Centering Equity in the Sustainable Building Sector

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What is the CESBS Initiative?

Since our founding over a century ago, the NAACP has been at the forefront of transformative social change. Grounded in our mission to ensure the health and well-being of all persons, the NAACP has taken leadership in the movement for sustainable, equitable, and regenerative buildings and development.

Quinton Sankofa Quote

Launched in 2018, the Centering Equity in the Sustainable Building Sector (CESBS) Initiative is working to ensure a just transition for our communities. We envision a future in which we proactively enforce sustainable building policies and practices that produce equitable access, opportunities, treatment, impacts, and outcomes for all, regardless of identity or status. We mobilize and galvanize leaders in the sustainable building community along with civil rights leaders to create industry-scale change.

Kathy Egland Quote

Sustainable building regenerates, advances, and sustains the social, cultural, economic, and environmental health of places and communities.

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Why Now? Why This? Why Us?

Communities of color and low-income communities bear the brunt of the impacts of unhealthy, energy-inefficient, and disaster-vulnerable buildings.

Leon Russell Quote

Yet, as one looks around the tables or worksites of the sustainable and regenerative building sector, there is little representation of the populations most impacted by our current proliferation of unsustainable, inefficient, sometimes unsafe, and often unhealthy building stock.

Whether it’s as policymakers, advocates, architects, project managers, contractors, or the construction workforce, the most impacted communities are underrepresented in the design, construction, and occupancy of sustainable, regenerative, healthy buildings.

Given the huge import of buildings in reducing the demand on energy production, plus the co-benefits that regenerative design has for building occupants and the community, not to mention the environment, all of this points to the fact that this gap in access/uptake must drastically change and quickly to build a big tent and universalize sustainable, regenerative buildings.

Our aim as the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization is to be a beacon of inspiration and transformation in centering equity in the sustainable building sector. In doing so, we can catalyze the building of a bigger, broader tent for the sustainable building movement, towards the betterment of the building users, the communities, the economy, and the planet.

Jacqui Patterson, Senior Director for Environmental and Climate Justice

Watch our 15-minute overview video of the CESBS Initiative

How Will We Do It?

A Living Headquarters

The NAACP will establish its future headquarters as an Equitable Living Building Project. We will ground our operations in the principles and practices of our environmental and climate justice platform.

Through this effort, we will develop a model to ensure equity in all aspects of sustainable development, including access, affordability, co-benefits, cultural resonance, inclusive decision-making, financing, service provision, procurement, contracting, employment, communications, monitoring and evaluation, and so much more.

President Derrick Johnson Quote

Learn more about the Living Headquarters Design Competition, 4805 Ideas Competition, and meet our NAACP Living Headquarters Planning Committee. 

Building a Coalition Across the Sector

It started with a Summit. An equity working group came together with leadership from an interdepartmental NAACP staff team and Stuart Clarke of the Town Creek Foundation alongside multiple local Baltimore leaders to envision a new movement within the sustainable building sector. Additionally,  conversations with Bullitt Foundation, Kendeda Fund, BuildingGreen, International Living Future Institute and others provided further context. Thought leaders and practitioners first convened in August 2018 at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (Pittsburgh, PA) to advance an action agenda for equity at the center of the sustainable building movement. We assembled people and organizations who are currently leading in the green building sector, as traditionally defined, and those whose perspectives are critical to defining an equity-based agenda around the built environment, to begin to shift policies, practices, and narrative. Through this collective process, the plan is for the NAACP’s CESBS Initiative to be the catalyst to institutionalize systems that center equity in the sustainable building sector.

Discover the lessons and stories from the first CESBS Summit. Visit our comprehensive or summary report.

We built out our dynamic NAACP Environmental & Climate Justice team to include a dedicated staff member for this work, Mandy Lee, as we embarked together upon a CESBS Initiative start-up phase.


Our research team developed a comprehensive analysis that built on a desk review conducted by Environmental Fellow Kareem Heshmat, of the existing sustainable building guidance documents, standards, policies, and actual projects that have been implemented with the aim of examining, documenting, being grounded in, and building upon, what’s already happening.

Check out our reports about the existing baseline for equity in sustainable building.

The CESBS Working Retreat in October 2019 at the Brock Environmental Center (Virginia Beach, VA) continued the conversation to adopt a collective, grassroots action agenda and policy platform that will provide a vision and personal action commitments for an equity-based sustainable building sector.

Discover the takeaways and pledges resulting from the Retreat.

How Can I Get Involved?

Since our launch, the CESBS Initiative has brought together hundreds of NAACP members and sustainable building professionals.

Here is what you can expect to see from us and work with us to develop in 2020:

  • Monthly Working Groups
  • Monthly Educational Webinars
  • CESBS Reports and Toolkit
  • Maryland and Baltimore Policy Reform Plan
  • Design for an Equity-Based Green Building—The NAACP National Headquarters
  • Ideas Competition to Repurpose Baltimore NAACP Property