Webcor adopts ESG to compete for projects and workers

Lewis Naylor

Dive Brief:Contents1 Dive Brief:2 Dive Insight: In a move that illustrates the increased importance of environmental and social issues within the construction industry, San Francisco-based Webcor has launched a three-pronged ESG initiative to focus on people, planet and performance, a step the general contractor expects to boost its bottom line. The […]

Dive Brief:

  • In a move that illustrates the increased importance of environmental and social issues within the construction industry, San Francisco-based Webcor has launched a three-pronged ESG initiative to focus on people, planet and performance, a step the general contractor expects to boost its bottom line.
  • The 39th largest contractor in the U.S. with $2.1 billion in 2019 revenue, Webcor noted that while environmental, social and governance programs have typically been the purview of public companies in construction, whose investors have been pressing them on these issues, Webcor is taking the step as a private company to better compete for lucrative contracts from high-profile tech companies in its markets, and to get a leg up on the recruiting front.
  • “Why are we undertaking a plan that has been the province of publicly traded companies?” asked CEO Jes Pedersen in a LinkedIn posting detailing the initiative. “Ultimately, our … strategy will support our business goals. Webcor wants to work on the best projects with the best clients. Increasingly, we are seeing that ESG goals are an important part of clients’ decision-making process.”

Dive Insight:

During a podcast the company produced in conjunction with the announcement, Pedersen said the initiative will bring under one umbrella many sustainability efforts it’s already been engaged in for years. But Jenelle Shapiro, Webcor’s director of sustainability, also said the company is increasingly seeing projects that have ESG requirements baked into their RFPs.

“For the big tech companies, this has part has been part of their strategy for many, many years,” Shapiro said. “On the environmental side, they’re looking to see what our scores are associated with ESG, how we compare against our competitors, and what our reduction targets and measures are in order to achieve those KPIs.”

Beyond staying competitive on the project side, though, the company emphasized that focusing on ESG has also become more important for it to win in the competitive environment of the labor pool.

“In our college recruiting efforts, we have candidates approach us and ask us questions about what we’re doing related to a number of different environmental and social issues,” said Mei Lin Wolff, senior vice president of human resources, on the podcast. “It comes up through the interview process with our more experienced hires as well. We’re really seeing that curiosity and demand. People want to work for organizations that have a strategy around this.”

Webcor’s program focuses on 14 goals in these three areas:

  • People. The company is striving to create a culture that supports diversity and inclusion at all levels. That includes rolling out training programs, establishing and supporting employee resource and affinity groups, and expanding external outreach to diverse groups about opportunities at Webcor and in the construction industry. Webcor also aims to increase the company’s ethics, gender, and sexuality diversity within leadership roles.
  • Planet. “We have been adopting increasingly more progressive sustainability standards for our operations, addressing everything from the amount of waste generated by our construction activities to embedding green initiatives within our employee workspaces and the communities we impact,” said Shapiro in the company’s release. That includes enhancing the company’s carbon commitment, which will require its self-perform groups to collect environmental product declarations for materials by 2022 and make informed procurement selections based on low-carbon opportunities. “We will also partner with concrete suppliers to identify alternatives to cement in the concrete mixes used by our self-perform group, Webcor Concrete, the biggest contributor to our embodied carbon emissions,” Shapiro said.
  • Performance. The company intends to deliver renewable energy to project sites, diversify its work on sustainable building types, including mass timber and a zero net energy structures, and influencing and leading change among local jurisdictions throughout California.

“As a leader in construction and projects within the state of California, our voice is one that does command some level of attention,” said Matt Rossie, chief operating officer, on the podcast.  “We have a bully pulpit. We need to use it.”

Webcor plans to report annually to a third-party certification group to track its goals, and see where it ranks for its ESG efforts among its competitors.

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