Equitable Building Electrification: A Framework for Powering Resilient Communities

The momentum to usher in a new era of cleaner, healthier, all-electric new homes and buildings has gained steam in California. With more than 50 cities either considering or having passed measures to accelerate all-electric buildings, the gas industry is working overtime to stoke fear around building electrification. In partnership with the California’s Energy Efficiency for All Coalition, The Greenlining Institute studied the challenges and opportunities that building electrification presents for low-income communities – 70 percent of whom are renters  caught up in a housing and energy affordability crisis.

Executive Summary:

Greenlining’s Equitable Building Electrification Framework addresses the opportunities and challenges that electrification presents for low-income communities – 70 percent of whom are renters. The framework finds that electrification can be a transformative force for low-income residents and it explains the steps the state must take to ensure that electrification helps close the clean energy gap in California and provides relief to millions of residents facing energy insecurity in the current system.

Electrification provides low-income communities access to major benefits such as cleaner air, healthier homes, good jobs and empowered workers, and greater access to affordable clean energy and energy efficiency to reduce monthly energy bills, while helping the state meet its climate goals, including a net-zero carbon economy and 100 percent clean electricity by 2045.

Meanwhile, the cost of safely maintaining California’s gas system is set to escalate dramatically in coming years as increasing infrastructure costs and safety upgrades combine with a decline in demand as the state transitions away from fossil fuels to hit its climate targets.

The result will be higher costs spread around fewer customers – leading to significantly higher gas bills and prompting those with the means to do so to move off the system for financial, health, and environmental reasons. As this trend continues, gas customers who face barriers to electrification will need assistance to move to cleaner electric appliances to help shield them from the rising cost of gas.

What Is Building Electrification?

Building electrification means eliminating use of fossil fuels for functions like heating and cooking and replacing gas appliances with alternatives that use electricity. In California, 25 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions come from the buildings we live and work in. As our electric grid gets steadily cleaner, building electrification can play a big role in fighting climate change.

Moreover, electrifying our homes has major health benefits. Burning gas releases nitrogen oxides and particulates, which can have serious health consequences.

Our Framework:

This five-step framework presents a start-to-finish recipe for how the current goals of building electrification can be aligned with producing healthy homes, creating high quality, local jobs that cannot be outsourced, and establishing stronger connections between everyday Californians and our climate change policies and goals.

  • Step 1: Assess the Communities’ Needs. This should include understanding barriers preventing community members from electrifying their homes, residents’ knowledge levels regarding building electrification, and their specific needs, wishes and concerns.
  • Step 2: Establish Community-Led Decision-Making. Rich community input and engagement strengthen the overall program design quality with stronger cultural competence, ensure local buy-in and investment, and deliver tangible local benefits rooted in the lived experiences of everyday people. Partner with community-based organizations to develop a decision-making process that ensures that decisions are based on community needs and priorities.
  • Step 3: Develop Metrics and a Plan for Tracking. Metrics should include both clean energy benefits like greenhouse gas reductions and community benefits such as local hires and residents’ ability to pay their energy bills without sacrificing other essential expenses.
  • Step 4: Ensure Funding and Program Leveraging. Current low-income energy programs often fail to deliver maximum benefits to all qualifying households due to short and unpredictable funding cycles, poor program design that inadequately reaches qualifying customers, or lack of coordination and integration with complementary programs.
  • Step 5: Improve Outcomes. Using the tracking and metrics plan described above, ensure that there is a continuous feedback loop to improve current and future programs’ reach and impact in ESJ communities. Consider adjustments to ensure the program reaches the people it seeks to reach and delivers the intended benefits. Together we can create the foundations needed for a just transition within the work to come on building electrification, but it will require deliberate and inclusive actions. This document can be used by anyone interested in solving problems with a fresh perspective, removing barriers to participation in the clean energy economy, and bringing communities together around shared goals.


Making Equity Real in Climate Adaptation and Community Resilience Policies and Programs: A Guidebook

California is a leader in climate policy and has modeled an unprecedented statewide effort to fight climate change. However, climate change impacts do not affect all communities in the same way. Frontline communities including low-income communities, communities of color, indigenous peoples and tribal nations, and immigrant communities suffer first and worst from climate disasters. This is due to decades of underinvestment and unjust systems that have left these communities with disproportionately high costs for energy, transportation and basic necessities, limited access to public services, high levels of poverty and pollution, and outdated and weak critical infrastructure.

Climate change exacerbates these injustices that frontline communities face, making climate adaptation and community resilience essential priorities. Strategies to tackle climate change must prioritize the most impacted and least resourced communities. California must develop programs and policies that truly center social equity in climate adaptation efforts and uplift frontline communities so that they do not simply “bounce back” to the unjust status quo after climate disasters strike but are able to “bounce forward” as healthy, resilient and sustainable communities.


To prioritize the climate adaptation and community resilience needs of frontline communities and address the historical neglect they have experienced, California must move beyond embracing equity to making it real. This requires centering community needs and building social equity into the very fabric of policies and grant programs that focus on climate adaptation and resilience. To get there, this Guidebook offers policymakers a blueprint on how to operationalize equity in policies and grant programs.


