Our values: What SERA believes

We’ve been talking about our values for a long time at SERA. And these are not casual conversations—what we believe drives how we behave, the business decisions we make, and our goals for our own impact.

So that juicy question of what we, as a corporate citizen, as a group of like-minded people, and as a community of design- and sustainability-minded professionals, requires a lot of soul-searching.

In 2019, we entered into a particularly important round of our ongoing values discussion. We did it almost by accident. Our starting point was our need for updated marketing messages—we’d gone through a period of explosive growth, expansion into several new markets, and the opening of our second office.

We’d changed, but our messaging hadn’t, so we launched a process to learn how people perceived us.

We started with two half-day workshops involving dozens of staff members from all levels and departments. Then we convened a small committee to distill all their input. The result was five marketing statements, which we adopted as our internal understanding of what we were offering. Those statements were:

  • We exist to make people’s daily lives better
  • Sustainability is our DNA
  • Urbanism is our basis of design
  • We take responsibility for the past, present, and future of place
  • We love gnarly problems
    Those statements were embraced within the firm, and although we didn’t intend to make them public, more and more of our business developers began using them in proposals, presentations, and client conversations to describe who we were.

Fast forward a couple years to when we launched our current strategic planning effort. Our consultants wanted to start by defining our values, but we said, “We already have these statements… which might be our values.” We agreed to test that.

Working with another vertical slice from the staff, we examined both those 2019 statements and our own stories of SERA experience. And we confirmed that our familiar statements really were—with a couple tweaks—the best description of who we were and what we wanted to be.

Better yet, we gathered descriptions of actions which exemplify those values. The actions are things we’ve observed ourselves doing in our best moments, and they give us useful filters to test ourselves against when we’re making decisions. We don’t always live up to them, but failing at something doesn’t mean you don’t still believe in it—it just means you’d stumbled and have an opportunity to learn for the next time.

Finally, we recognized that our first statement—"We exist to make people’s daily lives better”—is more than a value. It’s our purpose—our reason for doing everything we do. Every word of that statement is important. It describes the core of what SERA brings to the world. And our four remaining values statements describe how we try to do that.

Below are our current purpose and value statements, followed by all the example actions which illustrate how we understand our own values and our filters for testing how well we’re living up to them. They are specific to us, not meant as anything anyone else needs to adopt or live up to. And they are the some of the things we all find most rewarding in our work, because they describe who we are and why we’re doing what we do at SERA.


Cristian Asher

Senior Director of Business Development

Portland, OR