Victor Romero, the Underground Division’s President, recently spoke with Senior Associate Architect Claire McConnell and Lead Technical Editor Julie McCullough about sustainability—his past recollections, present industry policies and approaches, and sustainability’s future in the company and industry.
CM: With the adoption of our division’s Sustainability Policy, this is obviously something you care about and are personally invested in. Was there a trigger event that made this personal for you?
VR: At university I learned about the “carrying capacity” of our planet.(1) And that’s hit home now with clear evidence and observed effects of the Anthropocene.(2) We are witnessing in real time climate change and increasing challenges dealing with waste and pollution, and how they impact the biosphere. And I want to give my children the ethos and tools to make the world a better place.
CM: So, when did you become aware of sustainability as an issue?
VR: The potential and promise for sustainability started as an ecological theory for me, but as a concept it became apparent when LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] took hold in the architectural field in the early 2000s. It was clear that these concepts would cross over into infrastructure.
JM: What’s your favorite McMillen Jacobs sustainability story?
VR: The Bay Tunnel. We helped the SFPUC switch from a surface and submarine pipeline to a tunnel under the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge (a higher initial capital cost but better for the environment and a more economic and secure “whole-life” asset in the long run), and then used tunnel muck to fill in a salt pond on the Bay to restore it to a natural estuary.
JM: You’ve just moved back to the US after leading our business in Australia and New Zealand—what differences are you seeing in the approach to sustainability between these two parts of the world?
VR: Sustainability is front and center with nearly all local and central government projects in Australia and New Zealand. In the US, it’s mostly in the major coastal cities, and still taking hold elsewhere. But as far as implementation of standards, methods, and metrics, the US is becoming very similar. I like being able to pick the best ideas and processes for sustainability from different places.
JM: How does our sustainability policy differentiate us from the competition?
VR: Most large engineering firms are implementing sustainability. Medium to smaller firms are generally followers. I would say McMillen Jacobs is now leading, like the larger firms. One thing we’re doing is making sustainability part of how we operate our business, not just part of our projects when clients request it.
CM: Where would you like McMillen Jacobs to be in terms of sustainability in five years?
VR: Showing demonstrated, measurable improvement of sustainability in our business operations, and implementation on all projects, even where clients may not have initially had sustainability goals, but we helped them with the “why and how.”
CM: Do you foresee sustainability as more of a driver in some parts of the business than others? If so, where?
VR: All parts. It will have to permeate all of society and business to achieve environmental, social, and economic improvement, and meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.
CM: What message do you have about sustainability for students just graduating as they start their careers?
VR: New engineers, architects, and scientists come into the profession wanting to make immediate changes, and they need to be part of the educational process—to help clients understand how to achieve sustainable goals and that it’s more than image – that there are benefits that can improve the bottom line.
(1) The maximum number of people the Earth can support indefinitely.
(2) The period of time during which human activities have had an environmental impact on the Earth.