Environmental Justice – Start Here
Session Recap: Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023

While at Greenbuild, I always find myself drawn to the sessions on equity. The concept of ensuring that the benefits of green building are shared with all people regardless of race, class, gender, ability, age, health or economic status is what drew me to the movement. What good is sustainability that impacts less than 5% of the population.

This session was journey that started with an understanding of possibilities with Susan D. Kaplan, President of BuildingWrx, sharing the LEED Social Equity Checklist (Integrative Process). This tool was developed to encourage teams to focus on what is possible - by raising questions that are not often asked, or only asked once it is too late to have real impact. When items in the checklist are addressed fully and early, the result can be a project that will celebrate values, dreams and goals of all people involved and impacted by the work.

From there, Simon Fowell, Principal Economist at Autocase, guided attendees towards resources namely the Building Environmental Justice Tool (EJ Tool) created by Autocase, with financial support from the Large Firm Roundtable and additional input from members of the NAACP as well as other large & small AECs. This toolkit provides the data, resources, and framework to identify pressing issues and document your journey to accounting for more equitable design.

Next, the session moved into theoretical application. Larissa McFall, LEED Associate at the U.S. Green Building Council, shared how she applied the questions in the LEED Social Equity Checklist to her Senior Thesis project at the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel University, titled Black Space Reimagined: Reclaiming Resilience. This project included historical context to understand the population served and the inequities that exist to this day. Architect and designer, Larissa, selected a site in Nassau, Bahamas and envisioned a cultural arts center and museum that would prioritize the local population rather than tourists, as is the case with most structures in that area.

The final stop in this session was practice and featured a case study of the Cedar Hill Regional Medical Center at St. Elizabeth’s East in Ward 8  of Washington, DC, presented by Rashida Mogri, Sr. Sustainable Design Specialist at HOK, who was a member of the project team. This new hospital was designed especially for the residents and communities of Wards 7 and 8. Community engagement was a critical part of the process and the plan identified stakeholders, opportunities and goals that go beyond the services that the hospital would offer patients to include training, education and jobs to the local residents. Aesthetically, the building was designed to function in concert with the surrounding area as an enhancement, rather than standing out in contrast to it.

From possibilities, to resources, to thesis to executed projects – this session worked to approach an understanding of the potential for equitable outcomes from angles that could be absorbed by everyone in the room. 
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