Ask the Expert: Pros and cons of a sustainable community

| by Teena Hammond
Ask the Expert: Pros and cons of a sustainable community

Sustainable communities offer the benefits of living in a green home within a neighborhood filled with like-minded residents. ProudGreenHome turned to its Approved Contributing Experts, also known as ACEs, to find out about such a community.

ProudGreenHome:What are the pros and cons of a sustainable community?

Ted Clifton, founder of Zero-Energy Plans LLC and CVH Inc:

There are no drawbacks to living in a sustainable community. Even the cost to develop the community will be less, if it is done right, with a government who understands the process.

Think about the pros, and try to imagine how there could be any cons:

  1. You will be able to walk to work, to school, to most shopping. This does not mean that you cannot drive, (in case it is pouring rain, or blowing snow, etc.), just that the distances will be close enough that you can walk. Doing so often will lead to a healthier lifestyle.
  2. Storm water will be infiltrated on-site, and even the streets will be designed to shed water to an adjacent infiltration trench (grassy swale or rain garden), so there will be no problems from autumn leaves or excessive snowfall plugging storm drains. This means fewer soggy feet, and less time maintaining the systems adjacent to your house.
  3. Fewer automobile travel miles will result in less pollution in your neighborhood air. Air moves about rather freely, so this will not prevent you from getting a dose of nearby traditional neighborhood pollution, but the worst air pollution concentrations occur when there is little or no wind, so a sustainable community will benefit directly in those times.
  4. What pollution does migrate into a sustainable community is likely to be eaten up by trees, plants and shrubs. Plant life removes carbon dioxide from the air and replaces it with oxygen, and sustainable communities are typically designed with a larger percentage of plants, trees and shrubs than non-green communities.
  5. If the individual homes are also sustainable, the entire community can live a carbon-free lifestyle. The homes we are designing today are very easy to get to net zero energy using a relatively small number of solar panels. We can power our cars using the electricity generated from the extra solar panels on our roof. Electric cars are beginning to come onto our U.S. market that are very much like the cars we have been driving every day for the last couple of decades. The mileage between charges are very compatible with needs in a sustainable community. The cost of powering a car with electricity is far less than the cost of gasoline.

Where is the rub? There simply is none! The drawback to developers is that many government regulatory bodies have not yet embraced low-impact development standards. This can make it more difficult to get such a project through the permitting process. We need to get regulation out of the way of progress!

Jessica Reilly, marketing and client services manager at Closed Loop Recycling and Green Stream Chemicals:

Who wouldn't want a successful community?

Every community has their specific goals and initiatives to work towards on a continual basis in order to achieve success. But there may be one thing that's missing: Sustainability.

Sustainability can be defined as:

  1. The ability to be sustained, supported, upheld or confirmed.
  2. Environmental science — the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance. The committee is developing sustainability standards for products that use energy.

In order for a community to thrive and survive, it needs sustainability. This all depends on the environmental and economic health and the social equity of the community and getting those community members engaged in the planning and implementation of the sustainability plan. The communities who follow this plan and develop approaches for a more sustainable future are more successful.

It gets them thinking about all facets of their community and the problems or concerns that are apparent in everyday life. Many of the different parts of their community or system play integral roles within one another. For instance, education, health and housing go hand in hand because they are all vital to the citizens of the community. Transportation, job creation and energy use are used and needed by these members every single day. To not support these issues is to be unsuccessful.

So what is a community to do?

Develop a plan, make a goal and create opportunities for your citizens to get involved. Assign specific roles to key indicators so they can evaluate the progress of your plan, goals and opportunities. Display a collective vision for your community showing exactly what you define success as. Make sure these key ideas and principles are instilled in your members so that are on display at all times. Have defined, measurable goals, and, lastly, celebrate your success!

Sustainability, and moreover success, does not come overnight. There will need to be a continual push toward improvement so that members make the changes to meet their goals. The results you see will make your community more livable, safer, greener and an all-around great place to be.

For more information, see our Sustainable Communities research center.

Topics: Sustainable Communities

Teena Hammond
Teena Hammond has published more than 2,000 articles in People and W magazines, Women's Wear Daily, and in dozens of newspapers and books. She also wrote a home improvement, remodeling and decor column that ran in Gannett newspapers nationwide. She's interested in all things green and would love to hear from you with your story ideas.

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