This Issue

Environmental Equality

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Majora Carter

President, MCG Consulting

No matter how good you believe your product, your idea, your policy, or even how good you think your intentions are, it doesn’t matter if nobody is “buying” it. There are tried-and-true ways of getting people to buy things and “educating” folks is far down the list. Relationship building continues to be a leading strategy in the foreseeable future, so let’s work with it!

Serving on the Board of USGBC for four years, I was able to see its good products, ideas, policies, and intentions firsthand. But I come from the South Bronx, and my consulting firm works in the “South Bronx” you find in every city around the world: “low status” communities where good intentions have come and gone for generations, producing less than expected results.

People debate why that is: not enough money, spending on the wrong things, insufficient community education; and all of them are probably correct.

Whatever success my company has achieved is based on principles used in nearly every successful commercial product launch: identifying and developing a market that demands what you have. Otherwise it doesn’t make any difference how good that product is. It’s that simple.

But nothing simple is ever easy. As U.S. reurbanization gains momentum, increasing pressures on real estate development affect people at all levels of influence and income. How we engage communities with USGBC’s gospel of Environmental Equality now— during these pivotal years of geographic transition from sprawl to density—will be a continuing factor in the level of demand for that which USGBC has to offer.

The first step is an initiative we use called Advisory Boards: a collection of local people curated to avoid the usual suspects who often come with preconceptions and motivations based on funders’ jargon and assumptions about what poor people “should” want, or get, or deserve.

Advisory Boards in this context are meant to collect real concerns among the broader community and generate fresh ideas by bringing together disparate voices within a geographic area comprised of business owners, residents, and local influencers.

USGBC is taking a leading role in the development of its long-term market viability by supporting this kind of relationship with amazing communities in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Detroit, Los Angeles, and on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota.

Once you build real relationships with people who are motivated to improve their communities, the potential demand for your product can be detected in a more accurate way. Then, you launch a beta version of your offerings, learn from how people react, refine, reiterate, and expand.

When you market from a position of mutual self-interests, your chances of effective and ongoing engagement improve dramatically and can leverage any resources that might otherwise meet the typical deadends that plague philanthropic sectors in all markets.

I am different than many of my peers in the urban and building design worlds, and I’m also set apart from most of the people in the community where I was raised and continue to live, work, and invest in.

My experiences in both worlds are coming together in ways that give me so much hope for how USGBC and the United States can effectively develop market demand for environmental equality in ways that none of us can predict—but all of us will benefit from.

LEED ON,

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