At the Structures for Inclusion conference on March 27 in Washington, D.C., a group of architects, designers, activists, and community leaders unveiled a new standard called SEED (Social Economic Environmental Design). Somewhat analogous to the LEED standards for green buildings, SEED will provide guidance, evaluation, and certification for the social, economic, and environmental relevance of design projects.

One of the main forces behind SEED is Bryan Bell, AIA, founder and executive director of the nonprofit organization Design Corps, which organizes the annual Structures for Inclusion event. “SEED is a guide, a combined wisdom that hopefully is transferrable,” he says. “I don’t think people have taken this rigorous of an approach before.”

He and a group of collaborators have put five years of work into developing SEED and the SEED Evaluator, an online tool that helps users through the process of creating a socially, economically, and environmentally sensible building or community. The Evaluator addresses issues such as public safety, job creation, and sanitation, to name just a few. And it requires strong evidence of community participation and input for a project to be eligible for SEED certification.

A group of third-party certifiers will review submitted projects to determine whether they satisfy the SEED criteria. “The triple bottom line of social, economic and environmental has to be in balance,” says design educator Lisa Abendroth, another principal SEED collaborator.

The hope is that designers and their clients will start to use SEED on projects large and small. “It could be applied to a project of almost any scale,” says key SEED team member Kimberly Dowdell, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, NOMA, of HOK, who initially came up with the SEED concept and acronym. Along with helping to produce more responsible work, SEED also could bolster design’s perceived relevance to the world at large. “This is a moment whose time has come,” Abendroth says. “There’s a desire for a re-evaluation of what design means to people and how we are improving the world through our contributions.”

Among the other leaders involved in the creation of SEED were Eric Field of the University of Virginia School of Architecture, R. Steven Lewis, AIA, president of the National Organization of Minority Architects, and former National Endowment for the Arts design director Maurice Cox, also of the U.Va. School of Architecture.