Even though social equity is one of the three pillars of sustainability, the other two being environmental protection and economic viability, it is a component that we often miss, misinterpret and misunderstand. And I include myself in this group now because I had an interesting conversation recently regarding this topic. We, as a family, have not owned a car or any other type of motorized vehicle for ten years now, almost to the day. And it was challenging at times, but, in general, it has also been very freeing. No insurance, maintenance, or fuel costs have been the icing on the cake. Still, the real benefit is that we are not adversely impacting our environment with additional pollutants. Therefore, I felt like I was walking the walk and talking the talk when I espouse the benefits of sustainability, but seldom are things so straightforward.

Just yesterday, I was talking to a community leader in the Mission District who explained that more bike lanes and fewer cars, as well as less parking, present challenges to many people who work in landscaping, maintenance, construction, and other fields that require a vehicle and the associated parking spaces needed. And although I have not yet figured out the perfect solution for this dilemma, it is very enlightening to discover this other perspective. In general, I believe that these kinds of tests to the sustainability approach will make the framework better. For example, in this particular case, a solution might entail dedicated work vehicle parking areas or discounted long-term parking in nearby parking structures, etc., but whatever the answer is, having the necessary discussions and stakeholder engagement will be crucial. And it is not just the engagement aspect that is crucial but also being able to empathize and see the whole picture from a different perspective.

Sustainability, in general, seems to be readily and almost exclusively connected to environmental protection in the minds of many. And because of this, it has become a paradigm of green design and construction, but, as I noted earlier, that is only one of the three pillars. For example, we tend to remember and prioritize “economic viability” because we have budgets to address, but “social equity” is not usually given the same level of attention. This might be due, in part, because we do not make an effort to apply stakeholder engagement and management properly. Still, it may also have to do with the assumption that building a “healthier” built environment will solve all our ills.

Additionally, sometimes we are not prepared to address communities of color and lower end-users, or they may not always feel comfortable speaking up. Therefore, we, like design, construction, and management professionals, need to be equally vigilant of all three sustainability pillars. Because if we do not address all three categories, we are not truly implementing sustainability, which can lead to client and end-user dissatisfaction, community displacement, and further social inequity.

At SCE, we provide sustainable design services and the required project management to achieve project success based on the appropriate metrics and success indicators.

Sustainability and Social Equity