The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Industrial Efficiency & Decarbonization Office (IEDO) accelerates the innovation and adoption of technologies to eliminate industrial greenhouse gas emissions, creating healthier and more resilient communities. Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions benefits each and every American as we work to build a clean energy future, but those living near industrial facilities are directly impacted right now. 

Historically, low-income communities and communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by the products of industrial pollution simply because of their physical proximity to polluting industrial facilities. IEDO's commitment to building a clean, decarbonized industrial sector puts American communities at the forefront of our work, ensuring that we build an equitable, healthier future for all Americans. 

To achieve this impact, IEDO requires applicants to our funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) to submit community benefits plans (CBPs), which are evaluated as part of the full application review process. CBPs are an important component of the application and typically account for 15% of the total score. 

The CBP is intended to reflect the applicant’s framework to ensure that federal investments support sustainable community economic development and prosperity and advance the following principles and priorities: diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA); energy equity; and workforce development. CBPs are intentionally flexible to generate the best approaches from applicants and their partners.

The FOA document describes requirements and scoring criteria for the CBP and includes an appendix providing detailed guidance on the CBP. Note that CBP requirements may vary for different U.S. Department of Energy offices and for different funding sources (e.g., Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds). These tips are particularly focused on IEDO FOAs addressing research, development, and demonstration (RD&D). 

Components of the Community Benefits Plan

The CBP is composed of three elements: DEIA; energy equity; and workforce. Each section of the CBP should identify specific activities the applicant would undertake that support these elements while integrating with the project goals and team.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility

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Building a clean and equitable energy economy is an ambitious goal that will require providing opportunities to and leveraging the skills of our entire society, including people of all racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and geographic backgrounds; those of all sexual orientations and gender identities; persons with disabilities; and those re-entering the workforce from incarceration. Clean energy innovation can advance DEIA efforts through strategies such as working with minority-owned businesses and increasing minority representation in the sector. 

Learn more about the DEIA component below.

Energy Equity

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Energy equity recognizes that disadvantaged communities have been historically marginalized and overburdened by pollution, underinvestment in clean energy infrastructure, and lack of access to energy efficient housing and transportation. This section should articulate the applicant's consideration of the project’s long-term energy equity implications, including how the project may benefit disadvantaged and underserved communities.

Learn more about the energy equity component below.

Workforce

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This section articulates the future workforce implications of the applicant’s innovation or a milestone-driven plan for understanding those implications. Such a plan looks ahead to technologies that may be derivative of the applicant’s research; documents the skills, knowledge, and abilities that would be required of workers installing, maintaining, and operating that technology; identifies the training pathways for workers to acquire the necessary skills; and considers accessibility of those pathways. For example, this section might evaluate how the workforce for a highly electrified industrial sector differs from one that relies on combustion of fossil fuels.

Learn more about the workforce component below.

Developing an Excellent Community Benefits Plan

The CBP is an essential component of a high-scoring application. Although writing the plan can be challenging, the CBP provides applicants with another opportunity to distinguish their projects within EERE’s competitive application process. The following should be considered while developing the CBP:

  • How will EERE’s investment in this project advance DEIA, energy equity, and the workforce more than competing RD&D projects?
  • What additional activities will result from EERE funding that would not otherwise occur?
  • Are there data to support the expected impact of the work?

Below are some additional tips, based on features of past outstanding CBPs. Note that these tips are not requirements and are not an exhaustive list of ways to make a CBP strong. The best CBPs are often creative and propose concrete, project-relevant activities outside of the specific examples included in CBP guidance.

CBPs are required to include “SMART” milestones—that is, milestones that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. SMART milestones turn vague claims into concrete, measurable commitments, making the CBP more compelling.

A weak CBP will not include SMART milestones. 

A good CBP will meet the minimum FOA requirements (often one SMART CBP milestone per budget period). 

However, an excellent CBP will incorporate SMART milestones throughout all components of the plan and will tailor milestones to the project, technology, and organization(s).

S: Specific

  • Make the goals and objectives narrow and concrete. 
  • Identify specific details in the approach, such as what (e.g., specific steps), who (e.g., roles in enacting those steps and staff filling those roles), how (e.g., by what mechanism), etc. 
  • Discuss what is unique about the approach.

M: Measurable

  • Identify what data or evidence will be used to assess progress toward the goals and objectives. 
  • Identify methods to analyze the data or evidence.
  • Explain how and to whom this analysis will be disseminated.

A: Achievable

  • Provide an evidence-based argument that the accomplishment is achievable and has the potential to be impactful.
  • Include the evidentiary sources (e.g., discussions with stakeholders, previous literature, etc.).

R: Relevant

  • Explain how each milestone is relevant to the project objectives and the technology focus of the proposal. 
  • Address how each milestone supports a unique impact or contribution outside of business-as-usual operation of the team/institution.

T: Time-bound

  • Address where and how the milestone fits into the project timeline. 
  • Include intermediate checkpoints that allow for assessment of progress toward meeting the milestone.

