Centering Equity in the Sustainable Building Sector: Universalizing access to safe, affordable, healthy, and energy efficient spaces where we live, work, and play

Communities of color and low-income communities bear the brunt of the impacts of unhealthy, energy inefficient, and disaster vulnerable buildings through poor health and financial impacts of high energy bills, as well as the disproportionate negative effects of climate change, to which buildings contribute as a major consumer of fossil fuel based energy.

Yet, as one looks around the tables or worksites of the sustainable and regenerative building sector, there is little representation of the populations most impacted by our current proliferation of unsustainable, inefficient, sometimes unsafe, and often unhealthy building stock. Whether it’s as policy makers, advocates, architects, project managers, contractors, or even in the construction workforce, the most impacted communities are underrepresented in the design, construction, and occupancy of sustainable, regenerative, healthy buildings.

Given the huge import of buildings in reducing the demand on energy production, plus the co-benefits that regenerative design has for building occupants and the community, not to mention the environment, all of this
points to the fact that this gap in access/uptake must drastically change and quickly to build a big tent and universalize sustainable, regenerative buildings.

In actualizing our commitment to ground our operations in the principles and practices of our environmental and climate justice platform, the NAACP will establish its Baltimore headquarters as an exemplar for an Equitable Living
Building Project. Through this effort, we will develop a replicable model of ensuring the centering of equity in all aspects of sustainable, healthy, safe, and regenerative buildings, including access, affordability, co-benefits, cultural resonance, inclusive decision-making, financing, service provision, procurement, contracting, employment, communications, monitoring and evaluation, and so much more. 

Our aim as the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization is to be a beacon of inspiration and transformation in centering equity in the sustainable building sector. In doing so, we can catalyze the building of a bigger, broader tent for the sustainable building movement, towards the betterment of the building users, the communities, the economy, and the planet.

Our first step has been, to establish a project level Equity Committee and to engage an Equity Fellow to do a desk review of the existing green building/living building guidance documents, standards, and actual projects that have been implemented with the aim of examining, documenting, being grounded in, and building upon, what’s already happening.

Now, we are pulling together thought leaders and practitioners to determine how we go beyond having equity as merely a petal or an optional aspect of the living building/green building sector, and advancing an action agenda to have equity at the foundation and center of the sustainable building movement.

As such, we are assembling people/organizations who are currently leading in this sector and those who should be engaged around green buildings but aren’t, to share the results of our Equity in Green Building Research Project. This gathering will then launch an initiative to design a strategy on how to advance this transformation in the sector, with the NAACP Headquarters Project as the Flagship Luminary for Comprehensive Implementation of an Equity Based Green Building  Project. Through this collective, consultative, process, the plan is for this initiative to be the catalyst and vehicle for institutionalization of policies. programming and practices that center equity in  the sustainable building sector.

As we consider our aims for this summit, below please find the overarching intended outcomes for the event:

  2. Participants will have a full understanding of existing equity measures in sustainable building standards, policies and practices, as well as a catalogue of cases of implementation of equity measures in sustainable building projects.
  3. Participants will develop a purpose statement on the rationale/advantages of centering equity in the sustainable buildings sector.
  4. Participants will develop an expanded set of equity measures for the sustainable building continuum.
  5. Participants will design the methodology for the integration of a comprehensive array of equity measures in all aspects, from policy making to design, construction and operationalization of sustainable building projects.
  6. Participants will establish an action plan and ongoing infrastructure for centering equity in the sustainable building sector.
  7. POST SUMMIT INITIATIVE ACTIVITIES/OUTCOMES (6-Month Initiative Launch Start-Up Phase)

Following the launch summit, by the end of January 2019, the 6-Month Start-Up Phase of the Centering Equity in the Sustainable Building Sector Initiative will have achieved the following:

1) Initiative Action Plan: Goals, objectives, timeline, committed entities and their roles and responsibilities

2) Policy Platform for Equity Based Sustainable Building Sector: Legislative, Regulations, Building Codes, etc. 

3) Monthly Implementation Working Group E-Meetings starting In September with groups to include: 

  1. Policy/Regulations/Building Codes
  2. Reforming Building Standards
  3. Equity in Workforce/Business/Vendor
  4. Diversity in STEM
  5. Financing
  6. Communications (Communicating a New Vision of the Sustainable Building Sector) 
  7. And More, as identified through the summit

4) Monthly Educational Webinars on topics designed to broaden understanding of how to integrate equity measures in the sustainability sector with foci to include:

  1. Summit Report-Out
  2. Equity Report—Findings, Conclusions, and Recommendations
  3. Expanding Equitable Access to Sustainable Affordable Multi-Family Housing
  4. Strategies for a Diverse Workforce in the Sustainable Buildings Sector
  5. MORE

5) Dynamic Equity Resource List and Toolkit: Establishing Equity Based Sustainable Residential, Commercial, Public, and Community Buildings

6) MODEL–Maryland and Baltimore State and Local Policy/Regulatory Reform Plan—Engagement in state and local planning processes to ensure integration of an advocacy agenda to establish Baltimore/MD as an exemplary hub for equitable economic, energy, housing, building code, policies and regulations to support equity based sustainable buildings.

