Skip to content

Rapson: Philanthropy can support Building Performance Standards Coalition by investing in frontline organizations

Environment, From the President

Today we learned the Biden-Harris Administration has launched the Building Performance Standards Coalition, the first-of-its-kind partnership between 33 state and local governments dedicated to delivering cleaner, healthier and more affordable buildings. This new initiative will not only support energy-efficient buildings but will also create green jobs and lower energy costs for those carrying the heaviest energy burdens.

Across each of our funding arms at Kresge, we are laser-focused on how to support the efforts of community-led movements to deconstruct barriers to equity and substitute in their place policies, norms, and practices that are inclusive and sustainable.

The National Building Performance Standards Coalition is a perfect example of those principles in action. Not only does the Coalition take direct aim at helping cities combat and adapt to climate change, it does that by elevating the primacy of advancing racial, economic, and social equity, opportunity, and justice.

Even with the myriad of other powerful and effective efforts across the environmental sector, the Coalition may be the most powerful lever we have to decarbonize the built environment in communities across the country. And that is why I call on my colleagues in philanthropy to support this effort. Philanthropy in all its shapes and sizes – corporate foundations, community foundations, family foundations, national foundations – can make a huge difference in driving the success of the Coalition’s local efforts. We can, in particular, invest in local organizations.

Frontline organizations – organizations working at the intersection of environmental, climate, and racial justice – are already serving as first responders – meeting their neighbors’ immediate needs while working to prevent the next crisis by tackling systemic obstacles to progress. The track record of success is growing impressively. And yet, they are too often overlooked by philanthropy. I hope that one tangible outcome of the Coalition is to help rectify that.

We at Kresge are especially pleased to see that equity and community leadership are central elements of the Coalition. For instance, as stated in the announcement:

“When building performance standards are designed in partnership with frontline communities and key stakeholders, innovative and equitable solutions can address multiple needs in a community. Energy efficiency improvements and electrification in multifamily buildings improve indoor air quality, eliminate drafts, and protect residents from extreme heat—delivering health benefits and lower health care costs.”

Equity is a key driver of the Coalition. Yet, equity has become a philanthropic buzzword. It’s hard to have a conversation about any dimension of contemporary American society without it. But that is as it should be. There can be no more compelling impulse within philanthropy than to ground our institutional capital – financial, intellectual, and reputational – in improving outcomes for marginalized communities.

That is magnified incalculably in the climate change and energy space.

It is members of marginalized communities who disproportionately bear the sharp edge of every dimension of climate change – from sea-level rise to more violent weather patterns, from wildfires to drought. And it is people with lower incomes, older adults, and communities of color who shoulder the heaviest energy costs – heat, electricity, gasoline.

Those same energy systems are harming our health as well.

We don’t have to look too far for examples. Consider the air pollution generated by the fossil-fuel reliance of the energy systems powering our homes, businesses, public buildings, and other forms of infrastructure – it is among the leading causes of illness and premature death worldwide. And again, particularly in lower-income, communities of color.

The Biden-Harris Administration has appropriately, yet audaciously, recognized that every policy at the federal level that seeks to combat climate change must account for the effects of that policy on the low-income people, disinvested communities, and at-risk populations who are most impacted by changes in climate.

That is a very tall order. But, from the perspective of the foundation I lead, it is crystal clear that it is the kind of policies that will be identified, elevated, and advanced by the National Building Performance Standards Coalition that will enable the Administration’s aspirations to be realized.

We are particularly gratified to see that the Coalition will pursue decarbonization through the retrofitting and upgrading of existing buildings. Although the United States has seen considerable progress in improving the energy performance of new buildings, existing buildings have proven a tougher nut to crack.

It is these older buildings that represent the bones of our communities – the buildings that provide the structure, literally, that defines the contours of our economic, educational, recreational, social, and residential life.

It is these older buildings that have to be made safer, more healthful, and more affordable. The Coalition becomes an essential catalyst to state and local units of government as they pursue that charge through a lens of equitable opportunity.

Just a word about the importance of community engagement in this process. The Coalition will be a powerful new force on the scene – an indispensable force, as I’ve noted. But none of the Coalition’s work can be done without the full participation, co-creation, and buy-in of community residents.

And we, in turn, need to think about community in its broadest dimensions – building owners and neighborhood residents . . . contractors and organized labor . . . housing and tenant advocates and community development organizations . . . block clubs and local faith-based organizations. Always, moreover, with a sharp eye on vehicles capable of lifting up the voices and securing the participation of Black, Brown and Indigenous communities.

The fundamental principles guiding the Building Performance Standards Coalition – indeed the design of its strategies and methods – present an enormous opportunity to get this calculus right. That is why we are so unequivocally supportive – and excited – about the launch of the Coalition.

So, fellow philanthropoids, join us by supporting frontline organizations. It is a historic moment. We need to grab it.

Thank you.