Liv­ing green: A ‘one planet’ ethic

The Prince George Citizen - The Citizen - Real Estate Weekly - - Real Es­tate Weekly - Kim Davis for Can­west News Ser­vice

If any or­ga­ni­za­tion has a truly global vi­sion of sus­tain­abil­ity, it’s Biore­gional.

The United King­dom-based com­pany has cre­ated an ini­tia­tive called One Planet Com­mu­ni­ties. Those com­mu­ni­ties, now in place in sev­eral coun­tries, are com­mit­ted to re­duc­ing the eco­log­i­cal foot­print of their res­i­dents to a truly sus­tain­able level by 2020.

“The point of the One Planet pro­gram is to try to achieve true sus­tain­abil­ity in­stead of just a re­duc­tion in emis­sions rel­a­tive to some­thing ab­stract like build­ing codes or 1990 lev­els,” says Greg Searle, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of BioRe­gional’s North Amer­ica of­fice.

“The only real ab­so­lute that we know is that we have one planet and that there are nearly seven bil­lion of us on a lim­ited amount of bio-pro­duc­tive land. It’s a kind of global speed limit that we’re ex­ceed­ing un­safely.”

The One Planet ini­tia­tive was in­spired by BedZED, an ur­ban eco-vil­lage Biore­gional helped cre­ate in 2002 in the U.K. BedZED ended up be­ing a liv­ing lab­o­ra­tory for eco­log­i­cal liv­ing, in­spir­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of de­sign and pub­lic pol­icy, Searle says.

“The One Planet pro­gram grew out of the ob­ser­va­tion that if we could cre­ate that much change in one coun­try, just by build­ing a small demon­stra­tion project, that we ought to chal­lenge con­ven­tional ideas about sus­tain­abil­ity with larger, more am­bi­tious demon­stra­tion projects around the world.”

Searle, a Cana­dian and an Ot­tawa res­i­dent, is One Planet’s North Amer­i­can man­ager and a mem­ber of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s in­ter­na­tional steer­ing com­mit­tee.

There are now One Planet com­mu­ni­ties in Por­tu­gal, China, South Africa, the United Arab Emi­rates, Aus­tralia, and most re­cently in the U.S.: the Sonoma Moun­tain Vil­lage, or SOMO, in Rohn­ert Park, Calif., just north of San Fran­cisco.

The SOMO project has all-en­com­pass­ing sus­tain­abil­ity as its goal. Sonoma Moun­tain Vil­lage is a 200-acre, mixed-use, so­lar-pow­ered zero-waste com­mu­nity, of al­most 1,700 homes that aims to have ev­ery res­i­dent no more than a five-minute walk to gro­ceries, restau­rants, day-care and other ameni­ties of­fer­ing lo­cal and sus­tain­able prod­ucts and ser­vices.

Good in­ten­tions

When asked how the ini­tia­tive dif­fers from green-build­ing pro­grams such as LEED, and in par­tic­u­lar LEED for Neigh­bour­hood Devel­op­ment, Searle says One Planet is goal-driven rather than point-driven, but also works to in­ject sus­tain­abil­ity into ev­ery as­pect of the project. For ex­am­ple, one devel­op­ment in the U.K. not only ran a sus­tain­able can­teen for con­struc­tion work­ers, it also en­cour­aged them to bike to work.

“Just go­ing to the high­est level of a green­build­ing rat­ing sys­tem like LEED doesn’t get you out of trou­ble [with car­bon emis­sions] in the build­ing cat­e­gory, and does very lit­tle to help the waste and trans­porta­tion con­tri­bu­tions that are of­ten very sig­nif­i­cant,” he says. At last year’s Liv­ing Fu­tures Con­fer­ence, Biore­gional and SOMO de­vel­oper Cod­ding En­ter­prises pre­sented a study on the to­tal car­bon foot­print of house­holds in var­i­ous green-build­ing sce­nar­ios.

To live truly sus­tain­ably, the re­port said, U.S. house­holds would have to achieve a 75per-cent re­duc­tion in their to­tal car­bon foot­print.

The study found that even house­holds in an LEED for Neigh­bour­hood Devel­op­ment plat­inum project - the high­est rank­ing pos­si­ble - achieved only an 18-per-cent re­duc­tion. Green build­ings and smart-growth plan­ning are im­por­tant steps, says Searle, not­ing that while LEED works nicely with the One Planet pro­gram, green build­ings alone are not nearly enough.

Ris­ing to the chal­lenge

Al­ready frus­trated by the process and re­sults he was see­ing in his own LEED projects, Geof Syphers of Cod­ding En­ter­prises wel­comed the chal­lenge One Planet Com- mu­ni­ties of­fered when de­vel­op­ing the Sonoma Moun­tain Vil­lage.

“Even in the very best-case sce­nario, un­der an LEED Plat­inum project, we were only re­duc­ing CO2 emis­sions by 15 to 20 per cent rel­a­tive to the sta­tus quo,” says Syphers. “Even if we were beat­ing strin­gent codes by 40 per cent, and we’re sup­ply­ing half of the power with re­new­able en­ergy, we’re still pro­vid­ing the other half with fos­sil fu­els and caus­ing a net detri­ment to the planet.”

Syphers says the One Planet frame­work was at­trac­tive, in part, be­cause it lays out ex­actly what is needed to achieve sus­tain­abil­ity. “It makes no claim that you’ll suc­ceed,” he says, “but if you fall short, you’ll know ex­actly what the gap is and why, and then they pub­lish that widely.

Pro­gres­sive Re­port­ing

An im­por­tant tool in the One Planet pro­gram is a pub­licly avail­able an­nual au­dit. Searle

de­scribes this as­pect as par­tic­u­larly timely in light of re­cent neg­a­tive press over green build­ings found to be un­der­per­form­ing. “Mon­i­tor­ing is gen­er­ally a huge gap and it’s rare to find a real es­tate de­vel­oper that’s will­ing to take risk over a 10-year pe­riod to have their progress re­viewed. I think it makes a much bet­ter prod­uct for the con­sumer and raises the in­tegrity and cred­i­bil­ity of a project enor­mously.”

Price­less Fu­ture

Both Searle and Syphers ac­knowl­edge that they can­not con­trol the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact res­i­dents have when the de­vel­oper leaves the SOMO devel­op­ment, but when they con­sider the BedZED ex­pe­ri­ence and oth­ers, they es­ti­mate that the de­sign, plan­ning and ser­vices of the devel­op­ment with help res­i­dents re­duce their to­tal di­rect car­bon emis­sions by 83 per cent.

“My main mo­ti­va­tion is to first le­gal­ize this and en­able it,” says Syphers. From vari­ances needed to nar­row streets, to the three bills now pend­ing to ex­pand so­lar ap­pli­ca­tions, Sonoma Moun­tain Vil­lage’s great­est im­pact, like BedZED’s, could well be in forg­ing the way for oth­ers.

Canwest photo

An artist's ren­der­ing of a sin­gle fam­ily home at Sonoma Moun­tain Vil­lage in Rohn­ert Park, Calif., north of San Fran­cisco. The de­vel­op­ment is a 200-acre, mixed-use, so­lar-pow­ered zero-waste com­mu­nity of al­most 1,700 homes that aims to lo­cate ev­ery...

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