Diversity and inclusion are two topics at the center of the conservation around green buildings. To me, green building is all about people – it’s about improving their quality of life, making sustainable practices more accessible to them, and creating a more equitable world for all. But before we are able to fully support each other, we have to first ask the right questions: how do we ensure responsible impact investments reach the communities that need it before it’s too late? How do we guarantee every single human being on the planet has a safe and healthy place to call home? How do we make sure a universal standard of living becomes a right for everyone, regardless of background or circumstance?
even scratch the surface of answering these critical questions, we need to be
honest about the stakes. Globally, they’ve never been higher. Over the next two
decades, overpopulation will accelerate and millions of people and trillions of
dollars in assets will be at risk. Low-income communities, which are already
disproportionately affected by substandard health conditions and environmental
hazards, will suffer the worst consequences. And we’re facing a divide in
opinions surrounding the urgency required to meet these challenges.
up to all of us to start engaging wider audiences and convince the public of
the reality of climate-related threats. And to do that, we need to illustrate
the importance of small, everyday actions. We have to connect the dots between
people and the planet they call home.
fall, my organization launched the Living Standard campaign, an initiative designed to
better understand the pulse of our community, address disconnects in our
messaging, and reach communities beyond our normal orbit. We conducted independent,
in-depth national qualitative and quantitative research to understand people’s
views. Instead of just talking to ourselves, we met with people outside our
typical audiences and sought feedback in focus groups across five diverse,
urban markets of the U.S., including commercial and residential developers,
millennials, community opinion leaders, and young parents.
And in April, we compiled our findings and released the first in a series of reports examining how we can make strides in sustainability and build a diverse and inclusive community. Rooted in personal interactions, this new type of data will help us better grasp how people from all walks of life feel about green building, sustainability, and the environment.
we’ve found is this: Overwhelmingly, while most people believe existential
stakes exist, few are actually taking action. They know climate-related risks
are a problem. But they also feel they are too big, too abstract, and too
distant from their own realities to do something about them. We did
word-association with terms people might relate to when thinking about a
healthier world. And the results were telling: at the bottom of the list was
green building. Only 11% of our respondents associated that phrase with
strongly relating to the environment.
also found that what people want most are ways of having a better day-to-day
experience in their lives. They want cleaner air and less waste. They want to
reduce energy use. They want to conserve water. And, interestingly, they told
us they don’t just want these things, they
these are all expectations that green buildings can meet, and that we as the
leaders advancing ESG can help achieve. But we still have some work to do to
show people that buildings are behind these benefits. Many of these same
individuals can’t quite explain or describe what role a building plays in their
overall health and happiness. They aren’t even fully convinced that buildings
do, in fact, play a large role in their own well-being. The long-term problems
that come from an absence of these benefits are not part of their short-term,
day-to-day considerations. While people might believe in the idea of LEED, BREEAM
or WELL and generally support the concept of green building, they don’t grasp
how a green building is contributing to their health and quality of life. In
other words, they don’t make the leap we need them to: better buildings equal
more people make that leap, the global green building and investment community
has to work together to stay motivated, evolve our tactics with the stakes, and
not be in a perpetual state of catch up. We have to seek out and listen to
communities outside our normal orbit. We have to try harder to understand the
experiences of everyone, not just those in our boardrooms or the people who
live in our immediate communities. And we have to connect their challenges with
mobilize people outside our community and inspire them to get involved, we have
to shift their sense of urgency. But it’s also critical as the leaders
advancing the conversation around ESG that we shift our own. We have the
insight, the context, and quite frankly, the responsibility — to use the data
and information we gather effectively. Changing public perception about green
building and the importance of ESG will take nothing less than a swift and
radical reframing of our communication methods, particularly our heavy reliance
on data and numbers to prove our cause. As a self-professed data nerd, I’m
guilty of this, too.
are ever to reverse the dangers of climate change, we’ve got to bring more
humanity into our conversations. For leaders in ESG, and especially business,
financial and portfolio management leaders, making this real—defining data as
it connects to the actual human experience—will be the whole ballgame.
If we want to build diversity and inclusion, we have to start by asking the right questions. We must take into account the other leaders in our immediate orbits, but, just as critically, listen to communities outside our own for stories that have too often gone untold. And lastly, each time we consider quantitative data, we have to bring it to life by putting it into context. Look for the stories behind the numbers and share them.
The ESG and green building community has made tremendous strides in building a better world, but if we leverage the combined power of people and data to build a better narrative, we’ll not only educate people on the benefits of green building, we’ll increase demand for better buildings. We’ll open up even greater opportunities for impact investment — and most importantly, we’ll help all people live longer and better lives.
This article was written by Mahesh Ramanujam, Chairman of GRESB, President & CEO of USGBC, President & CEO of GBCI.