Partnerships can be a great way to enhance the impact of the work. Below are examples of ways that CBPs may lack—or leverage—the potential benefits of collaboration.

A weak CBP may lean heavily on a pre-existing institutional DEIA plan. Conversely, a weak approach might be to outsource activities to pre-existing programs or to other organizations without developing a meaningful partnership.

A good CBP may be on the right track with the proposed activities. However, the CBP may be weakened if the project team does not have the right members to execute the proposed work—or is overly reliant on one member to execute these activities. Just as the team will likely include specialized technical expertise (e.g., in life cycle assessment [LCA] or techno-economic analysis [TEA]), the team must have members with the skills and experience to produce quality CBP deliverables.

An excellent CBP will leverage the strengths of all organizations involved in the project, will demonstrate commitment from the full project team, and will include letters of commitment from partner organizations and programs. Partnerships will also be mutually beneficial, and the CBP will demonstrate a clear value-add to external partners.

Workforce training activities may be included as part of the Workforce section of the CBP.

A weak CBP will mention planning to recruit project participants (e.g., researchers, interns) but will not provide information on a plan or mechanism to do so. 

A good CBP, on the other hand, will discuss a specific plan or mechanism to engage these project participants. 

An excellent CBP will look beyond direct project participants to the broader workforce pipeline (e.g., curriculum development, retraining).

A key energy equity consideration is how pollution affects industrial communities.

Weak CBPs often mistake greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions for local benefits, assuming that the project’s GHG impact will have meaningful benefits for industrial communities. However, GHG emissions reductions are considered a global rather than a local benefit.

Good CBPs recognize that combustion releases not only GHGs but also co-pollutants, i.e., criteria air pollutants (e.g., nitrogen oxides, particulate matter) and other harmful pollutants that impact human health.

Excellent CBPs leverage tools (e.g., Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool, Energy Justice Dashboard) and internal data (e.g., geographic sales data) to analyze the potential impact of the proposed work on industrial and disadvantaged communities.

A strategic approach to improvement and distribution can make for a more impactful CBP. 

Excellent CBPs may contain multiphase activities that utilize assessment and analysis to inform next steps and will include a well-justified distribution plan for any materials developed (e.g., reports, educational materials). 

IEDO FOAs often require performers to conduct a life cycle assessment (LCA) and techno-economic assessment (TEA). 

An excellent CBP may integrate the project’s LCA-TEA efforts (e.g., to understand impacts on industrial communities or the workforce) or, if applicable, may leverage community engagement to inform the LCA-TEA.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility

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Building a clean and equitable energy economy is an ambitious goal that will require providing opportunities to, and leveraging the skills of, our entire society, including people of all racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and geographic backgrounds; those of all sexual orientations and gender identities; persons with disabilities; and those re-entering the workforce from incarceration. Clean energy innovation can advance DEIA efforts through strategies such as working with minority-owned businesses and increasing representation of minority demographics.

This section of the plan should demonstrate how DEIA is incorporated in the technical project objectivesThe plan should identify the specific actions the applicant would undertake that are integrated with the project goals and teams. Submitting an institutional DEIA plan without specific integration into the project is not likely to result in a strong CBP. 

When developing their community benefits plans, applicants are encouraged to consider the following questions. Each applicant should focus on aspects most relevant for that submission. Applicants are not expected to address every point exhaustively. Refer to the FOA for CBP requirements and evaluation criteria.

  • How can the project gain insight into diverse and underserved communities that may be impacted by the proposed innovation?
  • What are possible engagement strategies with the local community? How will these strategies bring diverse perspectives and identities together to discuss the project and share concerns?
  • Are there opportunities for collaboration with organizations that support or represent underserved communities? How will these collaborations help create equitable opportunities for underserved communities while helping to advance project goals?
  • Are there opportunities to include minority-serving institutions (MSIs), minority-owned businesses, disability-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, Native American-owned businesses, or veteran-owned businesses on the project team?
  • Are there opportunities to leverage community colleges, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and MSIs for recruitment to ensure project team new hires are representative of diverse communities?

Below are examples of strong DEIA activities, based on features of past outstanding CBPs. These examples are not requirements and are not an exhaustive list of ways to make a CBP strong. The best CBPs are often creative and propose concrete, project-relevant activities outside of the specific examples included in CBP guidance.

  • Achieve and maintain 100% DEIA staff training completion through online courses and workshops with annual training renewals. 
  • Conduct market outreach in diverse and underserved communities.
  • Have multiple team members regularly attend conventions, conferences, or expositions that emphasize DEIA. 
  • Collaborate with organizations that support or represent underserved communities, e.g., MSIs, minority-owned businesses, disability-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, Native American-owned businesses, and veteran-owned businesses. Provide guidance to help ensure such organizations are given a level playing field by supporting and encouraging implementation of their clean technology solutions. 
  • Ensure project team new hires are representative of various communities. Develop a strategy to broadcast positions and roles created as a result of the project on the recruitment portals of local community colleges, HBCUs, and MSIs. 
  • Design educational outreach activities that engage the community on concepts relevant to the project. Provide a clear and multi-faceted dissemination plan that reaches diverse and underserved communities.

