A Call to Action: NESSBE’s 2023 ‘Justice of Place’ Conference Highlights

Advocacy, Event, News

Published November 20, 2023

Our 2023 Northeast Summit for a Sustainable Built Environment (NESSBE) “Justice of Place” Conference brought together 167 professionals, academics, policymakers, advocates, and students for a full day of crucial conversations – spanning 17 panels – on the disproportionate impact of climate change on frontline communities, highlighting profound negative impacts faced in a variety of areas. The cross-disciplinarian discussions used historical and present-day exploitation and marginalization of the BIPOC community as a “Call to Action” for all conference attendees on energy and environmental injustice.

Many commented on how inclusive the summit felt.

“The diversity of backgrounds and areas of expertise at NESSBE was incredible – more varied than any other building industry conference I’ve attended. I’m used to going to events and being surrounded by architects, but at NESSBE there were government officials, building science experts, developers, non-profit leaders, representatives from utilities, engineers, community activists, and other folks who aren’t neatly categorized. Everyone was enthusiastically participating in the same conversations – sharing ideas and learning from each other – and it made me wish for more spaces like this.”

Jeannette Penniman, AIA, LEED AP, CPHD, BuildGreenCT Board Member

We feel it is important to hear directly from those who represent the communities disproportionately affected by environmental degradation and climate change: 30% of the speakers identified as people of color, and 25% of the summit as a whole. The summit attendees also represented many various areas of expertise. It’s pretty amazing that at a conference about green building, those from nonprofits had the highest level of representation followed by Architects and then Sustainability Consultants. There was also strong representation from government, real estate, and development professionals.

The summit opened with a panel discussion featuring both local and national environmental justice leaders, Aaron Mair, Dr. Mark Mitchell, and Allison Rogers who provided the foundation that set the stage for all the presentations which revolved around five of the following themes:

Equity and Environmental Justice
There were seven separate panels dedicated to the discussion of equity and environmental justice which delved into:

  • The 37% spike in CT’s energy affordability gap in the past 3 years, impacting renters and older homes
  • Pocket park benefits offering intergenerational-friendly design and community connections
  • Transformative campus changes for equity
  • How communities face heightened heat and air pollution due to historical racism and classism in urban planning and development
  • A case study on New Framework’s circular bio-economy approach, creating carbon-storing buildings and fostering social and ecological justice
  • Lessons from the Tenant Energy Activation project on engaging tenants, educating landlords, and advocating for energy efficiency in Connecticut
  • Forced and child labor in the global building materials supply chain affects 28 million people

Zero Energy/ Building Electrification

There were three panels focused on:

  • Reducing energy and environmental burdens through HERS ratings
  • A case study on Buckley Elementary, the state’s first zero-energy public school
  • Exploration of coalition strategies and community engagement for the best chances of successful adoption of district geothermal technology

“Throughout the day, I heard many participants say that NESSBE sparks inspiration, offers tangible case studies and facts, and delves into the ‘real deal’ aspects of unveiling energy and environmental justice to our community. It was very rewarding to witness how everyone dedicated themselves to a day of unity, engaging in in-depth cross-disciplinary discussions that serve as a catalyst for change and collective growth”.

Alicia Dolce, Executive Director at BuildGreenCT, formerly CT Green Building Council

Healthy Spaces – Comfort, Materials, Nature, & Air

Three panels focused on healthy spaces including:

  • Using human-centered design to innovate healthy family spaces in Hartford
  • A WELL equity rating residential property manager case study
  • Trauma-informed design for people experiencing homelessness and addiction

Policy Solutions, Engagement, and Advocacy

Two panels spent their time on topics involving:

  • A legislators panel discussing energy efficiency funds, energy labeling, energy stretch code, healthy buildings, and CT High-Performance Building Standards
  • Municipal sustainability planners roundtable addressing energy and environmental justice at the municipal scale

Our post-event survey revealed that 81% of participants felt more empowered to take action and make change as a result of NESSBE

Affordable Housing and Planning

Planning and affordable housing experts discussed:

  • Land use reform, financial incentives, and advanced building techniques to keep the housing and climate crisis in the same conversation.

“This summit really fulfilled the goal of being a conversation. I don’t think I have attended another event that had that much audience participation. Everyone who attended was super engaged with the material.”

Melissa Kops, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, LFA, CPHD, NESSBE Chair, Architect for the City of New Haven

More Information

For more information about this conference, and the speakers who dedicated their time, please check out https://www.nessbe.net/

Miss the Conference?

Recordings are available to members here. Join as a member here


While the NESSBE conference is a biennial event, anticipated to happen again in 2025, the work will be ongoing through our Advocacy & Equity Community. If you are interested in being a part of this ongoing conversation, Stay Connected by signing up for our newsletter.

Photo Gallery

You are welcome to download photos from the NESSBE photo gallery.  Please credit them to “CTGBC’s 2023 Northeast Summit for a Sustainable Built Environment Conference”.