Green communities


The terms green community, eco-community, and eco-village refer to communities founded, in part, on the principles of sustainability (where humans replenish the natural resources they use at the same rate those resources are used). Green communities often use strategies to either reduce their environmental footprints, or to reduce their negative impact on the surrounding environment. These communities often use renewable energy sources (energy that is replenished by nature) such as solar power; they may also create compact buildings that are constructed with environmentally friendly materials, they may offer alternative transportation options, and they often make an effort to preserve open space.

Green communities may follow the particular environmental beliefs of a founding member, other members, or another philosopher. Green communities, though, are not to be confused with communes. Both communes and green communities share resources, but a commune's guiding philosophy may take many forms and is not necessarily based on principles of sustainability. A green community may combine a desire to protect the environment with strategies for improving the physical and mental health of its residents and its economic survival. It may also support many cultures and the principle of equality among its residents, regardless of race, gender, or age.

The idea of living in harmony with nature is not a new one. For many centuries, communities as a whole had to conserve their resources and protect their surrounding environments in order to survive. Fertile soil, clean air, and clean water were necessary for a healthy existence.

Technology has changed the way in which people interact with the environment. Modern forms of transportation, housing, and the need to find food have all put constraints on the planet's resources and polluted the environment, negatively affecting public health.

Electricity generation, heat supply, and transportation may be enhanced by renewable technologies. Green communities strive to marry the latest technological advances with the concept of sustainability to create longer-lasting communities.

In the 1960s, the environmental movement grew out of the public's awareness of humans' impact on the environment. In 1962, Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring, illustrated the dangers of pesticides. In 1969, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed to protect human health and the environment. The creation of the EPA was followed by legislation to prevent air and water pollution and to protect endangered species (a group of organisms that is few in number). The environmental movement grew as various environmental and public health disasters demonstrated humans' negative impact on the environment. Examples of these environmental and public health disasters include the near meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear facility in Pennsylvania and the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

After World War II, a growing number of communities were no longer exclusively rural or urban; a "suburban" classification was created to fill the gap. The growth of suburbia caused residential areas, schools, commerce, and shopping districts to be spread farther apart. Road-building projects increased, as more automobiles were needed to drive to and from suburban communities. The number of walking and biking paths decreased.

Environmental sensitivity and the growth of suburban sprawl (a community that is spread out over a large area, located outside of a city) caused some community activists to consider creating a new type of community: one that would be close-knit and would limit its impact on the environment.

The first green community in the United States was reportedly created in 1970, in the desert 70 miles north of Phoenix, Arizona. The still-viable Arcosanti community, as it is called, is based on the concepts of Paolo Soleri, an architect who believes that man-made buildings, the natural environment, people, and other living beings interact like the organs of a body. Soleri created "arcology," a blending of the concepts of building design with the study of the environment; it encourages people to use resources wisely within their surroundings.

Construction in the overall Arcosanti community is not yet finished, although many buildings in the community have been completed. In its final configuration, the community will maximize open space by occupying 25 acres on a 4,060-acre land preserve. Like many green communities, Arcosanti will offer its 5,000 residents a range of services, including residential, commercial, and cultural spaces. The community reduces its environmental impact by storing heat in greenhouses and by constructing compact buildings.

The term eco-village was coined in 1990 by Joan Bokaer during A Global Walk for a Livable World; this walking event was a hundred-person trek from Los Angeles to New York City to raise awareness about environmental issues. Bokaer believed that an eco-village should combat the growing isolation that human beings experience, and that it should also take a stand against environmentally-destructive practices. An eco-village would address these issues by creating a close-knit community based on a mutual concern for the environment. In 1991, Bokaer and others began development of the EcoVillage at Ithaca, an ecologically-friendly community in Ithaca, New York.

Also in 1991, Robert Gillman, an astrophysicist and founder of the Context Institute, a non-governmental organization that focuses on sustainability, published an article entitled "The Eco-village Challenge." He defined an eco-village as a human-scale community that offers its residents many services. ("Human-scale" refers to the number of people living in the community who are able to influence the community's direction.) An eco-village's residents are harmlessly integrated into the environment in a way that indefinitely supports the community's development. Gillman states that the ideal community should consist of no more than 500 people.

According to the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), a group that provides support and resources for eco-villages, there are 11,000 green communities in Sri Lanka, and 350 in Senegal. Communities are also located in Tibet, southern India, Italy, Austria, and Brazil. The Ecovillage Network of the Americas (ENA) is the GEN's western hemisphere division. ENA's database of eco-villages lists 435 member communities in North, Central, and South America. According to GEN, 104 eco-villages are located in the United States. Examples of green communities in the United States include the EarthArt Village in Elk, Washington, the Oak Village Commons in Austin, Texas, the Fuller Brook Eco-Community in Kittery, Maine, and the Sweet Pond Eco Community in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Many non-profit corporations, government programs, and experts in sustainability provide information and resources for established green communities, or for individuals wanting to start a green community. These supporting organizations include GEN, Gaia Trust in Denmark, the U.S. Green Building Council, Congress for New Urbanism, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the EPA, and Smart Growth Network, among others. The area of Manhattan in New York City, New York, may be considered to be one of the greenest communities in the United States. A typical Manhattan resident's carbon footprint is reported to be 30% smaller than the average American's. (A carbon footprint is the totality of greenhouse gas emissions that are created by any one person, group, or product.) Housing and other structures in Manhattan are compact, many people use public transportation, there are a variety of parks and many species of animals, and the area gives off a relatively small amount of polluting gases (such as carbon dioxide), into the atmosphere.


