Alyssa Jaksich
Sustainability VIP 2024 Finalist

If college-age Alyssa Jaksich, Bernhard’s chief of staff and head of ESG, heard her motto for life today, she would have laughed.

“One of my college volleyball coaches always used the phrase, ‘Don’t just talk about it, be about it.’  He would usually say it in a goofy voice, and we’d use it jokingly to lovingly mock him,” she said. “But I think it’s stuck with me for more reasons than just being catchy and fun to say. It reminds me that actions speak louder than words. Showing is arguably more impactful than telling.”

That advice, Jaksich said, has been especially relevant for her journey with environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues in the construction industry. After college, Jaksich landed with Bernhard’s measurement and verification team, quantifying energy savings generated for customers through the company’s projects. She also worked on energy-as-a-service initiatives.

Over time, Jaksich was offered an opportunity to move into an executive fellow role under Bernhard CEO Ed Tinsley. This led to her being tasked to form and launch Bernhard’s ESG team, which officially launched in 2021 with a focus on measuring and reducing the company’s carbon footprint and growing the diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) program.

“When I was first approached about creating our ESG program, I was actually a bit hesitant,” she said. “I’m never one to make an uninformed decision, so naturally I dove into the details and researched as much as I could on what ESG really was and what it could mean for Bernhard. I realized that I didn’t just want Bernhard to launch an ESG program, but I wanted to be the one doing it, the one responsible for challenging our company culture to move forward.”

Since the launch of the ESG program, Jaksich has taken the motto ‘be about it’ to heart. The company has deployed compensation measures to offset Scope 1, Scope 2 and select Scope 3 greenhouse gases, with an ultimate goal of becoming a net-zero carbon company. In addition, the company launched Bernhard Leans In, a cultural initiative aimed at making employees feel more empowered to achieve their personal and professional goals while building new connections and creating a more united company. While Lean In was initially an initiative targeted at women in the workplace, Bernhard has extended the program to all employees.

“Our program centers around a network of small groups called “Lean In Circles” that can be created and led by any Bernhard employee,” Jaksich explained. “Lean In Circles are welcoming, supportive spaces focused on inspiring discussion, education and connection, and are backed by step-by-step guides to help Circle members get the most out of every meeting. Circles are formed around a common thread, from the unique issues faced by minorities in leadership roles to challenges the LGBTQ+ community may face in and outside of work.”

While Bernhard’s leadership has been supportive of Jaksich’s initiatives, she said that there are some slow adopters.

“I think a lot of employees have so much on their plate already, so these new ESG programs are viewed as optional or less important than their core job functions,” Jaksich said. Overcoming these hurdles involves education and demonstrating how the programs align with the work they are doing.

Widespread adoption of ESG in the construction industry is another hurdle, she said, emphasizing that consumer demand for better practices is likely to lead the charge.

“While government and large corporations may have the most influence to ultimately drive large-scale change, I would still emphasize stakeholder demand. Whether as an employee or a customer, there’s power in your opinion. I think it’s important to voice what’s important to you,” she said.