New USGBC Equity initiative will advance social equity in our communities

Taryn Holowka

Social equity is the foundation upon which USGBC’s mission was built. For more than a quarter century, USGBC has been working to encourage sustainable building practices that create an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy and prosperous environment that improves quality of life for all.

Green building and social equity go hand in hand, and we know that addressing and emphasizing sustainability through green building can provide communities with resources and access to opportunities that can help them reach their full potential. That is why a sustainable future for all must also reflect a more socially equitable future too.

USGBC Equity is a new initiative that will highlight and bring attention to the broad spectrum of work that USGBC and its community members are doing around social equity and will help elevate the organization's equity activities in the future. This initiative will take the pulse of USGBC members and our community and will answer the following questions:

  • What are you as an individual doing to help advance social equity in your work and home life?
  • What are you as a USGBC member doing to help advance social equity?
  • How are LEED buildings contributing to social equity?
  • How are LEED cities and communities furthering social equity?

To answer these questions and more, USGBC is creating an Equity Leadership Committee, which will launch in 2020. This group of volunteers and staff will work to integrate and advance social equity across the organization. The committee’s mission is to inspire everyone to address the human needs and aspirations of all populations in buildings, communities and cities.

One of the first objectives of the committee is to develop an annual survey for USGBC members to share their thoughts about and goals for social equity. USGBC will use the results of this survey to better understand our community’s goals around social equity and to create a social equity framework, with the help of the committee, which will help elevate USGBC’s social equity conversations. We will also integrate partners that wish to support USGBC Equity in this effort.

What is USGBC doing for social equity today?

Today, social equity at USGBC is woven throughout the organization and can be seen in several USGBC programs:


Every person deserves better, brighter, healthier places to live, learn, work and play. Advance is designed to increase access to green buildings for all. The Advance Campaign for Social Equity connects community organizations with experts and resources to green their facilities and operations.

Affordable housing

USGBC is committed to supporting healthy and efficient affordable housing for all. We leverage our rating systems, advocacy, education and community to advance greener building practices through advantageous finance and policy. Currently, 50% of LEED-certified homes qualify as affordable housing. Learn more.

Built for Health

USGBC’s podcast series “Built for Health” explores the various impacts buildings, cities and communities have on human health. The podcast is available for free and can be downloaded on SoundCloud. With a focus on the dynamic interaction between occupant well-being and building sustainability, “Built for Health” brings public health professionals and researchers together with architecture, engineering and construction practitioners to discuss how to design, build and operate healthier buildings.

Climate change and LEED

The building sector is at risk of increasing its impact on global warming. USGBC has made its own commitment to climate action, and in 2017, the organization signed on to the We Are Still In Pledge, demonstrating our commitment to the Paris Agreement goals. At USGBC, virtually all our platforms and activities—rating systems, education, advocacy, partnerships and events—have a connection to reducing our impact on the planet.

Of the 100 total points in LEED v4, 35 reward climate change mitigation strategies. These include four different greenhouse gas emissions reduction credits, as well as credits for sustainable site location, access to public transportation, water use, energy performance, carbon offsets and life cycle impact reduction.

GBCI’s suite of rating systems

In addition to LEED, GBCI has invested in other sustainability certification programs and has expanded to administer several other complementary rating systems that cover nearly every facet of the sustainability industry. These are designed to complement LEED and double down on our efforts to augment it; to add layer after layer; to promote the issues that most affect our communities, like waste, equity and resilience—particularly in the face of climate-related risks; and to protect the health and well-being of all of us. We are taking extraordinary steps to include resilience and equity in all aspects of our work.

Green Apple Day of Service

Green Apple Day of Service is a global movement that helps underserved schools become healthier, more sustainable places to learn through community service-learning opportunities. Together with partners like Shaw Contract Group, USGBC also provides $200 in mini-grant funding to individual projects in need of financial support.

Health and LEED

Every human being has a right to a healthy, safe, sustainable environment and way of life. Every LEED project protects and improves the health of people across the globe through macro-level strategies, as well as the health of the occupants within those spaces through building-level strategies.

Improving energy efficiency in one building can contribute to reducing air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions, thereby supporting global health. Water efficiency in one building helps protect water resources available globally. LEED also incorporates strategies targeted at improving the health of the people inside the building by optimizing indoor air quality and assessing material impacts, lighting, biophilia, sound and other parameters. We recognize that all our actions are connected and have an impact on health and quality of life, and LEED is designed to optimize our impacts.

Living Standard

The Living Standard campaign recognizes that green buildings are only part of the solution to lengthening and bettering the lives of every person on the planet. Every single human being on the planet deserves a safe and healthy place to call home, and a higher Living Standard is what every person on the planet deserves. The Living Standard campaign helps communicate the value of green building to those who are unfamiliar with it so that everyone understands that leading long and healthy lives is not a privilege—it’s a right for everyone, regardless of their circumstances.

Project Haiti

Project Haiti is USGBC’s initiative to rebuild a LEED Platinum orphanage in Port Au Prince, Haiti, which was devastated by the 2010 earthquake and continues to be affected by natural disasters such as the recent Hurricane Matthew.

Social equity and LEED

LEED includes three credits that have been 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.

These credits build on the goals of LEED—to enhance community, social equity, environmental justice, quality of life and a greener economy. The credits help define LEED buildings as truly sustainable and advantageous to all people, especially more vulnerable populations, who often have little say in a project's development.

The LEED for Cities and Communities rating systems also address quality of life issues, as well as health, prosperity, equity, access, empowerment, safety, education, resilience, infrastructure and energy. The LEED for Cities and LEED for Communities rating systems are designed to support continuous progress and ensure a higher quality of life for all residents.

USGBC Advocacy

USGBC works at all levels of government to ensure that the benefits of green building are available to communities and individuals from all walks of life. USGBC actively works with state housing finance agencies to include LEED certification and other green features in plans for low-income housing tax incentives.

With an eye to assisting state emergency management and recovery offices, USGBC is working to ensure that high standards are used as communities rebuild and prepare for future natural disasters.

At both the federal and state level, USGBC is helping to expand financial support for schools to be constructed and modernized, using third-party certification, with the goal of creating healthier and more sustainable learning environments for students, faculty and staff. Many of the existing state polices and proposed federal proposals prioritize schools that serve economically distressed populations.

USGBC Center for Green Schools

All students deserve to attend sustainable schools that enhance their health and prepare them for 21st century careers. The Center for Green Schools brings sustainability to life in the classroom and encourages communities to work together toward a future that is healthier for people and the planet.

The opportunity to benefit from green building knowledge and resources should be available to all schools, regardless of economic status. We are committed to guaranteeing that schools and districts have a valued place in our member body, and we offer a free first year of USGBC organizational membership to K–12 schools and school districts.

USGBC Center for Resilience

We support resilient buildings that allow communities to be ready, not surprised. USGBC believes we must continuously look over the horizon, to crises that are both foreseeable and those that might seem like they are unforeseeable. Through LEED and other programs and initiatives, USGBC’s Center for Resilience promotes and advocates for principles of design, construction, operation and maintenance that address and emphasize resilience in buildings, landscapes, power systems and communities. Beyond sustainability, green building and infrastructure certifications are driving resilience-enhancing designs, technologies, materials and methods.

Women in Green

Women in Green is a global platform that elevates and advances leadership among women in sustainability and celebrates and connects female leaders who are influencers at the top of their field, fueling ambitious young women and catalyzing change. Women in Green empowers women to enhance, strengthen and lead green industries across all sectors.

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