7) Model Design for a Flagship Equity Based Green Building—The NAACP National Headquarters, Baltimore, MD

The Imperative for Equity in the Sustainable Buildings Sector, Moderator: Jacqueline Patterson, NAACP with panelists:

  • Huda Alkaff, Wisconsin Green Muslims
    • Summer Lee, Friends of Summer Lee
    • Kimberly Lewis, US Green Building Council
    • Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, Maryland Environmental Health Network

Health and Safety, Moderator: Marjorie Innocent, NAACP, with panelists:

  • Debra Erenberg—Cancer Free Economy Network
    • Linda Rudolph, Public Health Institute
    • Matthew Mehalik, Breathe Project
    • Linda Wigington, Reducing Outdoor Contaminants in Indoor Spaces (ROCIS)

Equity in Existing Building Standards, Moderator: Anne Evens, Elevate Energy, with panelists:
• Kareem Heshmat, NAACP
• Shawn Hesse, International Living Futures Institute
• Leslie Montgomery, Green Building Alliance
• Ryan Snow, US Green Building Alliance
• Rose Winer, International Well Building Institute

Keynote Denise Fairchild, Emerald Cities Collaborative, with panelists:
Bill Bates, AIA, NOMA, Eat-N-Park
Dale Glenwood Green, Morgan State University

Equity Strategy Groups and Facilitators:
• Federal State and Local Policies/Regulations—Lauren Ross, ACEEE
• Industry Standards—Ryan Snow, USGBC
• Financing Mechanisms- Kathryn Wright, Cadmus Group
• Affordable Housing—Diana Hernandez, Columbia University
• Equitable Economic Development—Dawn Chase, NAACP
• Health and Safety—Linda Rudolph, Public Health Institute
• Communications—Vanessa Mbonu, NAACP
• Education/Training—Gregory Simpson, Independent Consultant

Policies Supporting Equity in the Sustainable Building Sector—Legislation, Regulations, Building Codes, etc.
Moderator: Dawone Robinson, Natural Resources Defense Council
, with panelists:

  • Sara Baldwin, Interstate Renewable Energy Council
    • Jason Beery, UrbanKind Institute
    • Sandy Fazeli, National Association of State Energy Officials
    • Lauren Ross, American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy

Equitable Economic Development (Workforce Development, Business Opportunities, Community Wealth Building, Corporate Social Responsibility), Moderator: Dawn Chase, NAACP, with panelists:

  • Lauren Asplen, Blue Green Alliance
    • Jamil Bey, UrbanKind Institute
    • Steven Clarke, CERES
    • Denise Fairchild, Emerald Cities Collaborative
    • Payton Wilkins, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists


Affordable Housing/Multi-Family Housing, Moderator: Jen Somers, Energy Foundation, with panelists:

  • Kathy Egland—NAACP
    • Diana Hernandez, Columbia University
    • Jamal Lewis, Green and Healthy Homes Initiative
    • Khalil Shahyd, Energy Efficiency for ALL (EEFA)
    • Maria Stamas–EEFA

Promising Equity Based Sustainable Building Model Projects, Moderator: Shawn Hesse, International Living Futures Institute, with panelists:

  • Elizabeth Englebretson, Gulf Coast Community Design Studio
    • Jennifer Hirsch, Georgia Tech
    • Dant’e King, Groundswell
    • Ruth Ann Norton, Green and Healthy Homes Initiative
    • Esther Obonyo, Pennsylvania State University

MINI-PLENARY: Communications–Interactive Session on Advancing a Values Based Narrative, Shift Towards Making Sustainable/Green Buildings More Inclusive, Sylvia Ewing, Elevate Energy

Moderator Denise Fairchild, Emerald Cities Collaborative, with panelists
Joan Duval-Flynn, President, Pennsylvania NAACP
Derrick Johnson, President and CEO, NAACP

Finance Mechanisms and Models–Integrated, equity-based approaches, Moderator: Michelle Moore, Groundswell, with panelists:
• Delmar Gillus, Elevate Energy
• Kathryn Wright, Cadmus Group
• Miguel Yanez, Environmental and Energy Study Institute

