The Sustainable by Design Challenge

16 11 2009

A recent article by Ajay Garde has been published in the October 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association). The article describes a study and analysis of projects that applied for 2007 LEED-ND pilot program certification. LEED-ND is a rating system written collaboratively by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to promote sustainable development patterns and practices. The following is an excerpt from a JAPA press release:

According to author Ajay Garde, the LEED-ND committee has taken “the technical credentials of LEED and the criteria of New Urbanism for neighborhood design and created LEED-ND.” This approach may undermine the use of green criteria, as developers may focus on New Urbanist criteria instead. These drawbacks mean that LEED-ND is suitable as a supplement to, but not as a replacement for, local planning for sustainability that considers projects on a case-by-case basis within the local context.

My interpretation of Mr. Garde’s article is that LEED-ND is a great start, but it may not be the only answer to ensuring the absolute best development practices. Likewise, typical Best Management Practices (BMPs) for stormwater quality alone within a sprawl setting do not necessarily equal the best solution for a sustainable future…but they too are a good start.

One of the conclusions in the study suggests that LEED-ND certification is weighted more heavily for projects based on their location, layout and density with less emphasis on green infrastructure and technology. Mr. Garde suggests “that more points should be awarded for criteria such as solar orientation, onsite renewable energy sources, and other criteria from the green construction and technology category that contribute to energy and water efficiency.” I agree. Couldn’t we have well designed projects in appropriate locations that incorporate green infrastructure and technology?

Often in the real estate business, developers will look for the proverbial low-hanging fruit. If a developer can attain LEED-ND certification by Smart Location & Linkage and Neighborhood Pattern & Design with minimal emphasis on Green Infrastructure & Building, it’s probably safe to assume many will choose that route. Development costs vs. value and profit (short term vs. long term) are considered. Government regulations and entitlements are also a part of the equation.

LEED-ND is a voluntary and market-driven rating system. If a developer has a choice of developing in an urban area with more regulations but the incentive (faster approval times, increased density, etc.) of attaining LEED-ND certification or higher vs. developing in a suburban area with less regulation, which will they choose? This will continue to play out as the economy recovers.

How do government officials and agencies, planners and non-profits create either market-driven incentives, government regulations or a combination of both to ensure future development is as sustainable as possible in terms of social aspects, economics, and the balance between natural and man-made environments?

These are the questions and this is the challenge moving forward, but it’s comforting to know that progress is being made every day.

-Brian Hudson