Sustainable Neighborhoods and Communities: Initiatives, Certifications, and Developments

Many groups are working to advance the sustainability of neighborhoods and communities. In addition to various national organizations, local grassroots initiatives for community sustainability, resiliency, and energy independence are gaining steam around the country and the world. Check out the map/list of U.S. Transition initiatives (and see if one has been started near you), and to learn about ecovillages that have been established around the world, visit the Global Ecovillage Network website (click on “Find an Ecovillage” to search for communities in your region).

Other organizations are focused primarily on the planning, design, and development (or redevelopment) of neighborhoods; these include groups such as Partnership for Sustainable Communities and various “smart growth” initiatives.

For links to additional groups and initiatives, you can download my more comprehensive list of Resources on Sustainable Communities (80 KB PDF document).

Several certification programs have emerged to rate the sustainability of planned neighborhood and community-scale developments. These programs include: LEED for Neighborhood Development, One Planet Communities, and the Living Building Challenge. The programs’ requirements can be used as general planning and design guidelines for any project, even if official third-party certification is not the goal.

One Planet 1. One Planet Communities: This is an international program that is part of the One Planet Living program developed by BioRegional, a UK-based environmental organization. One Planet Communities have the ambitious goal of reducing their ecological footprint by at least 80%, which (if they come close to reaching that goal) would make them some of the greenest neighborhood developments in the world. The One Planet Living program is based on 10 principles in the following categories: zero carbon, zero waste, sustainable transport, local and sustainable materials, local and sustainable food, sustainable water, natural habitats and wildlife, culture and heritage, equity and fair trade, and health and happiness.  The first North American project to be endorsed by One Planet Communities is the 200-acre Sonoma Mountain Village in Rohnert Park, California. Sonoma Mountain Village is also a LEED for Neighborhood Development project, and its Plan was recently pre-certified (Stage 1) at the LEED ND Platinum level (the highest LEED rating).

Living Building Challenge 2. Living Building Challenge: Like One Planet Communities, this is an international program that has developed deep-green standards that go beyond LEED requirements. Developed by the International Living Building Institute, this certification system can be applied to projects of any scale: from an individual building to a neighborhood or community design project.

3. LEED for Neighborhood Development : LEED ND was developed as a collaboration between the U.S. Green Building Council, the Congress for the New Urbanism, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. LEED ND integrates the principles of smart growth, urbanism, and green building into neighborhood design. It aims to promote walkable, livable communities that reduce urban sprawl, decrease automobile dependence, provide housing close to jobs and services, and benefit environmental and public health. LEED ND can be applied to developments of all sizes, and it can be applied to new developments or redevelopment projects.

LEEDLEED ND certified neighborhood developments that have been built (or are well into the construction process) include: Hoyt Yards in Portland, OR (Stage 2 Platinum certified plan); Southeast False Creek Neighbourhood / Olympic Village in Vancouver, British Columbia (Stage 2 Platinum certified), Dockside Green in Victoria, British Columbia (Stage 2 Platinum certified plan), Tassafaronga Village (which includes affordable housing) in Oakland, CA (Stage 2 Gold certified), and Solea Condominiums in Washington DC (Stage 3 Gold certified). To learn about other completed LEED ND developments, take a look at my list of LEED ND Platinum and Gold Developments in the U.S., Canada, and China. 

Miriam Landman is a sustainability advisor and writer with expertise in sustainable communities, green building, and green living practices. To learn more about her professional background and services, please visit her website: M. Landman Communications & Consulting. Also, take a look at her daily posts on The Green Spotlight page on Facebook.

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