It’s Not Sustainable Without Social Equity

A look at how allies show up in sustainable development to foster equity

It’s Not Sustainable Without Social Equity


Blog Topic:

Low-income and LGBTQIA+ communities benefit from sustainable development. How can the industry shape a more equitable future?

Category:
social-equity

LGBTQIA+Yesterday kicked off Pride Month, a time when allies rally with their friends, families, and colleagues from the LGBTQIA+ community to celebrate, educate, and mobilize for equity. Some of the first issues that spurred collective action that led to Pride Month in the late 1960s were government hostility, employment issues, and housing discrimination. It's 50+ years later, and the movement continues absent equity.

Truth be told, issues with equity in housing are not limited to those experienced by the LGBTQIA+ community. Using the EPA's EJScreen, you can pick an address or survey broad areas to see where pollution and low-income neighborhoods abut. The data is irrefutable: across the U.S., there exists a correlation between the rate of pollution in the ground, water, and air and the income of people who live nearby.

It’s not just about pollution — it’s also about the design choices made decades ago. According to Pew, “…the wealthiest neighborhoods have 65% more tree canopy cover than the highest poverty neighborhoods… As cities are beginning to heat up due to climate change, people are realizing that trees are critical infrastructure.” The irrefutable data also tells us that health concerns among low-income populations are tied to neighborhoods and the built environments in which they live.

In both cases of low-income and LGBTQIA+, there is historical evidence of landlord discrimination. It's Pride Month. In alliance, we desire to raise awareness and create a call to action.

Companies Are Awake. Let's Celebrate!

Amid a national conversation about social equity, sustainable design must step-up to achieve change, in partnership with companies who are adopting new policies and procedures to foster equity among their employees, vendors, and stakeholders. A recent survey from the American Productivity and Quality Center found that many companies are currently investing in their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts. According to the organization, 36% of companies surveyed had hired personnel for DEI-focused programs since 2020, and 33% had increased budgets for DEI programming. CHEERS!

How can your company be part of the solution? Join the alliance and act upon the ideas we share. 

How Does Sustainable Development Achieve Equity?

Sustainable development is the practice of mindful design and construction that meets today’s needs while protecting future generations’ ability to provide for themselves. Too often, marginalized communities bear the brunt of polluting industries, and a lack of investment means that sustainable practices are implemented slowly and haphazardly. If at all. 

A central aspect of sustainability in business is that profits shouldn’t come at the expense of the long-term health of any community, or the environment. Simply put, when trees are cut from a budget, low-income housing neighborhoods lack spaces people can safely be outside on hot days. When pollution is permitted adjacent to any neighborhood, health problems from poor air and water quality create health care crises. In both cases, costs for health care rise at public expense. And as the EJScreen tool shows us, pollution and low-income communities are synonymous. Development projects can be on the right side of equity if community health and environmental concerns are top of mind during design.

Let's look at Intro Cleveland, developed by Chicago's Harbor Bay. With high performance in both its environmental footprint and its local job creation, this is a model for sustainable, equitable development. The Community Builders and City Architecture can be celebrated for their work on the Woodhill Development. It will be re-built to address many issues identified by the current residents during stakeholder engagement sessions in 2019, a critical component to a project seeking to achieve social equity -- and it will have shaded areas for all to enjoy.

How Sustainable Development May or May Not Include Pride

According to U.K.-based Stonewall International, sustainable development initiatives have historically excluded the LGBTQIA+ community because of “discriminatory laws, projects that don’t acknowledge their specific needs and negative social attitudes [that] have all combined to hold LGBT people back.” 

This factor in the U.K. is juxtaposed to the leadership shown by the LGBTQIA+ community in the U.S. Out for Sustainability (O4S) is a U.S.-based organization that provides a platform for co-creating climate resilience and environmental justice by and for LGBTQIA+ communities. Their QReady initiative mirrors content in the WELL Health-Safety Rating for buildings — QReady provides a framework for conquering natural or climate disasters. Among its recommendations is a call for allies to actively connect with and support their LGBTQIA+ friends and family when an event occurs. When was the last time you reached out to your LGBTQIA+ friend or family member just to check in?

But there’s still a large hill to climb. The construction industry is among the top four sectors in the U.S. based on the number of businesses. In it, only 18% are owned by minorities and 19% are owned by women. With more than 29 states still carrying laws that allow discrimination against LGBTQIA+ employees, the construction industry has lagged behind with social equity among those that profit from development — regardless if it’s sustainable or not. 

Many allies in the construction industry recognize the need to forge connections to foster equity. The leaders, including our client Turner Construction, is among those who participate in third-party programs to evaluate performance. An example is the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equity Index, which rates companies on their nondiscrimination policies, equitable benefits, support for an inclusive culture, and corporate social responsibility. 

Supplier Diversity as a Foundation for Sustainable, Equitable Development

Supplier diversity programs create opportunities to foster connections between minority-owned companies. Many of these programs target businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans, and LGBTQIA+ community members. They aim to connect these "diversity-owned" companies with majority-owned companies to spur business growth. Many supplier diversity programs are bolstered by the reliance upon certifications of businesses to the related minority status — examples include:

When more people benefit from sustainable environments and are invited to participate in projects, stakeholders support each other in both solving today's problems and at the same time creating a more equitable distribution of wealth for future generations to come. That's the definition of sustainability.

Designing and Building for Equity

Just as O4S has a framework to be QReady, sustainable building certifications provide a framework for sustainable design. A few examples include:

1) Enterprise Green Communities requires certifying projects to prepare a Project Priorities Survey to understand how the development will impact stakeholders, neighbors, businesses, and the planet. Even taking a moment to think about the broader impact can help to foster connections and equity.

2) WELL Building Standard challenges companies to offer benefits blind to gender and to incorporate community engagement initiatives that foster relationship building with diverse suppliers or that reward volunteerism.

3) LEED rewards projects located in low-income census tracks or builds upon cleaned-up brownfields to encourage re-development in urban cores. It also has new pilot credits specifically focused on fostering social equity in design and construction, rewarding projects that include supplier diversity in the project team that offer social services within the project location, and encouraging broader training to foster professional growth among marginalized employee groups (among other positive tactics).

Reach Your Sustainability Targets with Emerald Built Environments

At Emerald Built Environments, we understand the positive impact that sustainability with equity delivers. And we see the harmful results of development without a focus on sustainability and equity. Whether you’re a real estate developer, building owner, architect, engineer, or contractor, we can help — no matter what building stage you’re in. Create equity by integrating sustainability into your business model. Contact us today to learn more! 

Interested in Learning More? Ask Us Today!

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