Equity and Buildings: A Practical Framework for Local Government Decision Makers

The Equity and Buildings Framework walks government staff and practitioners through the emerging practice of centering equity in sustainable buildings policies and programs. It outlines strategies for interdisciplinary approaches that are guided by specific community needs. The framework examines critical equity intersections including health, housing, and economic opportunity. It also focuses on fostering vital working relationships between local government, community-based organizations. This framework highlights, incorporates, and builds on the longstanding work of BIPOC communities, leaders, and organizations. It also builds off the work from the Zero Cities project, a three-year project where local governments and community-based organizations partnered to advance dual goals of equity and emissions reductions from buildings.

The document is divided into three sections and includes case studies and resources meant to help further explore the concepts in the framework and principles in Parts I and II. Additional resources for learning about and implementing these principles are presented in the final section. 


Throughout the document, guiding questions prompt readers to apply the content to their particular circumstances. Inquiry is at the heart of equity practice. Successfully centering equity in policy and programs is much more about identifying and working through good questions than about applying formulas or copying what has worked elsewhere. The guiding questions in this document provide a starting point. The best results will come from practitioners taking the time to develop and answer their own equity questions.

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The Purpose of this Framework

Cover image of USDN Equity and Buildings Framework

Racial equity is a top priority in most North American cities. This document responds to local government and requests from the field for guidance targeted towards local government staff and practitioners who want to integrate equity into policies and programs focused on buildings. The Equity and Buildings framework combines expertise from leading equity-focused organizations and sustainability practitioners to lay out concepts and practices that can help cities and BIPOC communities work together more effectively to produce tangible climate equity outcomes.

Equity in Buildings - Principles of Practice

In the course of developing the Framework, advisers and contributors from local government and BIPOC-led equity organizations emphasized the importance of approaching equity as a practice rather than a prescription — a practice that requires continuous commitment, learning, iteration, and improvement. Framework advisers and contributors identified twelve Principles of Practice to help cities center equity in their buildings policies and programs.

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This document was created by a partnership of organizations to support local government sustainability departments. These organizations are the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, Upright Consulting Services, Emerald Cities Collaborative and the American Cities Climate Challenge. This project was supported by funding from the Energy Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthrophies.

The project was also supported by an advisory committee of leaders throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Advisory Committee

  • Shelby Buso, City of Atlanta
  • Jenna Tatum, Building Electrification Institute (BEI)
  • Maria Thompson, City of Denver
  • Jennifer Gremmert, Energy Outreach Colorado
  • Soo San Schake, formerly of Faith Action
  • Carmelita Miller, Greenlining Institute
  • Alison Sutter, City of Grand Rapids
  • Laurien (Lala) Nuss, City and County of Honolulu
  • Corrine Van-Hook Turner, Movement Strategy Center
  • Karen Campblin, NAACP
  • Faith Graham, Network for Energy, Water, and Health in Affordable Buildings (NEWHAB)
  • Chandra Farley, Partnership for Southern Equity
  • Antonio Díaz, People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER)
  • Robert Hart, City of Providence
  • Leah Obias, Dennis C. Chin, Race Forward
  • Sraddha Mehta, City and County of San Francisco
  • Linda Swanston, Stewart Dutfield, Nicola Lashley, City of Toronto
  • Sergio Cira-Reyes, Urban Core Collective

Foundational Work

The Buildings and Equity Framework document is informed by and evolved from the longstanding efforts of BIPOC communities and the foundational work of BIPOC-led organizations and leaders. This includes the Greenlining Institute's Equitable Electrification Framework, NAACP’s Centering Equity in the Sustainable Buildings Sector Initiative's Community Involvement Guidelines, Emerald Cities Collaborative’s Building Electrification Report, Race Forward’s Equity Assessment Tool for Zero Cities, and the work of the National Association of Climate Resilience Planners.

Overview of the Framework

On June 23, 2021, USDN hosted a public webinar for the release of the Equity and Buildings framework. View the recording below.

Equity and Buildings Workshop Series

USDN hosted a workshop series for local governments alongside the Advisory Committee in April 2021. Two additional cohorts were hosted in 2021 and 2022. 

Supporting Resources

There are a series of resources, which have been developed, reviewed or supported by USDN members and staff that provide a more detailed exploration of equity considerations for developing specific building policies and programs. Prior to implementing the ideas in these documents, we recommend reviewing the framework and our no-cost Equity Foundations training.

  • Equity in Benchmarking - This document, authored by the City Energy Project, was developed in partnership with practitioners and explores the equity implications of energy and water disclosure programs for large buildings.
  • Rental Housing Policy - Throughout 2020-21, a cohort of USDN members met in a learning group to explore policies and programs, which addressed affordability, energy and sustainability in rental housing. The group's findings and case studies have been organized into a document authored by ACEEE.
  • Building Performance Standards Framework - USDN members supported the creation of this guidance document which reviews the implementation considerations of setting performance targets for buildings, including workforce and equity considerations. This document was partnership between the American Cities Climate Challenge and USDN.

We also recommend reviewing our curated resource section in the Appendix of the Equity and Buildings Framework for furthering exploration of these topics.