Equity Foundations

A USDN Capacity Building Program

An independent study professional development program for sustainability directors and their staff to master best practices for adding a racial equity lens to sustainability.

More information on the USDN Equity Leaders Program is available to members here.

In September 2015, USDN developed a holistic curriculum of webinars, videos, and worksheets to help local government staff to apply an equity lens to a sustainability project, including choosing a good project, communicating about the project and racial equity, building a team, applying proven equity tools, and designing the project to embed an equity lens in local government practice.

The videos, worksheets, and facilitator's guide are available below to anyone who is interested. We recommend that you complete Equity Foundations as a team. The facilitator's guide is designed for equity advocates to lead team workshops using the videos and worksheets.

Goals of the program are to:


Develop shared language and analysis


Create a plan for integrating equity into sustainability programs


Build a team of people to work together on racial equity

By the numbers

More than 80 local government sustainability leaders already have used the modules to learn about adding an equity lens to sustainability. Sustainability leaders from more than 40 cities completed the final Crafting an Equity Project Plan worksheet.

Participants reported that after participating in the five-hour Equity in Sustainability Series:

  • 93%had a better understanding of key racial equity definitions
  • 90% had a better understanding of how to choose a good project to advance equity and sustainability
  • 90%had a better understanding of how to build a strong equity team
  • 87%felt better prepared to craft a compelling story about racial equity and sustainability in their community
  • 79%felt better prepared to talk about race
  • 71%felt prepared to use a racial equity tool to guide equity projects
  • 62% felt prepared to identify opportunities to advance racial equity in their community’s practices
A committee of nine USDN members guided the development of the Equity in Sustainability Series with well-known city leaders on racial equity: Julie Nelson, Director of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity; Glenn Harris, President of the Center for Social Inclusion; and Gary Delgado, the founder of Race Forward. Julia Parzen served as program manager.

This program centers around five key topics


Module 1 - The Opportunity for Government to Advance Racial Equity: Seattle, A Case Study

In this video, you will:

  • Gain increased understanding of the historical role of government in relation to race and how to build a shared understanding of equity in local government.
  • Learn about the experiences in the City of Seattle—both leading up to the Race and Social Justice Initiative and with the launching and implementation of the Initiative—including key decision points, challenges and successes, and acknowledging the larger context while focusing on where there is leverage and power.
  • Be able to consider key factors for success in advancing racial equity within sustainability in your own jurisdictions and how to find the racial equity story for your community.

Download worksheet    USDN member-only content

Module 2 - Communicating about Equity: Narratives, Framing, and Messaging

In this video, you will:

  • Learn key concepts for talking about race and how to talk about race-based inequities in a manner that advances racial equity.
  • Understand the differences in narratives, framing, and messaging and the relationships between communications tactics.
  • Develop skill at articulating a compelling story for racial equity and sustainability in cities.
  • Learn about strategies for avoiding common pitfalls in communicating about equity.

Download worksheet    USDN member-only content

Module 3 - Building Shared Understanding of Equity: Key Terminology

In this video, you will:

  • Gain an increased understanding of a racial equity framework, including definitions of key terms such as (1) racial equity, (2) implicit and explicit bias, and (3) individual, institutional, and structural racism.
  • Learn about examples of structural racism and the relationship between structural racism and sustainability.
  • Consider opportunities to use your work on sustainability to move a racial equity agenda in your own city.

Download worksheet    USDN member-only content

Module 4 - Using an Equity Lens in Your Work: Implementing Racial Equity Tools

In this video, you will:

  • Learn about a Racial Equity Tool and how it can be applied, focusing on case studies.
  • Hear examples from local sustainability leaders who are promoting racial justice solutions by using racial equity tools.
  • Gain an increased understanding of key questions for addressing inequities.
  • Identify opportunities to advance racial equity within policies, practices, and programs in your own city.

Download worksheet    USDN member-only content

Module 5 - Leading Organizational Change Efforts to Advance Equitable Outcomes: Building Racial Equity Teams

In this video, you will:

  • Gain an increased understanding of how change happens in organizations and the key considerations for building organizational capacity to advance racial equity across functions and hierarchy in their city.
  • Be prepared to address barriers and potential opposition to developing a team.
  • Explore different team structures and connections with community.
  • Develop first steps and resources for building organizational capacity to advance racial equity.

Download worksheet    USDN member-only content 

Bring it all together:

Worksheet for crafting an equity project plan

Using what they have learned from the videos and worksheets, participants can use this worksheet to craft an equity project plan. 

Download worksheet »

(USDN Members:  The worksheet is a pre-requisite activity for the USDN Annual Meeting workshop.)


Facilitation guide for using the program

Guides participants in how to use the videos and homework assignments to advance their practice and also provides links to additional resources.

Download guide »