The Ecology of Sustainable Design
Everyone loves sustainable design—in theory.
However, specific sustainable design projects are often resisted due to one popularly held misperception, the mistaken belief that sustainable design increases project development costs.
True sustainable design will always reduce costs over the life of the project and for the community at large. That's always, as in always.
So why does sustainable design get a bad rap? That’s because true sustainable design is seldom proposed.
There are four hallmarks to true sustainable design:
1. The Community.
2. The Local Economy
3. Energy Costs and
4. The Environment
Omit any one of these considerations from a large or small transportation, water/wastewater, stormwater management, housing development, retail development, or school construction project and you do not have a true sustainable design project.
So while everyone supports sustainability, the fact is that community initiatives, strategies, plans and assessments often fail to include all four components of a sustainable design project.
Very often one or even two of these considerations drive a project--the economy, or the environment or energy costs and the community. The overlap of interests common among the economy, the community, the environment, and energy is where the project’s sustainability exists.
Many communities take on the laudable task of infilling and working to strengthen the community and support economic development.
But how many of our communities design these projects with low-impact development design standards?
Are we using clean energy to build them?
Are we using pervious pavement in order to minimize stormwater runoff?
Are we building green buildings and sites?
Will the projects provide jobs for local residents?
Are low maintenance materials being installed, particularly for those things that will need to be maintained by the municipality?
What can we do to ensure these projects are not a financial drain on the public or private owner?
It isn’t complicated. We have to condition ourselves to think sustainability by evaluating the proposed project’s effect upon the community, the economy, the environment, and energy usage. A holistic approach to sustainability strengthens communities by ensuring all four criteria for a sustainable project are satisfied.
If it’s not sustainable, why build it?
Brian Funkhouser, PE