustainability goal setting; regenerative design; and resiliency. The overarching goal is that a focused sustainability and resiliency discussion occurs early for every project. It is our intent to bring value to all of our clients via sustainable and resilient solutions.
Our team of more than 1,000 environmental professionals includes environmental scientists and planners, permitting experts, archaeologists, historians, biologists, climatologists, ecological restoration specialists, wetland and stream ecologists, fisheries scientists, toxicologists, and marine species experts and scientists. We deliver high-performance built environments that value the economic, social, and natural environments.
We balance community and economic needs with conservation and sustainability of natural resources, including the incorporation of advanced water conservation strategies into our design services. Our integrated water resource management solutions provide the support clients need to move toward a more sustainable future. We have partnered with federal, state, and local agencies on nine of the largest ecosystem restoration efforts in the United States. We specialize in addressing climate change and resiliency in coastal areas, impacts on natural and built ecosystems, and adaptation strategies for sea level rise and habitat restoration.
We are involved with more than 50 organizations, including the Association of Conservation Engineers, American Fisheries Society, American Society of Civil Engineers, American Water Works Association, Construction Management Association of America, Design-Build Institute of America, Texas Floodplain Management Association, National Association of Environmental Professionals, Water Environment Federation, WateReuse Association, U.S. Society of Dams, and the Coasts, Oceans, Ports and Rivers Institute.
What are HDR’s short and long-term goals as they relate to conservation and sustainability?
Many of our goals are expressed through our Environmental Policy Statement. In addition, HDR established a goal in 2011 to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20% by 2020, adjusted for growth from a 2011 baseline. To track progress toward our reduction goal, we began calculating our GHG emission inventory annually in 2011 in accordance with the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard — the most widely used, voluntary GHG accounting standard in the world. Through calculation of our 2019 emissions inventory, emissions had been reduced by 19% over the 2011 baseline. We anticipate exceeding our 2020 reduction goal, and discussions are ongoing regarding setting a new GHG emissions reduction goal.
One of our long-term goals is to find ways to hold ourselves accountable to “walking the sustainability talk.” This is evidenced by the fact that our new headquarters in the Aksarben Village mixed-use neighborhood of Omaha, Nebraska, was certified LEED Gold in 2019. The 10-story office building, which is home to approximately 1,000 employees, features a modern façade with a unique form sliced at the corners to maximize square footage on upper floors while opening walkable space for the community on the ground level.
Additionally, bike racks, bus access, bike network connections, and a walkable urban base provide a solid transit-oriented urban design solution.
Numerous design decisions contributed to the Gold-level rating, and the building was designed to achieve specific performance achievements, including the following:
The building also earned a 3-star rating from Fitwel — the highest rating possible for this certification that optimizes buildings to support occupant health.
“What we were able to achieve with this building illustrates the importance of engaging all parties early in the design process. We worked closely with Noddle Companies, our developer partner on this building, to ensure that we maximized the opportunities to implement innovative green building strategies within the construct of a speculative office building typology. They embraced our desire to design a new headquarters building that promotes the health and well-being of our staff. We were able to infuse continuous improvement and rigor into the design approach to achieve holistic, high-performance design.”
– Michaella Wittmann, LEED Fellow, ENV SP, Fitwel Ambassador, Director, Sustainability & Resiliency (Omaha)
Who at HDR is leading your conservation and sustainability efforts and what are some examples of employee engagement in conservation and sustainability at your company?
Our sustainability efforts are led by our Office of Sustainability and six sustainability directors, noted below, alongside key Texas leaders. They are supported by hundreds of technical subject matter experts. Our conservation leaders are primarily a part of our Environmental Sciences and Planning team.
As a firm that specializes in building, shaping, and serving communities, our employee-owners take pride in volunteering for community programs, leading community organizations, helping protect the environment, and educating our children. It’s simply part of our culture and ongoing commitment to the communities where we all live, work, and play.
Each year, our Office of Sustainability uses the heightened awareness of Earth Day to celebrate the sustainability and environmental efforts that take place throughout the year. Since 2015, we’ve stepped up our activities thanks to local office leadership and our Green Teams, encouraging all employees to get involved in their community by hosting or participating in a cleanup or tree planting event during April or May. In 2019, we had 34 teams from 33 offices join together for the cause, logging an estimated 1,200 volunteer hours. Our service included cleanups of roadways, trails, parks, forests, and waterways, tree and garden planting, and park maintenance and rebuilding projects.
Our commitment to conservation and sustainability drives our grantmaking activities through our philanthropic arm, the HDR Foundation. As responsible corporate citizens, our grant funding reaches the neighborhoods and communities where we live and work, addressing food security and educational needs for local schoolchildren, reviving impaired waterways and parks, and upgrading medical clinics. As global citizens, we broaden our reach to the far corners of the world, building domestic water systems in Guatemala and green energy grids in Kenya and Nicaragua. We fund projects that have a lasting impact, including the Amos Rehabilitation Keep, the largest permitted sea turtle rehabilitation facility in Texas.
