Susan Kaplan
3 minute read

The founder and former co-chair of the Social Equity Working Group issues a call to action on social equity.

Those of us involved with USGBC may work toward sustainability in our professional work, but few of us also address social issues in our work. However, I believe that we should, for social equity is an integral part of sustainability.

Asking the right questions

We may design beautiful, even biophilic, LEED Platinum buildings, but have we considered their social impact? Maybe we sited our building for excellent energy efficiency, but did we consider the small stores, loved by the community, that had to be demolished? Maybe we selected a competent contractor who could build green, but did we look at their record on accidents, diversity and employee benefits? Maybe we incorporated photovoltaic panels, but did we consider how the quartz was mined?

In 2018, the USGBC’s Social Equity Working Group created a document to help building industry professionals address these issues. The document, the LEED Project Team Checklist for Social Impact, poses a series of questions to ask at the beginning of a project so that it can be more socially sustainable—even transformational.

The questions were designed to help whether you’re in government, community or part of the development team. They work best when bringing the needs, hopes and goals of all these groups to the forefront, providing a jumping-off point for incorporating greater degrees of equity, community, resilience and social engagement into the fabric of the entire project.

Continuously improving our approach

To make the questions even more effective, the Working Group recently updated the checklist. The revision was based on feedback we received while sharing the checklist in a session at the Greenbuild 2018 Communities and Affordable Housing Summit. At the session, we ran through the checklist for an actual building project in Chicago, with input from a local community group, a Chicago public official and about 50 architects, planners and developers.

The group suggested several improvements, including better clarity on how the document can be used; more emphasis on incorporating the voice of the community; and adding new ways to address displacement, gentrification and resilience.

The revised Checklist for Social Impact gives direction to different members of the building industry. Depending on whether you’re a public official, a member of a community group, a developer, or an architect, that might mean including the checklist in an RFP, as the basis of discussions with a proposed developer, for a developer to show social intent or as the basis of a project team’s charrette.

Also, you can now use the checklist toward earning LEED social equity pilot credit points. It can also be used to earn an Exemplary Performance point through the Integrative Process credit in LEED v4.1.

Now's the time to include social equity in each and every project we do. The updated checklist will give you the ideas and resources to include social equity considerations in every project you do as a green building professional. Use it to start a conversation—and to take part in a movement—to create true sustainability for everyone.

View the new checklist