Mary Pickering, Senior Advisor, LC3 & Simone Charron, Program Officer, LC3
Over the past year, LC3 Centres have strengthened their ongoing efforts to integrate social equity into the climate action we know cities need to undertake to achieve their net-zero goals.
One of the key assumptions in the LC3 Theory of Change is that by actively engaging with equity-deserving communities and applying a community benefits lens informed by the principles of equity, we will support better climate action programs and improve outcomes. These integrated initiatives will consider and address how climate impacts and costs are often borne by groups who have little access to climate decision-making but are most vulnerable to impacts. They will also be positioned to attract diverse collaborators, open the door for fresh new approaches, and lead to a more equitable distribution of benefits and broader support across diverse constituencies.
This approach has profound implications for our thinking and behaviour as individuals, the way we run our organizations, the partners and collaborators we align with, the approaches we take, the systems we need to address, the pace of our work, and how we define success. In short, it affects just about everything about how we operate!
Assessing equity potential
In April 2023, LC3 introduced an equity metric to our common evaluation toolset to help us consider how equity is being integrated into new grants, programs, and direct investments. Similar to other LC3 metrics, the equity metric is used to guide project design and decision-making at the time of application. The metric was developed as a qualitative scoring rubric that provides scoring from poor (“unaware”) to adequate (“aware”) to very good (“activated”) to excellent (“integrated”) considering three core elements:
- Equity Analysis: The extent to which the potential inequities and community benefits associated with the project are acknowledged and understood;
- Leadership: The extent to which equity-deserving groups are included in and/or leading the project, including designing tactics and success metrics;
- Integrated Design: The extent to which equity goals and approaches at direct and systems levels are optimized by the project design.
Since we introduced this metric later in 2023, we agreed that the application of the equity metric would only be required for all projects starting in 2024. Despite being optional, over half of all LC3 Network projects for the 2022-23 reporting period applied the metric; of these, 63% noted equity as “activated” or “integrated” (very good or excellent) culminating in a LC3 funding commitment of nearly $1.5 million to 47 initiatives. Current examples of LC3-funded equity-climate projects include:
- Work with ACORN to create a resource guide about engaging tenants in apartment retrofits in Calgary;
- Support for capacity building and training on deep energy retrofits for African Nova Scotians in Halifax; and
- Development of research, knowledge and skills sets that inform inclusive community engagement on climate equity in Ottawa.
We are working to evolve this metric as we go by leveraging sector best practices and our own experiences, both nationally and locally. Already, the resulting conversations with program applicants and partners are revealing new connections. Discussions help identify potential harms that could be caused or exacerbated by program designs, and how these could be mitigated. They also activate thinking about how we can improve program designs to advance equity outcomes.
Beyond the status quo: transcending “false boundaries”
One question raised about the viability of climate-equity integration is whether the pressing social equity needs in our cities – from affordable housing to youth mental health to combatting racism – risk overwhelming our capacity to address our low-carbon mandate. With the multitude of strategies required to achieve carbon reduction targets in cities we already have plenty of extremely complex topics to address.
Yet, the opportunity and the imperative are critical. Achieving net-zero emissions and addressing social equity are both critical to the future health of our cities. Simultaneously addressing these challenges represents a crucial opportunity to move beyond the status quo, acknowledging that past efforts to address climate may have unintentionally reinforced inequitable patterns. It helps address the problem of “false boundaries” – the separation of complex problems in a siloed approach, ignoring the fact that some of these problems share common roots and can benefit from common solutions.
In some instances, we do see a clash between equity and emissions reductions – for example, where energy retrofits in multi-unit buildings lead to above-guideline rent increases for low-income tenants, or where installation of heat pump technology in buildings that previously lacked air conditioning are resulting in burdensome new “cooling charges” for residents. These are real challenges that we are grappling with and have a responsibility to understand and seek to resolve as we move forward.
We are also carefully considering how we might positively integrate equity and climate solutions. For example, how might we influence public investments in the new green economy to ensure that stable, well-paying jobs are accessed by stakeholders that have traditionally been sidelined? How might we support incentive programs that prioritize energy retrofits in. rental and social housing? And how might we make the switch to electric vehicles attainable for renters in multi-family buildings, small fleet owners and ride-sharing service providers?
It is certainly clear that relationship-building is a critical foundation for integration of climate and equity goals. Trust-based relationships with community groups and leaders allow lived experience to inform climate-equity solutions in ways that surface potential conflicts and create win-win solutions. We are recognizing that in many instances this means slowing down, as relationship-building takes skill and patience. This creates a feeling of tension, as the imperative to advance urban climate action has never felt so urgent.
To add to the challenge, we are realizing that to activate and fund groups who are not traditionally engaged in the climate conversation, we may need to consider some adjustments to our approaches as a funder – for example by reviewing our internal processes or applications to ensure they are accessible to equity-deserving groups seeking funding, and/or by creating new “measuring sticks” to fairly assess these applications.
At the core of the LC3 Network is our collaborative approach, where local Centres capture and share learnings as peers. When it comes to addressing complex challenges like enabling equitable climate action, drawing from perspectives from across the Network – and across the country – helps us improve faster. We are also grateful to be able to observe and learn from other leading practitioners in this field, including many other Canadian environmental and social equity groups and funders. One of these is the McConnell Foundation, which has provided $5 million in funding over five years to expand our community granting resources and to help the LC3 Network build the skills to take on this work. McConnell is also supporting us to advance our role in Indigenous Reconciliation – something that we will advance on a separate, dedicated track in 2024.
LC3 will continue to apply our shared metrics and lessons at the local level while also seeking out partners who can help us build the skills and capacities to navigate this challenging, but critical, new pathway. We look forward to sharing our learnings, insights and questions as our journey unfolds – and hearing all about the successes, challenges, and lessons of others we know are grappling with these same questions.
Please contact us if you have any ideas or advice to share, or if you’d like to find out more about our equity metric: email@example.com