Key Terms for Recognizing Energy Inequities and Centering Equity


NEEP recognizes that there exist many definitions for the following terms. NEEP has explored available terminology and selected these definitions for use in our work.

Building Decarbonization: The removal of greenhouse gas emissions from a building’s energy use (Building Decarbonization Coalition)

Classism: differential treatment based on social class or perceived social class; the systematic oppression of subordinated class groups to advantage and strengthen the dominant class groups. It’s the systematic assignment of characteristics of worth and ability based on social class. (Class Action)

Distributional equity: programs and policies result in fair distributions of benefits and burdens across all segments of a community, prioritizing those with the highest need (Urban Sustainability Directors Network)

Diversity: the representation of multiple identities, perspectives, and experiences, particularly those who have endured social and economic marginalization based on (but not limited to) race/ethnicity, gender identity, nationality, disabilities, and sexual orientation. (NEEP)

Energy burden: the percentage of gross household income spent on energy costs (U.S. Department of Energy)

Energy insecurity:  an inability to adequately meet basic household energy needs (Diana Hernández)

Equity: providing fair access to economic resources and social representation in a constant and consistent way, particularly for those who have been historically excluded and marginalized. A core principle of equity is the redistribution of resources to recognize, repair, and rectify past discrimination. (NEEP)

Environmental Justice: “Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this Nation. It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision‐making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.” (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

“Environmental Justice” communities: “commonly identified as those where residents are predominantly minorities or low-income; where residents have been excluded from the environmental policy setting or decision-making process; where they are subject to a disproportionate impact from one or more environmental hazards; and where residents experience disparate implementation of environmental regulations, requirements, practices and activities in their communities. Environmental justice efforts attempt to address the inequities of environmental protection in these communities.” Some state and local governments define environmental justice communities by specific metrics including, the percentage of the population below the poverty line, the rate of toxic cancer among the community, and the makeup of the community by race and ethnicity. (Initiative for Energy Justice)

 “Environmental and Social Justice” communities: Can be used “to encapsulate under-resourced and underserved communities including Black, Brown, Hispanic, Latinx, Asian-American, and Indigenous, and low-and moderate-income communities.” These communities are most likely to live in older housing with structural deficiencies and experience a higher energy burden. (Green and Healthy Homes Initiative)

High energy burden: between 6% and 10% of household income (American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy)

Historically marginalized and/or excluded communities: “Marginalized communities are communities denied involvement in mainstream economic, political, cultural and social activities. Marginalization or social exclusion deprives a group from access to basic rights and participation in decision making. Marginalized communities include, but are not limited to, frontline communities, low-income and/or working class communities, and those historically disenfranchised by racial and social inequity (e.g., minority identities based on race, ethnicity, sex, gender, sexual orientation, and ability status).” (Initiative for Energy Justice)

Inclusion: the creation of a culture of belonging where the thoughts, ideas, and perspectives of all individuals are welcomed, recognized, and valued as unique and important lived experiences. (NEEP)

Just transition: an all-in, inclusive, and place-based process to build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative one. A just transition requires solutions that ensure the well-being of workers and communities; address racial, economic, and gender injustice; protect our health, environment, and climate; and create meaningful, good jobs and a thriving and sustainable economy. (Kentuckians for the Commonwealth)

Justice: identifying and dismantling barriers to resources and opportunities for all people from all communities and identities, and rectifying past oppressions for those communities experiencing ongoing suffering. (NEEP)

Low- and moderate-income: communities that in certain geographies that have income levels that fall between certain ranges, as determined by the Census Bureau. A low-income community means there is a median family income of less than 50 percent of the area median income. A moderate-income community means that the median family income is at least 50 percent and less than 80 percent of the area median income. (Federal Reserve)

Non-energy benefits: “the many and diverse benefits produced by energy efficiency in addition to energy and demand savings. Accounting for NEBs in state policy and utility planning allows for the full value of energy efficiency to be captured. NEBs accrue to the utility system, to energy efficiency project or program participants and to society at large.” (Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance)

Procedural equity: inclusive, accessible, authentic engagement and representation in processes to develop or implement programs and policies (Urban Sustainability Directors Network)

Racism: The marginalization and/or oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy that privileges white people. (ADL)

Restorative justice: “a process where all the stakeholders affected by an injustice have an opportunity to discuss how they have been affected by the injustice and to decide what should be done to repair the harm” (John Braithwaite)

Severe energy burden: greater than 10% of household income (American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy)

Structural equity: decision-makers institutionalize accountability; decisions are made with a recognition of the historical, cultural, and institutional dynamics and structures that have routinely advantaged privileged groups in society and resulted in chronic, cumulative disadvantage for subordinated groups (Urban Sustainability Directors Network)

Transgenerational equity: decisions consider generational impacts and don’t result in unfair burdens on future generations (Urban Sustainability Directors Network)

Weatherization: “increases a building’s energy efficiency, safety, and comfort by eliminating drafts. Weatherization can include electrical panel upgrades, weather-stripping or repairing broken exterior doors and windows, patching small holes in walls and roofs, performing minor furnace maintenance and repair, and insulating attics, walls, floors, water heater pipes, and furnace ducts. Weatherization is a prerequisite for residential building electrification.” (Green and Healthy Homes Initiative)


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