Social equity within the community | U.S. Green Building Council
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LEED BD+C: New Construction | v4 - LEED v4

Social equity within the community

Possible 1 point


Encourage any and all members of the project team to promote and further social equity by integrating strategies that address identified social and community needs and disparities among those affected by the project by:

  • Creating fairer, healthier, and more supportive environments for those who work/live in the project
  • Responding to the needs of the surrounding community to promote a fair distribution of benefits and burdens
  • Promoting fair trade, respect for human rights, and other equity practices among disadvantaged communities

The goal of the Social Equity within the Community pilot credit is to help projects address disparities in access and social inequities within a project’s own community. In order to go beyond charity to support meaningful transformation, building teams must begin to understand the various parts of their communities and understand how they are connected, and community members (particularly those who are vulnerable, disadvantaged and under-represented) must have a greater voice in decisions that impact them.


This pilot credit* awards one point to projects that undertake a process to understand who their community includes, identify community needs related to equity for vulnerable populations, and develop and implement strategies for the project to assist the community in meeting those needs. The relationship between building project teams and social equity are complex. This pilot credit is intended as a starting place to help green building projects understand their relationships to the impacted community and implement targeted strategies that address social equity.

Effective community engagement and needs assessments are critical components of social equity. Building relationships and establishing trust can take years of work on the part of skilled practitioners. For some projects, working with community members is an integral part of the design process and improving equitable access is a core part of the project mission. For others, the ability to develop, implement and respond to an effective community engagement and needs assessment process may be beyond their scope or capabilities. Therefore, this pilot credit provides two pathways for achievement - one is through a community engagement and needs assessment process using the Social Economic Environmental Design (SEED) documentation system (Option 1). The other is for projects to partner with local organizations that already have existing relationships with the community and can participate as partners to represent community needs and concerns (Option 2).

Whether a project team uses the SEED program to document their own process or partners with a community organization, it must select one or more strategies to implement in order to promote social equity within disadvantaged populations.

Option 1
Complete the SEED Evaluator Parts 1 and 2 to identify and address at least one critical issue in the social or economic category

The SEED (Social Economic Environmental Design) Network is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting a “culture of civic responsibility and engagement in the built environment and the public realm.” The SEED Evaluator is a tool to help “designers, project developers, community leaders and others who desire a common standard to guide, measure, evaluate and certify the social, economic and environmental impact of design projects.” The SEED Evaluator is available on-line when you create an account. It consists of three parts, which are required for SEED Certification. Only the first two parts are required for achievement of this pilot credit because the third part may not be completed until well after project occupancy (


Option 2
Partner with Existing Community Service and Advocacy Organizations
Step 1: Define the Community

The first step in promoting social equity within the community is to define that community.

From the perspective of building scale projects, communities have both geographic and functional definitions. Geographic communities start with your neighborhood—the people who live and work in and near your project and interact with it by proximity. The exact distance can depend on your setting. In urban environments, it may be everyone living or working within a few city blocks or within a ¼ mile. In rural areas, where the distance between neighbors might be much greater, the radius may be larger. Geographic communities can also extend further out beyond your neighborhood to include your town, city or county. All of these may be relevant.
Functional communities include all of the people who come to your building to work or visit. These people may or may not live nearby. This category includes your employees, contractors, operations staff, and visitors. It may vary significantly depending on the type of project. For example, housing, offices, hotels, schools or retail projects will all have unique combinations of occupants, contractors and visitors.

In new projects, these definitions can be challenging as they may be in flux. For example, if your project may potentially contribute to displacement of people who currently live or work on the site but may not be able to afford to stay, these people should be included in your community assessment. Similarly, if there are employees who have yet to be hired or contracts yet to be assigned (e.g. for maintenance), these future community members should be included. Both of these groups provide opportunities for meaningful social equity interventions.

In addition, community can be defined by other types of affinities or commonalities, such as age religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as by income level, homelessness, mental health, or education levels. Your project may choose to focus on one or more of these groups, regardless of their proximity or direct relationship to the project. For instance, projects located in low income or disadvantaged communities might focus on their immediate neighbors, while projects in more affluent communities might focus on workers or visitors who travel to the site from further away.

The purpose of this credit is not just to help improve connections with the various aspects of your community (although that is important). The goal is to focus on the members of your community who are chronically vulnerable, disadvantaged, underserved, or have limited access, and to find ways within your project to begin to address these inequities (see Submittals section for details).

