Equity in Sustainability

A USDN Capacity Building Program

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

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 program was launched for USDN members in the fall of 2015, and the videos, worksheets, and facilitator's guide are now available below to anyone who is interested. The facilitator's guide is designed for equity advocates to lead workshops using the videos and worksheets.

Goals of the program are to:


Identify potential racial equity projects


Develop plans for how to pursue projects


Organize to implement the projects

By the numbers

More than 50 local government sustainability leaders already have used the modules to learn about adding an equity lens to sustainability. Sustainability leaders from about 25 cities completed the final Crafting an Equity Project Plan worksheet.

Local Governments in Action: Sustainability Through an Equity Lens

Many now are implementing their equity lens projects, including sustainability leaders in Baltimore, Knoxville, Las Cruces, and Providence.

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


The Opportunity for Government to Advance Racial Equity: Lessons Learned from Seattle

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    Watch webinar (USDN members only)

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    Watch webinar (USDN members only)

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    Watch webinar (USDN members only)

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    Watch webinar (USDN members only)

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    Watch webinar (USDN members only)

Bring it all together with these additional program resources

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 »

Worksheet for crafting an equity project plan

After reviewing the videos and worksheets, participants can use the worksheet to craft an equity project plan.

Download worksheet »

Introduction to USDN's Equity Capacity Building Programs

Learn about the past, present, and future of USDN's equity capacity building programs, including the new Partners for Places Equity Pilot Initiative. The recording includes an overview of the content of each of the five segments of the equity capacity building program.