I recently attended a panel discussion about Building Social Equity through Sustainability.


Here are my take-aways

  • Atlanta remains #1 in the country for wealth inequality
  • Energy Poverty describes households that use 10% of their income on energy bills
  • LEED still doesn’t have a mechanism to measure social equity


Sorry to scare you with those quotes and facts, but it really highlights the urgency for social equity in America, and especially Atlanta, the host city for this USGBC Georgia chapter event on September 29th, 2017. The speakers’ backgrounds ranged across a broad spectrum of specialties, which reinforced the theme of social equity. The audience received a whirlwind tour of case studies from South Africa, to Brunswick, GA, to Midtown Atlanta. The local projects are true trailblazers and need more time to measure their impact on local communities.


The good news is that across an ocean, creative minds in South Africa are establishing precedents for how to build social equity. Green Star SA is piloting a new Socio-Economic category to their regional green building rating system.

Credit intents are based on the World GBC themes

  • Employment creation
  • Economic opportunity
  • Equality
  • Health and safety
  • Community Engagement


Building Social Equity

Project teams may pursue optional points for integrating design elements like vendor stalls for micro-enterprise and on-site accommodations for low-income staff. I like these ideas because they are literally building social equity into the structure of the building. In turn, it flattens the hierarchy of building users and makes green buildings more accessible to greater audiences. We could really use more affordable housing downtown, and it would be great to see green buildings leading the way.


There are socio-economic opportunities during construction too. In contrast to the pre-fab mania in the US, South Africa promotes labor-intensive construction methodologies. Manual labor may not be popular in the US, but it could stave off fears that robots are taking all our jobs. Probably the most unusual credit is offering full medical screening for all project / construction employees. I don’t see that ever being practiced in the US, but it’s good to see that the Green Star SA standard is regionally relevant.



The audience threw out some tough questions about building social equity, and it became clear that it’s still challenging to talk about social equity. I wanted to know, “Is America’s faith crisis responsible for our lack of empathy in social equality?” The response from the panel basically amounted to, “it’s too political.”


Another participant asked about why don’t people in Georgia utilize leased solar panels. There was not clear answer, but I suspect that it’s because government incentives are still not as competitive as other states. Solar panel were highlighted as a potential solution to energy poverty, but again, we need more time and experience to flesh out a measurable experience.  Hungry for more? Read our blog about solar jobs.


The big ah-ha moment for me came is consideration of, “How to incorporate equity into existing buildings?” The green building movement is always focusing on existing buildings-because there will always be more than new buildings. I sensed a real opportunity here, but again, it went unanswered. So now I pass the challenge onto you dear readers,


How would you incorporate social equity into existing buildings?