  1. Embed Equity in the Mission, Vision, & Values: Policies and grant programs should explicitly state a commitment to equity and specifically identify the vulnerable populations they seek to benefit. The effort must aim to create comprehensive climate strategies for communities that not only build the resilience of physical environments but address other health and economic injustices that climate impacts exacerbate.
  2. Build Equity into the Process: Processes should deeply engage community members so as to learn about their priorities, needs and challenges to adapting to climate impacts. The information gathered should inform the development and implementation of the policy or grant program.
  3. Ensure Equity Outcomes: The implementation of the policy or grant program must lead to equity outcomes that respond to community needs, reduce climate vulnerabilities, and increase community resilience. Outcomes can include improved public health and safety, workforce and economic development, and more.
  4. Measure & Analyze for Equity: Policies and grant programs should regularly evaluate their equity successes and challenges to improve the effort going forward.

Making Equity Real in Climate Adaptation and Community Resilience Policies and Programs:

Making Equity Real in Climate Adaptation and Community Resilience Policies and Programs – A Guidebook.  The Guidebook provides specific recommendations on how to operationalize social equity in the goals, process, implementation and analysis of policies and grant programs focused on climate adaptation. The report includes examples from existing policies and grant programs to illustrate what the recommendations look like in practice. The Guidebook is intended for policymakers who develop policies (bills, executive orders, local measures) and agencies that develop grant programs. Communities and advocates may also use this Guidebook as a tool to assess how social equity shows up in climate adaptation and resilience proposals.

Related Research from APEN:

Greenlining released this report jointly with a report from the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, “Mapping Resilience: A Blueprint for Thriving in the Face of Climate Disasters.” APEN’s work shows a path forward for identifying the people and regions most impacted by climate change. Taken together, the two reports can guide policymakers in identifying vulnerable communities and providing them the climate adaptation resources they need.

Making Equity Real in Mobility Pilots Toolkit

Equity is transforming the behaviors, institutions, and systems that disproportionately harm people of color. Equity means increasing access to power, redistributing and providing additional resources, and eliminating barriers to opportunity, in order to empower low-income communities of color to thrive and reach full potential.  Low-income people of color often face financial, technological, physical, or cultural, barriers to accessing shared mobility and transportation services (i.e. bikeshare, scooter share, Uber, carshare, etc.). When mobility projects are not implemented with equity in mind, they reinforce the inequalities baked into our systems and can often deepen those inequalities.

Increasingly, equity is becoming mainstream in mobility. Yet this could turn into an empty promise without a clear strategy and understanding of how to put equity into action to achieve that promise. Equity is not just a commitment – it is a practice. Our Environmental Equity team has compiled a set of resources and tools intended to guide government agencies, companies, and other entities in the planning, development, implementation, and evaluation of equitable mobility projects.

Greenlining’s definition of equity is specific to racial equity, given the legacy of institutionalized racism by government. Our emphasis on race is not about excluding other marginalized groups. These equity approaches are intended to also be applicable to creating equitable outcomes for other groups such as the elderly and people with disabilities. This resource outlines four key tools to help guide teams on the various ways to embed equity during each phase of the process. The following is an overview of the four different documents included in the toolkit:

  1. Overview: 4 Steps to Making Equity Real

This document is an overview of the four steps needed to operationalize equity within a pilot project based on our report, “Mobility Equity Framework: How to Make Transportation Work for People.” The following documents provide supplementary information to complete these four steps in an equitable, inclusive, and culturally appropriate way.


  1. Equity Considerations

Before developing an equitable mobility pilot project, read these “Equity Considerations” and think about whether and how your mobility pilot addresses the questions. These considerations are a starting point to operationalizing equity within a pilot project and answering them will give you a baseline for how your project centers and embeds equity. Going through these considerations will also help you identify areas in your pilot concept that are strong in equity, and areas that need improvement. Keep this list of questions and your responses for reference as you complete the four steps to developing an equitable mobility project.


  1. Community Engagement Best Practices

This document outlines best practices on for meaningfully engaging and empowering communities at all stages of project development and deployment. It provides examples of community engagement activities and lists various cultural considerations to bear in mind when conducting community engagement.


  1. Mobility Pilot Project Worksheet

Once you read the previous documents, filling out this worksheet can help kickstart a list of specific activities and tasks to develop and deploy an equitable project. As needed, reference the other documents as you fill it out.

Social Equity in California Climate Change Grants: Making the Promise Real

California offers a variety of climate change grants that aim to both fight climate change and also create a variety of other benefits. These grant programs can improve air quality and community health, reduce consumers’ energy bills and create clean economy jobs. But far too often these programs fail to adequately reach the communities with the greatest needs, especially low-income communities of color. For that reason, Greenlining believes officials designing these climate change grants must make a conscious, thoughtful effort to embed social equity into all aspects of each program and grant-making process.

A comparison of CalEnviroScreen maps showing the most polluted and economically disadvantaged communities with maps showing communities of color illustrates the literally toxic effects of redlining and its aftermath. A concerted effort to embed social equity into climate change grants can help put large amounts of funding to work relieving these historical inequities and level the playing field for historically disadvantaged communities.