In July 2021, the HDR Foundation announced 12 new grants, including:
View HDR Foundation grants by year: 2020, 2019, 2018, and 2017
What conservation and sustainability programs and projects does HDR lead and participate in?
External – Rating Systems and Projects:
Our experienced professionals work with a variety of rating systems, including LEED, Envision, Greenroads, INVEST, WELL, and Fitwel. We collaborate with clients to efficiently focus attention on project goals, helping to define sustainability and resiliency for the project. We were the first architecture firm to join the U.S. Green Building Council in January 1994 and currently have more than 450 LEED APs. Our professionals have held significant leadership roles and noteworthy board and committee positions within the organization. We are a Charter Member of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI), an early adopter of the Envision sustainable infrastructure framework, and a member of the Envision Leadership Circle. We have more than 125 Envision Sustainability Professionals and more projects verified than any other firm. HDR’s Director of Sustainability & Resiliency chairs the Envision Review Board (ERB), and several staff participate on committees.
“For the past several years, we have been working closely with HDR staff on the application of the Envision®sustainable infrastructure framework – a framework that incentivizes environmental conservation and a broad range of other sustainability measures for all types of civil infrastructure. Public parks, transit, stormwater management, water/wastewater, and green infrastructure projects are among the types of infrastructure to which Envision applies. HDR was an early adopter and promoter of Envision; they are one of the leading firms in the use of the framework. For over 10 years, since Envision was developed by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) and the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, HDR has been working with numerous public agencies and private companies across the U.S. to implement sustainability practices in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry using Envision and other frameworks that promote conservation and sustainability in the built environment. HDR staff also work closely with ISI staff on the verification of infrastructure projects that apply the Envision framework and seek third-party validation of sustainability achievements. More than 110 projects, collectively worth over $106 billion in sustainable infrastructure development, have used Envision to date. Of these, HDR has applied Envision on over 25 and verified the sustainability of 18 projects thus far. This is a resounding testament to the positive impact HDR staff have made on environmental conservation and sustainability.”
– Melissa Peneycad, Managing Director, Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure
We have produced several award-winning conservation projects in Texas, and many of our coastal restoration projects help conserve coastal water bird habitat at risk from erosion and other impacts.
Internal – Green Teams:
Our Green Teams (GTs) are made up of motivated professionals who help implement sustainable solutions and educate and promote sustainability in their local offices. This awareness provides the best possible economic, social, and environmental value to our clients and communities. To recognize the great things GTs throughout the company are doing every day, HDR has an annual Green Team Awards program.
The 2020 winners showcased their ability to overcome obstacles, create scalable solutions, engage coworkers, and develop diverse and impactful events. One of the recognized offices was in Houston, which won for planning local and global community events and engaging their GT and office staff throughout the pandemic through the Adopt-A-Drain program.
In February 2020, the Houston Green Team organized 13 HDR colleagues, with friends and family, to participate in the Houston Area Urban Forestry Council’s 13th Annual Tree Planting Competition, their second year to participate in this event. Teams would race to plant 100 trees each at a Harris County Flood Control Basin in Tomball, Texas. The HDR team won first place and smashed their previous time of 1 hour and 14 minutes by properly planting 100 trees in an astonishing 43 minutes — that’s 2.3 trees per minute! With the time leftover, the team helped a neighboring shorthanded team made up of employees from different public agencies, reflecting HDR’s brand values in the meanwhile.
“Being part of the office Green Team is a great way to be a leader at HDR even if you’re not a PM. And since we can’t just tell people, ‘Hey, you, be green!’, you have to lead using influence and your own example. If you’re successful, your coworkers will become willing participants in making HDR a more sustainable organization and even take it home with them!”
– Preston Chan, PE (TX), Highway Engineer (Houston office)
How do you see the future of conservation and sustainability evolving, and what role will HDR play in that progress?
Conservation and sustainability are being considered at the program level and earlier in infrastructure planning efforts than ever before. The organizations focused on conservation and sustainability initiatives are diverse and include non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, government agencies, and corporations of all sizes. Collaboration among these groups is not always easy, but it is necessary to maximize our potential to conserve natural resources, build sustainable infrastructure, and implement high-functioning restoration projects.
Our clients’ expectations continue to evolve regarding sustainability and conservation, as well as resiliency, climate, and carbon. With commitments from the highest levels of our organization and a broad spectrum of sustainability and conservation experts, we will play a key role in making sure that conserving resources, protecting our environment, and adding value to our natural and built environments stays central to the way we design and plan.
