COTE news / July 2020
USGBC Equity Summit: Reflections from Listening and Learning
By Sarah Woynicz-Sianoecki, AIA
“Better buildings mean better lives for all.” In the inaugural virtual Equity Summit, held on May 28 and 29, this tagline set the stage and carried the conversation led by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Through a call for submissions in early May, 16 presenters were selected to speak and share how their stories, research, practice, programs, and built work are not just moving the needle on the sustainable and environmental front, but in matters of social equity and justice. This two-day summit brought presenters, attendees, and USGBC stakeholders together from across the world. Presentations and candid Q+A sessions provided opportunities listen, learn, and guide the USGBC equity roadmap.
Day One | Listening and Learning
Day One consisted of four panel sections. Presentations and following Q+A were guided by the Keepers of the Heart, core individuals championing USGBC’s work in equity. Panel One addressed internal and external governance structures and systems. Panelists such as local city/county sustainability offices (City of Richmond, VA) addressed current assumptions, assessments, and how to engage and invest in communities through planning processes. HKS, Inc joined the panel discussion, presenting thoughts on holistic approaches to equity in design and in firm governance structure. Panel Two approached equity through the lens of affordability and economic empowerment. Sarah Hill spoke to navigating towards a future of clean energy while engaging communities typically disempowered in the planning of that future. Panel Three, led by Keepers of the Heart Sarah Robinson Enaharo and Jennifer Sheffield, discussed equal access – from equity in design: rethinking disability to projects that are inclusive and socially impactful in their transformation of neighborhoods. In the fourth and final panel of the day, presenters shared “out of the box” or moonshot ideas – examining equity and quality of life to how green buildings create social equity. Keeper of the Heart Traci Rider shared, “I would argue that designing and building to empower health and social equity is exactly where our skillsets lie given the importance of creativity, problem solving, and power of design. Design for health equity and sustainable design are just different sides of the same coin.”
Day Two | Incremental. Evolutionary. Disruptive.
The USGBC Equity Summit Day Two began with presentations from “the challengers.” These challengers brought a deeper look to many of the panel topics presented in the previous day. Challengers presented concepts and social equity practices that push beyond incremental change and into change that is evolutionary and disruptive. Nori Cataby returned for a deeper look at work in King County and how the LEED rating system should have minimum requirements related to equity. Dr. Atiya Martin spoke to how equity must be intentional, requiring building knowledge and tools. Day Two closed with action team break out sessions. Summit attendees, presenters, challengers, and USGBC Keepers of the Heart were broken out into smaller groups, providing opportunity for in-depth discussion on next steps and priorities for the USGBC. This was a moment where all had the opportunity to speak, share, and listen.
Formed in 2009, the USGBC Equity Work Group has been understanding and defining what social equity means in the context of buildings. In the last year, the work from this group has expanded into a social equity roadmap, incorporating equity into building rating systems and beyond. The USGBC has developed a social equity checklist and scorecard, and is not ending the conversation there. Through the two-day equity summit, the USGBC opened the door to listening, conversation, collaboration, education, and the sharing of resources. As Kimberly Lewis stated in her opening remarks, this summit set the “foundation that underpins the equity roadmap.” In envisioning a new future, “it is vital we [the USGBC] are intentional about social equity both as a goal and an outcome.”
Equity Summit Playlist and Key Videos
Day 1 Kickoff
Day 1 Welcome and introduction
Day 2 Kickoff
Day 2 Welcome and recap of day 1
Equity Summit Report from USGBC