Resilience Summit:
A Recap

UHI President Kim Vermeer Reflects on her experience Moderating a Panel at the

Green Build Resilience Summit

Kimberly Vermeer Headshot


I was pleased to host the Afternoon Salon Session: Voices in Equity, featuring Avni Jamdar and Kendra Norrell, at the Greenbuild 2020 Resilience Summit, held on October 1st. My long commitment to social equity in green building and sustainability has given meaning and purpose to my own life and work. In my consulting practice at Urban Habitat Initiatives we bring sustainability and affordable housing together, striving to bring the benefits of green building to all families and communities. And in my recently released book, Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing, Revised Edition my co-author Walker Wells and I describe how applying green building practices to affordable housing is an important way to expand equity in sustainability. But increasingly, as we do our work, it has become clear that climate, and the need for greater climate and community resilience, is integral to any conversation about sustainability. And we know that, whether we are talking about housing quality and conditions, or the threats of more and chronic climate stressors, the most vulnerable are the most vulnerable.

So, even as the summit’s primary theme explored dimensions of RESILIENCE, we were challenged to consider EQUITY as well, and to look for strategies that build more resilient communities while advancing social equity. As we consider all of this, one thing that we know is that we need strategies at all scales: individuals or families, organizations, and communities and at all speeds: incremental, evolutionary and revolutionary! And a happy confluence of events allowed us to have an urgent and thought-provoking conversation at the Salon that touches on all of these elements by carrying forward two presentations from USGBC’s Equity Summit in May, where Avni Jamdar from Emerald Cities and Kendra Norrell from the City of Richmond shared work that, while advancing equity, is at the same time increasing the resilience of families, organizations and communities. They joined the Resilience Summit Afternoon Salon to tee up an exploration of how social equity and resilience are interconnected.

A slide on Race, Income & Disproportionate Climate Impacts at the Resilience Summit

Presented by Avni Jamdar and Kendra Norrell

Two critical issues for equity in resilience are (1) who is doing the work of building clean energy installations and retrofitting buildings for better efficiency and (2) how do low-income and minority households and communities benefit from municipal and utility investments in greater efficiency and clean energy. Avni Jamdar, from Emerald Cities’ San Francisco office, explained how Emerald Cities is addressing both of these issues. First they create programs to increase minority participation in the green jobs workforce through training and apprenticeship programs for clean energy and building retrofit jobs and build career paths. Second they work with partners to direct efficiency and clean energy programs to traditionally underserved neighborhoods. Emerald Cities creates partnerships across sectors, between municipalities, utilities, trade unions, and community organizations to advance equity in the energy sector.

Kendra Norrell, Community Outreach and Engagement Coordinator in Richmond, Virginia, described how community voices insisted in being at the table for the City of Richmond’s RVA Green 2050 Climate Action Initiative, and the result is an equity-centered, integrated mitigation and adaptation planning process. The planning process has included multiple avenues for effective citizen engagement within City government and in the community through programs and projects.

Their presentations added richness to the discussions of resilience that had been happening throughout the Summit and provided practical examples of how to expand and institutionalize equity. As we work to increase resilience on the individual, organizational and community scales, thinking holistically about equity in our communities is essential. A fitting capstone to an engaging day!

The image featured in the header is courtesy of GreenBuild International Conference and Expo.