In this report, we provide a roadmap for embedding social equity into climate change grants, focusing on four key steps:

  1. The program’s Goals, Vision and Values should explicitly state the social equity goals of the grant program to help ensure these goals get prioritized.
  2. The program’s process should include working with partners who have social equity expertise and incorporate strategies for inclusive outreach and technical assistance.
  3. The implementation of climate change grants is critical. Staff must make sure that grant awardees have the resources and tools they need to get the greatest possible environmental and economic benefits and minimize unintended negative consequences. Programs should target community-identified needs.
  4. Finally, programs should analyze their impact, based on clearly defined social equity goals and criteria track success. This requires proactive planning to collect the date needed, so that administrators and officials can use the analysis to improve the program going forward and inform the design of future climate change grants.


Advancing Racial Equity in the City of Oakland’s Small Business Ecosystem

The City of Oakland released its 2018-2020 Economic Development Strategy with a strong focus on entrepreneurship to build wealth in local communities of color. To support the strategy’s desired racial equity outcomes, The Greenlining Institute founded the Small Business Advisory Group, a roundtable comprised of local small business leaders committed to advancing the needs of Oakland’s entrepreneurs of color. Members include technical assistance providers, community lenders, ethnic chambers, and small business advocates.

With the goal of fostering a healthy and more inclusive small business ecosystem that allows entrepreneurs of color to thrive, the Small Business Advisory Group has developed a menu of recommendations designed to help the city of Oakland achieve the ambitious racial equity and small business goals included in its 2018-2020 Economic Development Strategy. We hope these recommendations will be useful for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, city councilmembers, the Economic and Workforce Development Department, and Oakland’s local business community, and offer our partnership for implementation. 

Autonomous Vehicle Heaven or Hell? Creating a Transportation Revolution that Benefits All

The rapid development of self-driving, autonomous vehicle technology is leading the way to a transportation revolution with three major components: self-driving cars, shared mobility, and electrification. While much has been written about how the coming autonomous vehicle revolution may change transportation for the better, this report represents the first in-depth analysis of a wide range of mobility, health, and economic implications of these three interconnected revolutions for marginalized groups like people of color, the poor, the elderly, and those with disabilities.

Greenlining’s analysis finds that optimistic scenarios for this transportation revolution – including reduced traffic, cleaner air and less space wasted on parking – won’t come true without action by government to ensure that implementation of these technologies recognizes their broad impacts, especially the needs of marginalized groups. A transportation revolution that truly benefits all will need to center on FAVES: fleets of autonomous vehicles that are electric and shared, with rules designed to disincentivize personal autonomous vehicles and to promote affordability and access, along with fair labor practices in this new industry. Without such intervention, the autonomous vehicle revolution could lead us to transportation hell, with a growing mobility divide between haves and have-nots.

2018 Utility Supplier Diversity Update: Opening Doors for Entrepreneurs of Color

Supplier diversity helps direct corporate procurement to businesses owned by historically marginalized communities. This practice supports economic development and access to contracting opportunities for women, LGBT communities and communities of color, and is particularly important for entrepreneurs of color.

General Order 156 requires that utilities submit supplier diversity reports annually. Using these reports, we analyzed the 2017 supplier diversity of 18 utilities across the telecommunications (cable and telephone), energy, water and wireless industries. Overall, the percentage of procurement from diverse businesses remained virtually unchanged from outcomes reported last year in our Supplier Diversity Report Card. But a few stand-out companies achieved relatively high spending with diverse businesses.

2017 Corporate Board Diversity: Major Players Fail to Reflect California’s Labor Force

Corporate boards of directors set policy, hire and fire CEOs, and have a huge influence on company behavior and culture. We examined the corporate board diversity of 59 companies with a major presence in key sectors of California’s economy and found that they consistently fail to reflect the state’s diverse labor force. Women and people of color were consistently underrepresented and in some cases missing completely. When board diversity so badly fails to align with the labor force, companies can more easily make mistakes that alienate groups of customers and miss chances to make their corporate environments welcoming to diverse employees.

Mobility Equity Framework: How to Make Transportation Work for People

For too long, transportation planning has focused on cars rather than people while neglecting communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. This framework offers planners and community advocates a step-by-step guide to a more community-centered transportation planning process that focuses on the mobility needs of communities and puts affected communities at the center of decision-making. It includes specific metrics to help evaluate mobility from an equity and community-centered perspective to help transportation planning focus on the needs of people, rather than car-centric infrastructure, as well as ideas for how to develop a people-based transportation planning process.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Framework: Reclaiming Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Racial Justice

This framework lays out the differences between diversity, equity and inclusion, charts the evolution of diversity campaigns over the decades, and aims to help diversity advocates turn ideals into a concrete tool using the “Four Ws” – who, what, where and why. The Greenlining Institute intends to put together a working group to build on the Framework’s outline and create a toolkit that will help advocates push corporations and other major institutions toward diversity, equity and inclusion policies based on justice.