Social Equity in the Built Environment | U.S. Green Building Council
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Social Equity in the Built Environment

GBCI: 0920015600

Resources to extend the benefits of green building to all. 

Published on: February 27, 2018

Average: 4 (1 vote)


This learning pathway provides you with the resources to incorporate more inclusive and equitable practices into the design, construction, and operation of your project, and identify opportunities to leverage LEED and GBCI systems to extend the benefits of green building to all.

Contribute your own content! Use the Comments section below to submit content ideas for USGBC to consider including for this education pathway, such as your own case study or tool.


What is social equity?

Since 2013, USGBC has committed to building social equity in its mission and guiding principles. By equity, we mean equal opportunity, in a safe and healthy environment. We seek to address disparities and inequitable distribution of goods, services, and amenities. We seek to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life for all.

Inequities are created when barriers prevent individuals and communities from accessing these conditions and reaching their full potential. Disparities are differences in status or quality of life between people related to social or demographic factors such as race, gender, income, or geographic region.

What does social equity look like within the context of green buildings?

LEED projects raise the bar for environmental stewardship around the world, resulting in positive social and economic impacts for communities small and large. Within a green building, for example, indoor air quality standards enhance the comfort and well-being of occupants, especially those most vulnerable to or most burdened by health risks. Broadly, green buildings contribute less to climate change, which has a disproportionate impact on communities of color and low-income communities around the world.

However, LEED projects also have the opportunity to address social equity more directly. Residential projects can include a proportion of dwelling units priced for households earning less than the area median income. Buildings can incorporate universal design features to welcome a wide spectrum of people, regardless of age or ability. All project teams can be more responsive to community needs by involving the people who live or work in the community in project design and planning and in decisions about how it should be improved or how it should change over time.

What credits are available in LEED?

LEED explicitly promotes socially-responsible practices by means of its Social Equity Pilot Credits, developed by the LEED Social Equity Working Group. The pilot credits are designed to address social equity from the perspective of everyone who is touched or impacted by a building—including the building’s construction workers, designers, engineers and other project team members; its surrounding community; and those involved in the building’s materials supply chain.

Social Equity within the Community. This credit encourages a project team to address identified needs and disparities in the community surrounding the project. It outlines a process of engagement with community stakeholders that focuses on vulnerable populations to understand these needs, and also allows certification through established frameworks such as the SEED Evaluator.

Social Equity within the Project Team. This credit encourages a project’s owners, financiers, architects, engineers and contractors to incorporate social equity into their daily activities. They can do this by paying prevailing wages to construction workers; providing workforce development; or by demonstrating corporate social responsibility through B-Corporation certification or through the creation of Corporate Sustainability Reports that address the social components of their businesses.

Social Equity within the Supply Chain. This credit encourages social equity for those involved in the production of materials and products for our buildings, from raw materials extraction through final assembly. It rewards the establishment of supplier assessments, or scorecards, as well as the creation of Supplier Codes of Conduct that address basic human rights.

These pilot credits now feature the option to submit a project-specific Alternative Compliance Path (ACP). In the true nature of a LEED pilot credit, the ACP approach allows more varied types of social actions to be considered and rewarded. USGBC welcomes the idea of alternative strategies, as a means to learn more about other possibilities towards meeting the intent of the credit and in order to potentially incorporate good ideas into future pilot credits and/or standard LEED credits.

Other LEED credits related to social equity include those that reward strategies to increase inclusion, safety, health, and wellbeing of people impacted by LEED projects. A sample of strategies include:

The LEED Project Team Checklist for Social Impact offers a framework to help identify social and economic considerations on LEED projects, and to determine effective strategies for enhanced social impact. (Please tell us about your experience with this checklist tool and help us continue to improve it! Complete the feedback survey.)

Social equity considerations are now beginning to be considered a key component of green building practices. We hope and expect to see these issues become central, defining dimensions for all green buildings.

If you have questions about the LEED social equity pilot credits, reach out to Mandy Lee


How can we create a more inclusive, equitable green building movement? How can we offer access to green building resources and benefits for underserved and vulnerable communities?

USGBC is taking action through two key programs:

The Advance Campaign helps community-based organizations discover effective green building strategies that align with their goals. It builds upon sustainability industry best practices and leadership standards while connecting community-based organizations to green business tools, resources and expertise.

The Advance Campaign for Social Equity Toolkit tells you what you need to know to understand this program and get started. In addition, a lot of great tools and training materials are available.

Many USGBC communities and other partners have implemented the Advance Campaign at different scales. Read about a few of them:

The Affordable Green Neighborhoods Grant Program provides funding and educational resources to affordable housing developers who are pursuing certification using the LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED ND) rating system.

