SERA’s commitment to sustainability begins with the way we run our business. We believe that a fully sustainable workplace is the logical first step towards practicing sustainability in our projects and helps nurture a culture of sustainability. By “walking our talk” we continue to discover new ways to work, interact, and create more sustainable physical environments. We learn from and share these discoveries, and the change ripples out into the world.

100% Employee Ownership

SERA is committed to a greater level of employee engagement and entrepreneurial involvement than is customarily found in an architectural firm. 100% of the stock of SERA Architects, Inc. is held in an Employee Stock Ownership Trust and our employees are the beneficiaries of that Trust.  Being employee-owned is a direct reflection of our commitment to The Natural Step’s Fourth System Condition: “In a sustainable society, people are not subject to conditions that systemically undermine their capacity to meet their needs.

Empowering our staff in decision-making is one of SERA’s fundamental values and serves both the long-term health of the firm and our employee-owners.


In 2002, SERA leadership went through an intensive training in The Natural Step Framework and then instigated an extensive office-wide backcasting process. Backcasting is a process that reverses the standard forecasting approach by first establishing a future vision of sustainability — to create a fully sustainable workplace, evaluated against the Four System Conditions of The Natural Step — and then works backwards to develop the steps required to achieve that vision. The lessons learned from the backcasting process continue to permeate all aspects of SERA’s culture and operations.

“If you don’t know where you’re from, you will have a hard time saying where you’re going.” – Wendell Berry


SERA is very focused on solving the problem at hand, not on traditional methods, structures, or roles. There is a strong emphasis on the intrapreneurial spirit, which leads many of our employees to less-structured career paths, and encourages development of each person’s own vision of how to better the firm.

As a result, SERA has a culture of creating and fostering non-traditional roles and business units within the firm. This has become such a significant aspect of SERA’s culture that it is a key part of the interview process for potential hires.

Culture of Continuous Improvement

Rather than waiting until an idea is perfect, SERA understands the power in putting out important ideas when the moment is right and accepting that there will be ongoing iterations over time. SERA’s Sustainability Resources Group (SuRG) lives in the world of continuous improvement, knowing the development of their measurement tools and expertise is never complete and that there will always be a better, more exciting solution to a problem. Creating a culture of continuous improvement requires daring leadership and bold clients.

Work Environment

Our work environment is a direct reflection of the firm’s commitment to practice sustainability in our daily lives: we purchase 100% wind power; provide bicycles and hybrid vehicles for office use; purchase sustainable office supplies from local vendors; and commit to green housekeeping practices, waste diversion, and a sustainable catering policy which includes food waste composting.

 Employee Commuting

SERA’s current office was selected for its central location along the downtown transit mall, within a ¼ mile of 4 light rail lines and 36 bus lines. We have a commute policy that rewards those who do not use single occupancy vehicles for commuting, and consequently we don’t provide parking at our downtown office. We provide public transit passes to those who commute via public transit, and provide an equivalent cash bonus to those who commute by walking, bicycling, or carpooling.

We track employee commute practices with a daily sign-in system to understand the carbon impacts of commuting. SERA supports a strong bicycling culture with secure indoor bike storage, changing rooms, and a showering facility. The office also has hybrid office cars and two office bikes for daytime travel such as job site visits. Additionally, we’re awfully proud of our back-to-back Portland Bike Commute Challenge first place titles within our business-size category!

Sustainable Action Celebrations

Following our months-long backcasting process in 2002, we established what would become the Sustainable Action Committee (SAC) to oversee the execution of sustainable business policies, practices, and strategies for the firm.


Diving headfirst into the new future of SERA, the SAC team got a lot of great things accomplished in the first couple of years following the backcasting process and, rightly so, wanted to have a big party to celebrate the company’s efforts and accomplishments.

And so, in 2006, the Sustainable Action Celebration was born. Every year we look back at what has been achieved, prepare communication materials to tell these stories, and invite various clients and community members to join in our celebration of the progress made and the new goals identified.

“If you want things to be different, perhaps the answer is to be different yourself.” – Norman Vincent Peale