Welcoming Social Equity into the Big Tent of Green Building

Heather Joy Rosenberg
Everyone is talking about social equity, but that doesn’t mean they are talking about the same thing. The USGBC can play a role in bringing diverse interests together.

Greenbuild this year was abuzz with talk about social equity issues. From the special sessions like the Sustainable Community Summit and the Affordable Housing Summit to a wide variety of educational sessions, people asked hard questions about how the green building movement can better address the disparities in access to the healthy environments we are striving to create.

“While lots of people are talking about social equity, they are not all talking about the same thing.”

But while lots of people are talking about social equity, they are not all talking about the same thing. For some, social equity means supporting grassroots efforts for community renewal. For others, it means supporting public health or creating good jobs. Some are focused on corporate social responsibility. Still others are concerned with increasing the diversity of green building practitioners. People are asking how our work can benefit building occupants, members of surrounding communities, and even those who are affected by upstream and downstream activities of building industry.

The challenge now is to bring all of these conversations together under the “big tent” concept of the green building world. To me, it’s an exciting challenge. Whole disciplines exist to tackle each of these issues, and certainly not all social equity issues can be fixed through a better built environment. But the green building movement, and the USGBC in particular, are in a great place to convene discussion, help map out the interconnections between problems, and encourage systemic solutions.

Over the next few months I will be exploring organizations, projects and people who are who are finding new, holistic approaches to making change. By understanding the systems they are working in and finding leverage points within the built environment, these leaders are charting territory that may be fruitful for the USGBC and its many stakeholders to better address the social bottom line of sustainability.

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.