In Spring 2017, USGBC wrapped up the fourth and final round of the Affordable Green Neighborhoods (AGN) grant program, supported by generous funding from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation.

Look back at the 36 projects awarded an AGN grant since the program’s launch in 2010:


A few LEED certified buildings and other innovative projects around the world are already leading the way, demonstrating the value of inclusive and equitable green building practices. Here we explore two examples from the United States and point to additional case study collections.

Dahlia Campus for Health & Well-Being is a 57,000 sq ft building located on a 4 acre site in the Park Hill neighborhood of Denver, CO, which opened its doors in January of 2016. This innovative campus is the result of a strong partnership between the Mental Health Center of Denver and the Park Hill community. Over the course of four years, Park Hill residents have shared their ideas about well-being, health, education, access to healthy food, access to dental care and mental health services. Building on the strengths of the community and informed by natural community leaders, the Dahlia Campus offers a comprehensive array of services including early childhood education, access to naturally grown produce and protein; and a variety of indoor and outdoor community spaces to support multigenerational populations as they gather, connect, play and grow. The campus features a teaching kitchen; community room, community gymnasium, pediatric dental clinic and a wide array of mental health services.

This project was awarded the Social Equity within the Community pilot credit and earned LEED Gold for New Construction v2009 in 2017. Learn more about this project on their website and in this video.

The Mariposa Healthy Living Initiative is an effort to advance the health and quality of life of residents through redevelopment. Denver Housing Authority and their partners redeveloped nearly 900 new mixed-income housing units in a community called Mariposa, located in the La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood near downtown Denver, CO. The site spans 17.5 acres and also includes 100, senior housing units, mixed-use retail spaces, and diverse outdoor living spaces, playgrounds, and gardens.

The Mariposa Healthy Living Initiative began in 2009, when the Denver Housing Authority and its master planning team established physical, mental, and community health as a proxy to understand how redevelopment actions would change the quality of life for residents. The Initiative recognizes that the built environment is a determinant of health outcomes, which ultimately influence the quality and length of life for residents. The Initiative uses a responsive and rigorous approach to address environmental and social determinants of health, which include Healthy Housing, Environmental Stewardship, Sustainable and Safe Transportation, Social Cohesion, Public Infrastructure, and Healthy Economy. The Initiative framework is intended to be a living implementation tool for designers, developers, and practitioners. Learn more about this project here.

The Mariposa Health Living Tool, available online here, is a open source best practice published by Center for Active Design, CDC, and HUD.

This project also helped inspire the LEED Integrative Process for Health Promotion pilot credit.

SEED® is a principle-based network of individuals and organizations dedicated to building and supporting a culture of civic responsibility and engagement in the built environment and the public realm. The SEED Network connects similarly-minded members of the general public with designers from the fields of Architecture, Communication Design, Industrial Design, Landscape Architecture, Urban Design, and Urban Planning, who have an interest in community-based design practice.

The SEED Network members promote and celebrate the idea that design matters and all people can shape their world for the better through design. SEED facilitates action by providing tools such as the SEED Evaluator, which provides guidelines for pursuing a design process informed by inclusivity and participation that can lead to SEED Certification. The SEED Evaluator is currently recognized in LEED through the Social Equity within the Community pilot credit.

Discover SEED projects across five continents in these videos.

Enterprise Green Communities is improving the health and well-being of low-income people by transforming the quality of affordable housing in the United States. Enterprise supports developers, investors, builders and policymakers make the transition to a green future for affordable housing. By aligning affordable housing investment strategies with environmentally responsive building practices, Enterprise is helping ensure that people living in affordable housing are healthier, spend less money on utilities, and have more opportunities through their connections to transportation, quality food and healthcare systems. Learn more about this program here.

Explore more than 80 communities in the Enterprise Resource Center by filtering for "Green" and "Case Study" here.


To further advance your own knowledge on social equity in the context of the built environment, consider these on-demand educational courses from USGBC's Education @USGBC online platform:

Note: These sessions are available with an annual Education @USGBC subscription or for individual purchase. For additional on-demand educational opportunities, visit Education @USGBC and search “equity.”

In addition, there are other external online courses available for purchase to support your knowledge on social equity:

Are you looking to teach social equity concepts in K-12 classrooms? The following programs are available on Learning Lab, USGBC’s online education platform for primary and secondary school teachers:

Note: These lessons are included with an annual Learning Lab subscription or available for individual purchase.


The world's largest and most influential green building conference—Greenbuild—now takes place every year in Europe, Mexico, the United States, China and India. 

