We looked at USGBC’s Social Equity tools, and here’s what we found:

Equity and inclusion have rightfully been major parts of the national conversation since the protests around systemic racism and police brutality began last summer. Our industry has been grappling with its role in this broken system, and we have been looking for ways to improve Paladino’s support of equality. A social equity tool is a reasonable starting point.

The US Green Building Council (USGBC) is bringing equity and inclusion to its suite of certification systems with USGBC All In and its Social Equity Planning and Assessment Tool.

USGBC All In is a new program created to encourage project teams to include equity in all decision making. The All In program is still in development, and we’ll track its progress as information is made available.

The Social Equity Planning and Assessment Tool is designed to encourage project teams to consider equity early in project planning and recognize teams that do. The Social Equity Planning and Assessment tool is currently a draft while USGBC is asking the industry for feedback.

The creation of this social equity tool presents an important opportunity for the commercial real estate industry to reflect and evaluate our impact on all members of our communities, and to provide feedback to USGBC about what is most helpful.

The Planning and Assessment tool helps teams find strategies to address equity by referencing credits from LEED, ReLi, WELL, etc.  The tool is essentially four sets of questions with certification strategies associated with each question.

The four categories of the social equity tool are:

  1. Equitable project teams
  2. Equitable process
  3. Equitable design
  4. Equitable supply chain

We gathered our consultants to look at the tool and to conduct a brainstorming session. Paladino has a social equity and social justice affinity group, which shares ideas and best practices to support social justice through our work; and a technical team that shares industry innovations, best practices, and emerging trends. Members of these groups looked at each category in the tool, and then brainstormed how we could apply USGBC’s assessment questions to project scenarios.

Here are some of the outcomes of those brainstorming sessions.

Category: Equitable Project Teams

Are you examining company policies for hiring, promotion, pay, and other elements to ensure equity?  

Paladino recognized this summer that we needed to expand our talent pool by examining our hiring practices. We historically relied heavily on LinkedIn and our employees’ personal networks. Like many firms, we have a reference system that rewards hires made through personal recommendations. We realized that heavily relying on these personal networks and references meant we were shutting out a significant talent pool from different schools, backgrounds, and experiences. For our most recent job opening, we researched industry groups and then boosted the job posting to networks within the Society of Women Engineers and the American Association of Blacks in Energy. We plan to continue examining our hiring policies and work to ensure that Paladino is composed of a league of experts from all backgrounds.

Category: Equitable Process

Can you identify the most pressing public health, equity, social, and economic issues of the surrounding community in which the project is located?  What are the top 3? Can your project help the community address any of these issues?

For our mixed-use development projects, this question could inform what kind of ground floor use is constructed. Doing research on the neighborhood with the goal of providing a solution for an existing problem ensures that the project is partnering with the local community, rather than ignoring it. For example, if the project is in a food desert, the team could explore providing space for a mid-budget food store.

Category: Equitable Design

Can you make your project welcoming, inclusive, and accessible for all who will live, work, learn, or play in the buildings or on the grounds?

For projects with mixed-income housing, this question could shape what kinds of materials are selected for affordable units and where those units are placed relative to building amenities. Are lower-quality materials used for affordable units? Are these units placed further from amenities such as playgrounds or isolated from quality views? What is motivating the team to make those decisions? In a recent concept strategy session for a transit-oriented master plan, we challenged assumptions that low-income housing would be segregated from views of nature and open spaces, which is an important first step toward equity.

Category: Equitable Supply Chain

Are you increasing your awareness and avoidance of potential human rights abuses along the project’s supply chain by having a responsible sourcing policy for selecting materials and products? 

For any project this question could shape the conversation between owner and architect and what values are important when choosing materials. Beyond style and cost, could the project establish a policy where construction materials are researched to understand the potential impacts along the supply chain? How can the results of this research influence what is installed on the project? We have significant experience evaluating the environmental impact of materials, and the health and wellness impact of those materials on building occupants – but looking further into the supply chain to understand the health impact of the manufacturing process on the people within the supply chain will demand new rigor – that is much needed.

What comes next?

We will provide feedback to USGBC as it develops its Social Equity Planning and Assessment Tool. We are also looking into social justice frameworks, certifications, and guidelines offered by other trusted organizations.

While the Social Equity Planning and Assessment tool is still being developed, the questions included in the tool so far already provide helpful guidance that can be applied to our next project planning session. We are exploring ways to make conversations about social equity standard practice in our client onboarding sessions and charrettes.

As stewards of the triple bottom line, our industry can bring these social equity questions up at the earliest stages of planning to ensure that people are protected, respected, and considered. This social equity tool may be one piece of the puzzle.

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