USGBC's LEED Program Exploring New Credits For Social Equity

By Scott Kriner, Green Metal Consulting

“Sustainability” has been a term used in the building construction industry for some time now. We have become aware of the importance of a building’s impact to the environment, and its energy efficiency.  Recently the concern over the health and wellness of the manufacturers, installers and building occupants has put pressure on manufacturers to be more transparent in their disclosure of chemical ingredients in building materials.

Now we have a glimpse into the future as to what is the next big thing being added to sustainable building projects. It appears that the next aspect of sustainability is all about social responsibilities. Some may find this very surprising, but actually the 1953 book titled “The Social Responsibilities of the Businessman” by Howard Bowen is regarded as the start of the debate over social issues. During the 1970s, social responsibility expanded from a company’s philanthropic activity to labor issues, human rights and consumer protection. Now these issues are becoming part of the sustainability discussion.

Proof of the global interest in social issues is the fact that over 400 experts from 80 worldwide companies recently worked with the ISO organization to develop ISO 26000 Standard on Social Responsibility. The ISO Secretary General, Rob Steele is quoted as stating “…whether they are business enterprises, or public sector organizations, operating in a socially responsible manner is no longer an option. It is becoming a requirement of society worldwide…ISO 26000 is based on broad stakeholder input, including from developing countries, business, government, consumers, labor, non- governmental organizations and others.”

The ISO 26000 standard deals with the following components of social responsibility of an organization:

  • Accountability
  • Transparency
  • Ethical behavior
  • Respect for stakeholder interests
  • Respect for the rule of law
  • Respect for international norms or behavior
  • Respect for human rights

Standard 26000 is synergistic with other international standards, guidelines, codes and benchmarks related to social equity.

So it should come as no surprise that the USGBC has been considering how to introduce social equity to the LEED program. The wait is now over. USGBC announced several months ago the launch of the first LEED Social Equity Pilot Credit. The topic of “Fostering Social Equity” has been a guiding principle of the USGBC 2013-2015 Strategic Plan.

Three LEED Credits have been identified for Social Equity: within the Project Teams; within the Community of the project; and within the supply chain of materials.

Social equity within a project team would involve holding companies responsible for minimizing environmental impacts within their decision making process, considering prevailing wages in a region, and providing adequate training of their workforce.  Corporate responsibility would be in areas of economics, ecology, politics, culture, child labor, and corruption. Enforcement and substantiation would  be accomplished by using tools such as Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) reports. There are thousands of companies using GRI for a variety of verifications within 33 foreign countries.

The Pilot Credit related to Social Equity at the project community looks at the span around the site and calls into question how to become engaged within that community. This is done by determining the communities’ needs and finding solutions. One way to measure success in this endeavor is to use the “Enterprise Green Communities” criteria to award points. There are other similar programs that look at community economic engagement.

The third Pilot Credit in this category is Social Responsibility in the Supply Chains.  The intent of this credit will be to encourage supply chains to be focused on health and safety of their workers, non-discriminating practices, providing grievance procedures, fair working hours and compensation, freedom from harassment and freedom from forced labor. To comply with the credit suppliers would have to show compliance by using some form of a score card or other certifications. This type of social responsibility is not unprecedented, considering for example that some California businesses are required to disclose any slavery in supply chains that come from Africa.

Social responsibility is already being touted by prominent companies and other organizations, in addition to LEED’s plan to add credits in future versions of the green building rating program.

So Sustainability and Green Building rating programs are expanding their charge from basic environmental and energy issues to include health and wellness of workers and occupants, and now to consider the social responsibility related to many aspects of the supply chain of materials. The big question is whether architects,designers and building owners will be prepared for the challenge of verifying, substantiating or enforcing whether  suppliers  are in compliance with the intent of the new Pilot Credits coming soon.

Scott Kriner is the president and founder of Green Metal Consulting Inc. He is a LEED Accredited Professional who began his career in the metal construction industry in 1981. His company is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, the California Association of Building Energy Consultants and the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET).

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