Discover education opportunities and meet experts in the field of equitable development & green building. Below we highlight a selection of upcoming sessions:

Greenbuild Europe (April 17-18, 2018):

  • WIG: Women in Green: Leading With Purpose
  • E03: Bringing Restorative and Living Buildings to Europe. The COST Action RESTORE
  • F02: Devising and delivering Social Sustainability and community resilience at neighbourhood level with BREEAM Communities

Greenbuild Mexico (June 19-21, 2018):

  • B02: Social responsibility in the built environment: going further with green buildings
  • C01: La certificación de buen manejo de los bosques: desarrollo económico, bienestar comunitario y conservación ambiental
  • H02: Resilience and transparency for real estate and infrastructure investors: introducing the GRESB Resilience Module

Greenbuild Chicago (November 14-16, 2018)

  • The annual Communities & Affordable Homes Summit at Greenbuild (U.S.) focuses on the development of vibrant, sustainable communities through the lenses of resilience, social equity, health and economic opportunity. Community and sustainability leaders join together for a day of knowledge sharing and problem-solving with the goal of expediting the economic, social, and ecological health and vitality of all communities.
  • Watch the website for additional educational sessions on social equity topics.

Greenbuild China (October 23-24, 2018)
Watch the website for program details

Greenbuild India (November 15-18, 2018)
Watch the website for program details


How-To Resources

Making the Case

Education & Awareness

LEED Social Equity Working Group* Reading & Watch List

  • Editors. Why Gender-Neutral Bathrooms Matter. Metropolis, 2018.
  • Fullilove, Mindy. Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America's Sorted-Out Cities. New Village Press, 2013.
  • Fullilove, Mindy. Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It. One World/Ballantine, 2005.
  • Greenbuild 2016 Master Series - F15: We need to Talk about Wellness and Sustainability
  • Why You Should Learn about the City you Live In - TED Talk
  • Greening the Ghetto - TED Talk
  • Freeman, Lance. There Goes the ‘Hood: Views of Gentrification from the Ground Up. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006.
  • Arnold, Craig Anthony. Fair and Healthy Land Use: Environmental Justice and Planning. American Planning Association, 2007.
  • Wilkins, Craig. The Aesthetics of Equity: notes on race, space, architecture and music. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
  • Kaplan, Victoria. Structural Inequality: Black Architects in the United States. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006.
  • Mitchell, Melvin. The Crisis of the African-American Architect: Conflicting Cultures of Architecture and (Black) Power. iUniverse, Incorporated, 2002.
  • Urban Planning and the African-American Community, by June Manning Thomas, 1997
  • Thomas, June Manning. Revelopment and Race: Planning a Finer City in Postwar Detroit. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.
  • Etienne, Harley F. and Barbara Faga. Planning Atlanta. Routledge, 2015.
  • Bullard, Robert. The Black Metropolis in the 21st Century: Race, Power, and the Politics of Place. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007.
  • Bullard, Robert. Growing Smarter: Achieving Livable Communities, Environmental Justice, and Regional Equity. Boston: The MIT Press, 2007.
  • Agyeman, Julian, Robert D. Bullard and Bob Evans. Just Sustainabilities: Development in an Unequal World. Boston: The MIT Press, 2003.
  • Harvey, David. Social Justice and the City. University of Georgia Press, 2009.
  • Dubois, W.E.B. The Philadelphia Negro. 1896.
  • Klinenberg, Eric. Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2003.
  • Dwyer-Lindgren L, Bertozzi-Villa A, Stubbs RW, et al. Inequalities in life expectancy among US counties, 1980 to 2014. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2017; online: E1-E9.
  • Dwyer-Lindgren L, Bertozzi-Villa A, Stubbs RW, et al. US county-level trends in mortality rates for major causes of death, 1980-2014 . Journal of the American Medical Association. 2016;316(22):2385-2401.
  • Hood, Carlyn M. MPA MPH, Gennuso KPP, Swain, Geoffrey R. MD MPH, Catlin, Bridget B. PhD MHSA. County health rankings: Relationships between determinant factors and health outcomes. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. 2015; 20(2): 129–135.
  • McGinnis MJ, Williams-Russo P, Knickman JR. The case for more active policy attention to health promotion. Health Affairs. 2002;21(1):78-93.
  • Design Like You Give a Damn [2}, edited by Architecture for Humanity
  • 70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green Movie (U.S.)
  • Unconscious Bias TED Talk
  • Priced Out Movie (U.S.)
  • Yes Loitering (U.S.)

*Learn more about the Social Equity Working Group here.

Do you have additional suggested resources? Use the Comments section below to let us know!


  1. Define what makes a project equitable, inclusive, and beneficial for all those affected by it
  2. Identify how LEED v4 offers projects an opportunity to address social equity within various populations
  3. Recognize social equity strategies that have worked for LEED projects
  4. Describe how USGBC is pursuing new ways to help promote equitable outcomes within and through green building
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Created by

U.S. Green Building Council
Washington, DC
United States

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