Building sustainable communities through social equity (USGBC Georgia) | U.S. Green Building Council
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USGBC Georgia offered members illuminating perspectives on social equity at the LEED Gold Auburn Avenue Research Library.

An illuminating panel of three perspectives on social equity, moderated by Belinda Morrow, followed a building tour of the recently renovated, LEED Gold Auburn Avenue Research Library. The event was hosted by USGBC Georgia in partnership with NOMA Atlanta.

First, Jason Buch, former Technical Manager of the Green Building Council of South Africa, took us on a journey to South Africa to explore how the Green Star rating system is piloting a new credit category devoted to seven socioeconomic imperatives. It was a fascinating contrast to how we treat community stakeholders in the U.S. For example, labor-intensive practices are encouraged to bolster employment creation. Rather than one person operating a piece of heavy equipment, 15 men will dig a hole with shovels.

In addition, green buildings are encouraged to provide full medical screening for all project and construction employees, thus creating greater access to high-quality health and safety. This credit seems especially relevant to a developing country. It may not be repeatable in the U.S., but it is a great jumping-off point to asking, "What are the health and safety needs of our construction workers?"

Next, Alissa Kingsley, an architect with Lord Aeck Sargent, presented information about the hotly anticipated Georgia Tech Living Building Challenge project. Two unique features are a custom app for user feedback and a makerspace that will be open to the community. These design elements speak to both the technology-focused student users and to the sophisticated public engagement platform.

Obviously, the stakeholder community of Midtown Atlanta has vastly different needs from the typical building user in South Africa. The refreshing angle I saw for us here in the U.S. is a celebration of transparency. Rather than hiding all the progress of building technology behind the walls of the ivory towers, the building’s living story will engage public and private users in new and meaningful ways. Kingsle3y also announced that Lord Aeck Sargent is demonstrating transparency with how they treat their employees by earning the JUST social justice label.

Finally, Djuan Coleon, executive director at PURE (Project Urban Renewable Energy), highlighted some statistics related to "energy poverty." That term, a new one for me, defines households spending more than 10 percent of their income on energy bills. Most of us feel the strain of energy costs in a long, hot summer. But could you imagine spending as much as 53 percent of your income on energy? It was alarming to learn that most of the poverty-line households in Alabama are in that exact scenario.

Coleon proposes solar partnerships as one solution centered at the intersection of faith and social responsibility. By making renewable energy accessible to those most in need, PURE is tackling energy poverty head-on within low-income communities in Brunswick, Georgia.

To wrap up the big idea of the event, we were left with a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually.” It’s a stark reminder to all of us to open our hearts a little wider and keep asking the questions that drive innovation in sustainability.

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