Equity Strategy Groups Report Back and Discussion

Federal State and Local Policies/Regulations Industry Standards

Financing Mechanisms Affordable Housing

Equitable Economy Health and Safety

Education/Training Communications


  1. Green/Sustainable Building Standards
    2. Environmental Justice
    3. Gender Justice
    4. Economic/Workforce Development
    5. Architecture
    6. Philanthropy
    7. Energy Efficiency/Clean Energy
    8. Sustainable Products
    9. HBCUs/MSIs
    10. Engineers/Technical Professionals
    11. Water Resource Management
    12. Labor Unions/Worker Centers
    13. Communications
    14. State/City Planners/Sustainability Directors
    15. Racial Equity
    16. Returning Citizens Programs
    17. Health/Public Health
    18. Affordable Housing
    19. Sustainable Communities/Cities
    20. Disaster Resilient Buildings
    21. STEM Studies/Pipeline
    22. Waste Management
    23. Sustainable Businesses/ Groups
    24. Land Management
    25. Developers
    26. Transportation
    27. Model Equity Based Sustainable Buildings/Communities

• International Living Future Institute
• Elevate Energy
• UrbanKind Institute
• Green & Healthy Homes Initiative
• Natural Resources Defense Council
• Georgia Institute of Technology
• Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education
• Alice Ferguson Foundation
• BlueGreen Alliance
• Green Building Alliance
• Partnership for Southern Equity
• Neighborhood Allies
• Natural Resources Defense Council – Energy Efficiency for All
• Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain, Georgia Institute of Technology
• School of Architecture, The Catholic University of America
• J. Gordon Community Development Corp
• Urban Sustainability Directors Network
• The American Institute of Architects
• U.S. Green Building Council
• Cancer Free Economy Network
• Coalition of Black Trade Unionists Education Center and CARAT Teams
• Southface
• United Steel Workers/A. Phillip Randolph Institute
• 9to5 National Association Of Working Woman
• US Water Alliance
• Environmental and Energy Study Institute
• Interstate Renewable Energy Council
• Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI)
• Praxis – Building Solutions (for-profit) / Sustainability Nexus (non-profit)
• Wisconsin Green Muslims
• American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy
• Carbon Smart Building
• Chesapeake Bay Foundation
• Homewood Children’s Village
• Energy Efficiency for All
• Putting Down Roots, Group Against Smog & Pollution
• Independent Contractor
• University of Maryland
• Anderson Environmental Health
• Gulf Coast Community Design Studio, Mississippi State University, Biloxi Branch NAACP
• Energy Foundation
• ROCIS (Reducing Outdoor Contaminants in Indoor Spaces)
• Kapwa Consulting
• Black Millennials For Flint
• Union of Concerned Scientists
• Penn State University
• Independent Consultant/ Energy Foundation/ Energy Efficiency for All Project
• The Learning Instigator
• Emerald Cities Collaborative
• Groundswell
• Black Kids in Outer Space
• Maryland Environmental Health Network
• Mothers Out Front
• Groundswell
• NAACP Portland 1120
• The Catholic University of America
• Regional Housing Legal Services
• United Methodist Women
• Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance
• Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania
• Architecture 2030
• University of Pittsburgh and Embodied Carbon Network
• Kendeda Fund
• Kansas City, Kansas NAACP Branch
• Public Health Institute
• Chesapeake Bay Foundation
• NAACP Chicago Southside
• International Living Future Institute
• Ceres
• Institute for Market Transformation
• Columbia university
• Eat-N-Park/AIA/NOMA
• Cadmus (formerly Meister Consultants Group)
• Landforce
• Toy Ink
• Friends of Summer Lee
• Women for a Healthy Environment
• Black Man Green Plan
• American Institute of Architects
• National Association of State Energy Officials
• Morgan State University

Logistics: Mellisa Smith 443-826-8832
Program: Jacqui Patterson
Anything: Dawnyell Harris 443-743-0348

IN CLOSING: There is much buzz and excitement about this event and we’ve received numerous congratulatory
messages stating that this meeting is long overdue. So we hope to build on the enthusiasm and execute a robust
event that will contribute to the movement in adding new analysis, tools, activists, entrepreneurs and ultimately
strengthened power building through coordinated collective action. Thank you all for joining us on this journey!

Thank you all, once again!
Yours Sincerely,
The NAACP Sustainable Building Project Team


Deep Appreciation to All of the Speakers, Working Group Facilitators, and Summit Participants for Contributing Your Time, Energy, Knowledge and Experience to this Mission to Center Equity in the Sustainable Buildings Sector

We Warmly Thank All Who Served as Behind the Scenes Partners in the Execution of This
Initiative Launch, Including:
Building Green
Bullitt Foundation
Elevate Energy
Emerald Cities Collaborative
International Living Future Institute
Heinz Foundation
Joyce Foundation
Kendeda Fund
Kresge Foundation
Town Creek Foundation