Earth Day 2021 – Climate Justice: Going Beyond Good Intentions

Earth Day 2021 – Climate Justice: Going Beyond Good Intentions

Climate Justice is important to us and the work we do. As designers who shape the built environment, we cannot remain complicit in the unintended consequences of our work. On this Earth Day, we believe it is important to consider how our actions impact those who are often denied power and reaffirm our commitment to making change.

To go beyond good intentions, we focus on what we can do.

Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, argues that the climate justice movement “insists on a shift from a discourse on greenhouse gases and melting ice caps into a civil rights movement with the people and communities most vulnerable to climate impacts at its heart.” This is because climate change will most severely impact historically marginalized or underserved communities due to systems of oppression.

BNIM believes that climate justice must center on people, human dignity, and equity. Design plays an important role in addressing these issues. We understand and have experience within this wider discourse, which includes areas like racial justice, shared prosperity, accessibility as well as a restoring of a sustainable, inclusive, and safe public realm. And still, in a world of interlocking crises, we are actively addressing and seeking how we can further respond to climate justice at different scales in our communities and around the globe. Our upcoming release of Subject to Change, our annual sustainably report, will re-examine the ways we are addressing climate justice and areas of improvement through practice, projects, and advocacy.


We cannot support climate justice efforts without ensuring our workplace is living those values. One of the initiatives we are taking as a firm is submitting our baseline JUST label, a certification and tool to measure both internal practices as well as external impact. The program is a voluntary disclosure tool for organizations, requiring reporting on a range of work and employee related indicators such as equity, employee health, benefits, stewardship, purchasing and supply chains. It is a valuable tool for our firm which we are using as a framework to assess equity and social justice in our practice as well as evaluate progress.


Design offers the opportunity to be transformative, to address the human experience of climate justice. We aspire to work with communities to reveal these inequities and develop tactics for intervention. While we are not always successful at implementing and measuring components of climate justice in our projects, sometimes equitable outcomes are revealed unintentionally, demonstrating the significant power of design, people, and place.

A clear example is the Asilong Christian High School, a project completed by Laura Lesniewski and Sam De Jong, in West Pokot, Kenya. Laura and Sam have worked with this community for a decade to help design and construct a campus for high school education. The project site is along the northwest edge of Kenya, along the Ugandan border, less than two degrees north of the equator. This part of West Pokot is sparsely populated, endures a harsh climate, and reduced access to clean water.

After the installation of ten new water wells, tensions calmed among warring tribes. Initial ideas for the high school came from the community and the overall campus design benefited from teacher input. As work progressed, community elders provided options for land swaps and room for expansion. Newspaper reports comment on how the presence of water wells and the school have brought peace to the region.


In Kansas City, BNIM team members are involved in the Climate Action KC organization as it develops and implements a regional climate action plan. We have lobbied for the adoption of the IECC 2021 energy code for new buildings in Kansas City, Missouri. These initiatives and policy will help create healthier and more energy efficient solutions for Kansas City and stabilize energy costs, especially for low-income residents.

Utilizing our knowledge and efforts to impact structural change can contribute positively to our local communities and challenge us toward better outcomes. Continuing to advocate and participate in broad coalitions on climate justice is an ongoing goal.

Next Steps

BNIM is committed to following through on strategic advocacy where our strengths can do the most good and have the greatest impact. These efforts include fighting for the most energy efficient building code, supporting regional climate action and justice efforts, and actively addressing climate justice within our practice and projects. As a firm, we will complete the JUST program and disclose our reporting. The submission will serve as a framework for assessing equity and social justice across our projects and in our workplace, providing a valuable tool for implementing accountability as we look forward toward setting new goals.

The issues embedded in the climate justice movement are complex, challenging, and important. BNIM aims to be intentional, inclusive, and constantly evolving our understanding, teamwork, and practice to inspire change and enhance the human condition through action.