Equitable Climate Action: Leveraging the IRA Calculator for Sustainable Development in Underserved Communities

Equitable climate action must extend beyond merely reducing emissions; it should also confront systemic racism and environmental inequality. A crucial movement emerging from the principles of ethical, equitable, and sustainable development has shown that sustainable design must overcome inequities in low-income neighborhoods and energy communities. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) presents funding opportunities to support developers, architects, and non-profit organizations in doing so. However, though its passage in August 2022 was widely celebrated, for many, its potential to benefit underserved communities remains unclear.

Together with Brittany Reno, CEO of Southwestern Pennsylvania Municipal Project Hub, we recently presented on this topic at the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group’s annual summit. The goal of our session was to provide a comprehensive overview of six categories of incentive programs offered by the IRA, with a focus on financial support for affordable housing and disadvantaged communities. Design and construction strategies were discussed in alignment with those climate action goals. We also demonstrated the practical use of a unique tool, the IRA Incentive Calculator, co-developed by GBBN and CMTA, which helps estimate the financial incentives linked with sustainable and equitable strategies. We examined specific deductions, credits, and rebates, and discussed the application of the calculator in GBBN projects in the Hill District and other low to moderate Income neighborhoods within the Pittsburgh and Cincinnati Metropolitan Areas.

See our presentation here.

Shan Jiang, Ph.D, is an associate and the director of research at GBBN. An established researcher, educator and thought leader, Shan has conducted and published a substantial body of research on the relationship between people and their environment, therapeutic landscapes, healthcare design, and sustainable community development. While teaching within West Virginia University’s School of Design and Community Development, she published dozens of articles in peer-reviewed journals, presented her work at conferences, and published a full monograph with Routledge. As GBBN’s Director of Research, Shan leads firmwide research efforts, helping design teams in all markets conduct research while drawing on established research to inform and support their design work.

Stephen Mrdjenovich, AIA, CPHC is an associate principal at GBBN. A leader within GBBN’s Sustainability Action Network, Stephen is helping shift GBBN’s design process to ensure that ambitious sustainability and resilience goals shape all our work. Working within the firm’s community development, higher education, and arts markets, Stephen’s passion for sustainable design and his understanding of how to bring that commitment to life have shaped a wide variety of projects, including 5th & Dinwiddie and the Federal House at Penn State Behrend.