Step 2: Partner with a Local Organization to Understand and Engage Your Community

Identify one or more non-profit organizations that work directly with the people of the vulnerable community that you have identified in Step 1. Engage these organizations as partners to help identify ways that your project can improve social equity for the population they represent. Qualifying organizations must have a mission that is directly related to social equity issues and must conduct direct community outreach and engagement with your targeted community component. Examples of acceptable organizations include:

  • Community advocacy groups
  • Social or environmental justice organizations
  • Community development corporations
  • Labor organizations or worker cooperatives
  • Schools and community education institutions
  • Social or human service organizations
  • Health care organizations
  • Housing organizations and organizations serving people experiencing homelessness
  • Food production and access programs
  • Weatherization organizations targeting low income or minority populations
  • Professional and vocational training programs
  • Arts access programs

Qualifying organizations must meet the following criteria:

  • Have a mission statement and core function focused on increasing access or addressing the needs of vulnerable or disadvantaged populations
  • Facilitate direct community engagement activities on a regular basis with their targeted populations
  • Have a local presence and an active relationship with the local target population
  • Been active for at least 3 years
Step 3: Implement Strategies that Improve Social Equity in Your Project

Based on the results of your collaboration with your partnering community organization, select and implement a strategy/strategies that improve social equity within the populations you have targeted within your community. Strategies should focus on issues such as:

  • Jobs (local employment, living wages and benefits, job training)
  • Housing (affordable housing, homeownership, housing quality)
  • Homelessness (related to above but not identical)
  • Education and youth (K-12, mentoring, tutoring, support for libraries in schools and public, daycare, services for at-risk youth, etc.)
  • Education and training (adult, GED, literacy, ESL, computer skills, other employment skills)
  • Small business support for women or minority owned businesses (mentoring, incubation, etc.)
  • Health care (clinics, dentists, mobile and fixed sites, home care. etc.)
  • Public health and safety (traffic safety, gang prevention, access to open space and recreation areas, etc.)
  • Mental health (mental illness, alcoholism, veterans/ PTSD, etc.)
  • Food (fresh food access, nutrition education, community gardens, etc.)

The strategy must include at least one of the following:

  • Provision or improvement of space
  • Provision of equipment or services
  • On-going local hiring, training and benefits for workers
  • Regular on-going programming or events
  • Financial contribution equivalent to at least half a cent for every dollar of total construction cost


Option 3
USGBC-approved equivalent / project-submitted Alternative Compliance Path (see below)

*Una versión del crédito en español está disponible en la sección de Recursos (Resources).



Register for the pilot credit

Credits 83-103


Option 1:

Provide full completed copies of Parts 1 and 2 of the SEED Evaluator, including all comments received throughout the process from SEED Reviewers.

Option 2:

Complete the Option 2 Documentation Template found on the resources tab of this credit.

Option 3 (Alternative Compliance Path):

USGBC welcomes the idea of alternative strategies to those discussed in the credit language for this pilot credit; as a means to learn more about other possibilities towards meeting the intent and goals of the credit , and in order to potentially incorporate good ideas into future pilot credits and/or standard LEED credits.

For an alternative strategy to be considered, it must relate to the social equity issues listed above under Option 2, Step 3. The following information must be included in the submission:

  1. Intent of the proposed strategy
    • How does it meet the intent and goals of this pilot credit?
  2. Requirements for compliance
    • What metric(s) are used to measure success? How is the level of effort or rigor equivalent to the existing options?
  3. Submittals – Documentation to demonstrate compliance
    • Alternative Compliance Path for Option 1: Provide documentation on alternative certification system/program, demonstrating equivalence to SEED, including:
      1. Program’s commitment to social equity and community
      2. Requirements/ standards for achieving program certification
      3. Third party review or certification process (if applicable)
      4. Implementation of an appropriate strategy to meet community need, as outlined in the SEED Evaluator


    • Alternative Compliance Path for Option 2: An organization may conduct their own community engagement process without engaging with a partner organization, if the organization itself meets all of the requirements for a partner organization. In this case, complete the Option 2 Documentation Template for the owner organization, verifying that all criteria are met.
  4. Design approach or strategies - Provide a narrative description if not sufficiently addressed in the information listed above.
Survey Questions for Project Teams:
  1. What aspects of the credit were easiest? Most difficult? Impossible? What revisions would you recommend to address these shortcomings?
  2. What challenges did you face in identifying community stakeholders? In making or maintaining contact? In engaging active participation?
  3. Describe whether your project is urban, suburban, rural, tribal, etc. What are the surrounding densities? What radius did you use to determine surrounding communities?
  4. In what country is your project located? Are there any programs or requirements within this country that are similar to the requirements of this credit? If so, were you able to use or leverage that program? Why or why not?
  5. How helpful was the reference standard AA 1000 Accountability Principles and Stakeholder Engagement Standards (AA1000SES) in designing your community engagement process? What other resources did you use to design and implement the process?
  6. Who was in charge of the community engagement process? Did you hire any outside experts or practitioners? Did your team have the skills to successfully implement all aspects of this credit? If not, what was missing and how did you address any shortcomings?
  7. What challenges did you face in translating community goals and needs into strategies that could be successfully implemented by the project?
  8. If projects chose not to attempt this credit, was it because it seemed too difficult or because it did not reflect their project’s goals or some other reason?
Changes log
  • 10/01/2015
    removed Enterprise Green Communities option
    added option 2: Partner with Existing Community Service and Advocacy Organizations
    added documentation template for option 2
    added explanation text under intent and requirements

  • 12/13/2017
    made applicable to ID+C adaptations
    clarified social or economic category for option 1
    removed requirement for non-profit status for option 2
    added revised documentation template for option 2
  • 1/30/2018
    ACP guidance added for Option 3
  • 5/7/2018
    Spanish translation added to Resources
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