“Sustainability and resiliency are concepts that emerged in response to the unintended consequences of ‘business as usual.’ These unintended consequences are complex, dynamic, and often sensitive to discuss. I take immense pride in HDR’s commitment to developing employee capacity to work in this landscape, so that our services may heal communities of life.”
– William Neds, PE, ENV SP, Sanitary Engineer (Kansas City, MO, office)
How does HDR quantify investment and return on conservation and sustainability?
We often quantify investment and return conservation and sustainability. One of our strengths is effectively applying economic analysis to help determine the total value of projects, which goes well beyond their cost and financial return.
The impacts of a project on clean air and water, human health and well-being, and job creation are all included in a project’s total value and important considerations in decision making. Our economic tools account for a project’s triple bottom line (TBL), which includes its full range of environmental, social, and economic impacts. This provides a holistic perspective of a project’s sustainability benefits.
We developed a Sustainable Value Analysis (SVA) process to help our clients best assess their options. SVA is a thorough and transparent alternatives analysis that is adapted to our clients’ specific goals. To make the concept of sustainability more objective, we have established an approach that is founded on 10 SVA principles of analysis. SVA recognizes that decisions are not simply the matter of a sustainable return on investment (SROI); different economic tools are needed in different decision contexts. These tools can assist in making informed decisions about where and when funds should be invested. The results provide decision support to help communicate the full value of a project by placing value on sustainable initiatives, including the direct, indirect, and non-cash costs and benefits.
SVA provides a business case for making sustainable project choices by identifying initiatives that will accomplish project goals, optimize the total project value, and position the project for approval or funding.
“Both in our personal and professional lives, we continually weigh the benefits and costs associated with different decisions. Incorporating economics into decisions related to sustainability and resiliency is a very natural extension of this. It can lead to a pretty persuasive argument for building a ‘greener’ building or one that can stand up to natural disasters.”
– Pam Yonkin, Transportation Sustainability & Resiliency Director (Boston office)
What is the one lesson that HDR has learned from your conservation and sustainability efforts that others can take back and think about applying within their own space?
Meaningful conservation and sustainability efforts require teamwork between numerous professional disciplines, project sponsors, and stakeholders. Work for progress, not perfection, and remember that many small actions can add up to a large impact. It can be intimidating and overwhelming for those who are just starting to think about sustainability and conservation, but starting something is better than doing nothing. Start small and begin to build a program based on successes and lessons learned. Understand that not every effort will be successful, but every effort will teach you something. Find and use all available resources. There are many resources available online that can provide strategies and activities to try, examples of sustainability planning, and incremental steps toward improving sustainability. Seek out others in your industry or geography with whom you can share and learn.
Why is Texas an important home or base of operations for HDR?
The diverse economic drivers, population growth, educated workforce, and infrastructure needs demonstrate why Texas has been an important base of operations since we opened our first Texas office in Dallas in 1960. The majority of the market sectors HDR serves exist in Texas. Also, the diverse ecological settings from the Gulf Coast, Hill Country, Piney Woods, and Great Plains/Prairies make Texas a place where our employee-owners love to work, volunteer, and recreate.
“Recognition as a Texan by Nature’s TxN 20 company for 2021 is an honor for HDR’s employee-owners in Texas and throughout our organization. Our professional architects, engineers, planners, and scientists take seriously the responsibility to help our clients solve their challenges in ways that balance project objectives and sustainability and conservation goals. We strive to do the right thing in our work and for the communities we live in, and the amount of volunteerism for regional conservation efforts demonstrates that passion to serve as partners in conservation of Texas resources for generations to come.”
– Kelly Kaatz, PE, Senior Vice President, South Central Region Operations Director
Learn more about HDR’s conservation and sustainability efforts here.
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HDR’s team has more than 1,000 environmental professionals that deliver high-performance built environments that value the economic, social, and natural environments.
The Houston Green Team organized 13 HDR colleagues, with friends and family, to participate in the Houston Area Urban Forestry Council’s 13th Annual Tree Planting Competition, where they planted 100 trees.
HDR’s economic tools account for a project’s triple bottom line (TBL), which includes its full range of environmental, social, and economic impacts. This provides a holistic perspective of a project’s sustainability benefits.
HDR developed a Sustainable Value Analysis process, providing the business case for making sustainable project choices by identifying initiatives that will accomplish project goals, optimize the total project value, and position the project for approval or funding.
HDR provided a $6,500 grant to Hemisfair Conservancy in San Antonio, a $10,120 grant to the Native Prairies Association of Texas, and a $40,000 grant Amos Rehabilitation Keep in Port Aransas.
Through a dune restoration project as part of removing barges stranded on a coastal barrier island by Hurricane Harvey, HDR ended up helping identify nests and recovering over 1,700 Kemp’s Ridley turtle eggs.
Eliza Spring Daylighting project, at Barton Springs in Austin, supports long-term species recovery for the Barton Springs Salamander and the Austin Blind Salamander.
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