Social Equity in the Built Environment

Heather Joy Rosenberg
A new report co-authored by Heather Joy Rosenberg and Joel Ann Todd explores the relationship between the built environment and social equity, and finds that while there are good examples of green buildings that address social equity issues, this is not widespread.

If sustainability is defined by the triple bottom line of environmental, economic and social benefits, the green building movement has a long way to go on the road to creating sustainable projects. Programs like LEED have transformed the market on environmental metrics. But the impacts that projects have on people and communities have not been adequately addressed, while the number of people living without equal access to basic necessities such as affordable homes, education, health care, nutritious food, good jobs and thriving communities continues to grow. To the extent that people face disadvantages that are defined and exacerbated by the very buildings where they live, work and learn, the built environment is an arena where issues of equity can be tackled.

A new Insight Technical Report, co-authored by myself and LEED Steering Committee Chair, Joel Ann Todd, explores the relationship between the built environment and social equity, and finds that while there are good examples of green buildings that address social equity issues, this is not widespread. Many projects teams don’t view social equity as an issue they can or should address. This view is bolstered by a lack of clear metrics, well documented case studies and recognition in LEED and other green building certification systems around the world. The study introduces an overall framework on how to define social equity for the built environment as a place to begin deeper investigation, reviews a wide variety of existing case studies, and summarizes key lessons learned.

Heather Joy Rosenberg
Heather Rosenberg was awarded the USGBC Ginsberg Sustainability Fellowship for 2014-2015 to provide thought leadership on issues of social equity and resilience in the built environment. She was appointed by Mayor Garcetti to serve on the City of Los Angeles Innovation and Performance Commission. She currently serves as the Director of USGBC-LA’s Los Angeles Resilience Initiative, and is leading the development the Building Resilience-LA rating system to enable building owners and managers to incorporate resilience into operations of existing facilities. Trained in both ecology and community development, Ms. Rosenberg has worked on the leading edge of sustainability for more than fifteen years. She has helped shape policy at the city, state and national level, including work on strategic plans, Climate Action Plans, and the analytical framework for LEED. As a Principal at CTG Energetics, Ms. Rosenberg led dozens of green building projects and established that company's community and land use practice. In particular, she focused on urban agriculture, affordable housing, transit-oriented development, brownfield redevelopment, and community outreach, as well as implementation of an integrated design process. In addition, she worked on the development of multiple analytic tools, including the CTG Sustainable Communities Model, the USGBC’s Green Building Information Gateway, and the GSA’s Sustainable Facilities Tool. She is co-author of the USGBC report "Social Equity in the Built Environment," co-authored the core curriculum for USGBC's Green Building and LEED Core Concepts Guide, and writes and blogs extensively on issues of social equity and resilience. Ms. Rosenberg is a trained facilitator and a certified permaculture designer and serves on the USGBC Working Group on Social Equity.

Related resources and references

Social Equity in the Built Environment: An Initial Framework and Project Examples  Joel Ann Todd, Heather Joy Rosenberg