Health and Equity in the Built Environment

The fundamental purpose of Carbon Smart Building is to support the development of healthy, thriving human communities. Our zero net carbon goal encompasses the design and construction of new buildings as well as retrofitting existing buildings to be zero net carbon. However, the concept of zero net carbon should be expanded to include the notion of people – carbon-based lifeforms – living in health and harmony with our environment. The biggest challenge to human health we can imagine is global climate change itself, and the spaces where we live and work must reflect our core values. Social equity and health are at the very center of our vision for Carbon Smart Building.

Buildings have profound impacts on quality of life for building occupants, surrounding communities, and the global climate.  How can we think about and incorporate these impacts into our projects to maximize the triple bottom line?  In this session we’ll describe approaches to make maximization of social, environmental and economic benefits standard operating procedure. Imagine the building industry contributing to the creation of a socially just and equitable world. Imagine every architecture, engineering, and construction firm making life better for people from all walks of life. Imagine giving a voice to people who rarely have one. Imagine transforming entire supply chains and accelerating local and regional economies. Imagine changing who does business with whom. Imagine realigning government procurement to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help marginalized communities thrive.

Session Notes by Eileen Quigley

The diversity of the topics covered by participants on the panel was as wide as the topic itself. The affects on human health and equity justice from the built environment were addressed at the direct, indirect, macro and micro levels. All of the panelists addressed the question of: how do we have real triple bottom line benefits for all?

It started with a chemistry lesson from the Healthy & Resilient Buildings Program Manager at SFO airport, detailing how actions that happen in the outside environment directly pollute our interior ones. The CEO of Emerald Cities Collaborative emphasized that there will be winners and losers in the transition to the clean economy and we cannot perpetuate the disparities among the those who win and those who lose. The Building Sciences Lead at Katerra touted the health, waste and energy benefits of cross laminated timber (CLT) and the BREEAM Director at BRE highlighted the enormous impacts of the supply chain on equity and health and how lack of transparency makes this exceptionally challenging.

The conversations that were particularly powerful were the ones about what we aren’t doing and why. Success, in this case of health for all, starts with calling out the elephant in the room. As emphasized by Denise Fairchild of Emerald Cities Collaborative, efforts to address equity and justice must be intentional. They cannot be an afterthought or addressed with band-aids. We can start to achieve them by working with those we usually don’t, paying fair and livable wages and creating community. When it comes to purchases, research what’s behind the curtain and choose local because there’s a greater chance you can find answers. Ask questions about how your purchases may support human trafficking, poor wages and detrimental labor laws.

This panel brought the audience back to the fundamental truth that humans and the planet are interdependent. Our ability to survive as a species relies on our planet’s ability to thrive and vice versa. Like is often said in relation to waste, there is no “away” when it comes to air pollution and other ailments that threaten a healthy planet. They are just shifted to those who aren’t empowered enough to protect themselves and they end up feeling the harm the most. We are at a seminal moment to shift that. We must recognize how every action we take has the opportunity to create change. It’s time for big scale change and awareness rather than siloed approaches.

Session Lead: Michelle Romero, Green for All, DreamCorps

Michelle Romero is a brilliant campaign strategist with a decade of experience, building and leading state and national initiatives that expand opportunities for people of color. As the National Director of Green For All, Michelle leads a national strategy to accelerate inclusive green economy solutions, that bring clean energy, good jobs, and better health to underserved communities. Her accomplishments include launching the Moms Mobilize campaign to fight the Trump Administration’s dirty budget, and successfully securing a FY 2018 budget that included no cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Under her leadership, Green For All has been a leading voice against efforts to dismantle climate and clean energy progress, and is working to shift billions of dollars from polluter pockets to polluted communities through carbon pricing and inclusive financing strategies. Michelle’s work has been featured in media outlets like CNN, The Los Angeles Times, NowThis, Bustle, ABC News, FastCompany, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Univision.

Anthony Bernheim, FAIA, LEED Fellow is the Healthy and Resilient Buildings Program Manager, Planning Design and Construction at the San Francisco International Airport. On the forefront of sustainability, reimagining the built environment and its impact on human and planetary health, Anthony Bernheim is a visionary and respected leader in smart, energy efficient, high performance building. Beginning as early as the 1980’s he has devoted his career to pioneering the impact of buildings on global health, indoor environmental quality and human health. He has a record of designing and implementing a holistic approach and process to sustainability, contributing to improving human health, comfort, and wellness in the built environment. As the Healthy & Resilient Buildings Program Manager, Planning Design & Construction at San Francisco International Airport, he is responsible for the Net Zero Energy and the Activation Planning Services programs. A sought after speaker, author and advisor, Anthony has a history of public service, having served as a member of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Board of Directors in diverse capacities and on key committees since 2003.

Denise Fairchild is the inaugural President of Emerald Cities Collaborative (ECC), a national nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., with affiliates in major urban centers across the United States. She is charged with advancing ECC’s “high-road” mission to green our cities, build resilient local economies and ensure equity inclusion in both the process and outcomes of a new green and healthy economy. Denise is nationally recognized and respected for her 40-year successful track record and innovative programs in sustainable and community economic development, domestically and internationally. In 1995 she founded and directed the Community and Economic Development (CED) Department at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, as well as an affiliated nonprofit community development research and technical assistance organization, CDTech. She founded the Regional Economic Development Institute (REDI), an initiative of Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, to provide inner-city residents with career and technical education for high-growth/high-demand jobs in the L.A. region, with a focus on the green economy.

Dr. Shamir Ghumra has an Engineering Doctorate from Loughborough University, UK and is a Fellow of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment and a Chartered Environmentalist. Dr. Ghumra is a unique individual who; has first-hand site experience with heavy plant; years of commercial acumen as a territory sales manager and was previously Head of Sustainability at Aggregate Industries (turnover in excess of £1bn and part of the Lafarge Holcim Group). As BREEAM Director at BRE Dr. Ghumra is well connected to both industry and academia and takes ultimate responsibility for all BREEAM related schemes and standards globally. Dr Ghumra has taken a personal interest in Responsible & Ethical Sourcing over the past ten years whilst in industry, consultancy and more recently at BRE. Another area of interest is Distributed Ledger Technologies and how this blossoming approach can enhance the digitisation of the built environment.


Taylor Keep has spent his career designing building systems and working to transform their relationship with people, culture, and the grid. He started his career as a mechanical engineer at Arup in San Francisco and London, then left to study building interactions with the grid with UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group. He then co-founded an architecture and engineering practice called VITAL and worked to develop an energy services business anchored around urban microgrid technology for NRG. Taylor joined Katerra in September 2017 and leads its Building Sciences team, which develops customer and physics-based requirements for new Katerra materials and products.



Denise Fairchild of Emerald City Collaborative

Denise will be a speaker on the Carbon Smart Building panel on "Health and Equity in the Building Industry." Here, she talks about how retrofitting existing buildings for energy efficiency can also be a way to create jobs, promote social equity, and develop thriving communities.