Energy Equity

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Energy equity recognizes that disadvantaged communities have been historically marginalized and overburdened by pollution, underinvestment in clean energy infrastructure, and lack of access to energy-efficient housing and transportation. DOE’s Equity in Energy™ initiative is designed to expand the inclusion and participation of individuals in underserved communities—such as minorities, women, veterans, and formerly incarcerated persons—in all DOE programs and in the private energy sector. 

This section articulates the applicant’s consideration of the long-term energy equity implications of their work. The proposal must identify how energy equity considerations are integrated into the project design to support equitable outcomes, should the innovation be successful.

When developing their community benefits plans, applicants are encouraged to consider the following questions. Each applicant should focus on aspects most relevant for that submission. Applicants are not expected to address every point exhaustively. Refer to the FOA for CBP requirements and evaluation criteria.

  • What opportunities does the project have for advancing equitable distribution of the benefits of industrial decarbonization?
  • What measures will be in place to address socioeconomic disparities in the distribution of benefits?
  • How will the project incorporate community engagement to identify energy needs and preferences in diverse communities?
  • How does the project assess and mitigate potential negative energy equity impacts resulting from the proposed technology on vulnerable communities?

Below are examples of strong energy equity activities, based on features of past outstanding CBPs. These examples are not requirements and are not an exhaustive list of ways to make a CBP strong. The best CBPs are often creative and propose concrete, project-relevant activities outside of the specific examples included in CBP guidance.

  • Engage with equity specialists and members of impacted communities to inform aspects of the project’s research methodology. 
  • Engage with equity specialists and members of the impacted communities to write a report on how the proposed technology may benefit the community by redressing environmental inequities.
  • Partner with community benefits offices and local equity stakeholders to gain knowledge of community-identified energy equity barriers and potentially relevant community-generated data.  
  • Utilize an existing framework, such as the Justice Underpinning Science and Technology Research framework, to help frame and consider the proposed technical work in the context of energy equity.
  • Utilize existing environmental and toxic release datasets (e.g., from the Environmental Protection Agency or U.S. Geological Society) or available (i.e., in-house or from a project partner) modeling capabilities to explore the impacts of current technologies and your proposed technology on vulnerable and underrepresented groups.

Tracking the locations of project activities (e.g., latitude and longitude, address, zip code, and census tract) allows DOE to assess progress toward Justice40 goals and enables the project team to conduct their own equity analyses. A variety of tools exist to identify high-energy-burden communities. Examples include:

Workforce

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DOE is committed to encouraging collective bargaining and free and fair opportunities for workers to organize. DOE seeks proposals that expand good jobs through explicit strategies and actions designed to attract, train, and retain a skilled diverse workforce; foster safe and healthy work environments; reduce the risk of work slowdowns or stoppages; and ensure the efficient and effective use of taxpayer funds.

This section must articulate the applicant’s consideration of long-term workforce impacts and opportunities of the research. The proposal must identify how the project is designed and executed to include an understanding of the future workforce needs should the resulting innovation be successful. 

When developing their community benefits plans, applicants are encouraged to consider the following questions. Each applicant should focus on aspects most relevant for that submission. Applicants are not expected to address every point exhaustively. Refer to the FOA for CBP requirements and evaluation criteria.

  • What are the current workforce needs in the industry? What are the anticipated needs if the applicant’s innovation is widely adopted? At what level of education are these gaps?
  • How can the project support development of a trained workforce beyond direct project participants? 
  • Are there existing successful workforce programs serving the industry? If so, can the project work with them or leverage resources (e.g., existing curricula)?
  • What are the geographical workforce needs specific to the project? Where do they include underserved and overburdened communities?
  • What are potential workforce engagement strategies?
  • Can the project team work with community engagement liaisons to help conduct community needs assessments, formulate a workforce program, and support project planning?

Below are examples of strong workforce activities, based on features of past outstanding CBPs. These examples are not requirements and are not an exhaustive list of ways to make a CBP strong. The best CBPs are often creative and propose concrete, project-relevant activities outside of the specific examples included in CBP guidance.

  • Outline the workforce challenges and opportunities for commercializing the technology in the United States. 
  • Develop a plan and milestones for assessing the implications of the proposed technology for job savings or loss, either at the macroeconomic level or within specific industries.
  • Develop a plan to evaluate how a successful innovation will result in potential workforce shifts between industries or geographies.
  • Develop workforce training materials relevant to the proposed technology, along with a dissemination plan for those materials. Materials and plans should target training or retraining members of the existing or future workforce and might emphasize reaching a broad group of stakeholders.

Community Benefits Plan Resources