General: The steps taken to create a green community vary, depending on the vision and goals of the developers or founders. Green communities focus on reducing their impact on the environment by constructing buildings that are compact and use less energy, by protecting natural resources such as grasslands and trees, and by encouraging residents to use public transportation. These communities may also work toward social equality and improved physical and mental health for their residents. Abandoned buildings may be used for other purposes, instead of being demolished. Financial survival may also be important, with communities encouraging fiscal growth that can be sustained over a long period of time.

Land use: Conventional zoning regulations focus on land development and not on conserving open spaces. Many suburban communities (communities that are located outside of a city that ranges over a large area) consist of subdivisions, with zoning regulations often requiring nothing more than plots of land for houses and streets. Under conventional zoning, towns can be transformed into wall-to-wall subdivisions.

Open space zoning: Open space zoning requires that residences or commercial buildings be constructed on about half of a plot of land. The rest of the land may become protected conservation land, depending on the specific regulations of the town, city, or state in question. Open space zoning allows for development, but also encourages land preservation. If the open space is recreational (e.g., it contains playing fields, jogging trails, or tennis courts), maintenance is typically handled by a homeowners' association. When purchasing homes in these open space areas, homeowners sign contracts agreeing to pay maintenance costs.

Cluster housing: Cluster development involves the grouping of houses together in one area; it leaves some open space for natural grasslands, or for common areas, such as walking paths. Cluster housing is created in the form of multi-family residences, such as townhouses, apartments, and condominiums (buildings where each apartment or unit is owned by an individual). It may also resemble a traditional village, with detached, single-family homes set on individual plots of land. Clustering creates larger open spaces that may be used for agriculture, recreation, or conservation. It also requires shorter roads, sewer systems, and water lines because homes are set closer together.

Building design: Green communities employ green building strategies when constructing commercial and residential facilities. Green buildings reduce reliance on fossil fuels for heating and cooling by using renewable energy sources (such as solar power), and through the use of adequate insulation and ventilation. Construction materials are often salvaged (saved from disposal in a landfill or other waste facility), recycled (reusing materials for the same or another purpose), or sustainable (resources are replenished at the same rate in which they are used). Waste is minimized during construction by reusing materials, by using fewer types of materials, by cutting materials more efficiently to reduce scraps, and by relying less on glues and finishes that are packed in wasteful containers. Energy and water-saving appliances and fixtures are installed. Drought-tolerant plants and other water-saving practices are used in landscaping (landscaping involves changing an area of land through the installation of plants and trees, and through the use of other materials). Native plants are often used, because they have adapted to the climate and the soil of the area; they will therefore require less maintenance.

Solar heating and cooling: Buildings may be renovated or built to maximize the use of solar energy (light and heat used directly from the sun), to power the heating and cooling of spaces in buildings, and the heating of water. The ceilings, walls, and floors of a building or home may be designed to maximize the collection, storage, and distribution of solar energy. Houses are constructed to face the sun, receiving maximum sunlight during the day; this technique provides for natural sources of light, and for heat during cooler seasons. Most solar designs incorporate shade trees and awnings (overhangs), offering protection from the heat in summer. The proper orientation of windows and skylights may also replace indoor lighting with natural sunlight. Buildings or homes may be partially or entirely heated by solar energy, depending on the design. Photovoltaic (PV) panels that directly convert solar energy to electricity may also be installed on rooftops, providing additional power for heating and cooling systems.

Energy efficiency: Energy Star© is a program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE); it rates the energy efficiency of many appliances and building materials. Doors, light fixtures, windows, refrigerators, clothes washers and dryers, range tops, ovens, and skylights are examples of Energy Star©-rated items. These items require less energy to operate.

Construction waste: According to the non-profit corporation Build It Green, the construction of an average 2,000-square-foot house produces about 7,000 pounds of waste. It is possible for much of this waste to be recycled, reused, or minimized, with better management of the building process.

Construction materials: The availability of many recycled or sustainable building materials helps to reduce the amount of materials disposed of in landfills or other waste facilities. Waste, such as lumber, flooring, and millwork from other construction sites, is often reused. The Forest Stewardship Council certifies wood products that are not harvested from old-growth forests; old-growth forests contain mainly large, old trees that are difficult to replace, because they take a long time to grow. Some wood products are engineered, reducing the need for tree harvesting. Renewable products (materials made from trees and plants that grow quickly and can be easily replaced) used for flooring include cork, bamboo, linoleum, and natural fiber carpet. Recycled decks are made from recycled plastic mixed with wood fibers. Other recycled materials may be used to make ceramic or glass tiles or countertops. Residue ("flyash") from coal-fired power plants is recycled by mixing it with concrete. Lumber use may be reduced when advanced framing techniques (i.e., methods for erecting the frame of a house) are employed by builders. If materials for construction projects are purchased from local sources, it cuts down on the amount of energy expended to transport the items.

Water conservation: Low-flush toilets, low-flow showers and bath fixtures, and pressure-reducing valves reduce the amount of water a household or building consumes. Outdoor water use may be reduced by landscaping with plants that require less water, by grouping plants with similar water requirements or by letting grass grow taller to promote water retention in the soil. Cycle irrigation, which involves irrigating smaller areas of land for a shorter period of time in a cycle, helps improve water penetration by giving plants the right amount of water at the best time. Low-precipitation sprinklers deliver water at a lower pressure; they allow for deeper saturation of the soil, more uniform distribution, and irrigation of a larger area with the same amount of water, applied less frequently. Bubbler or soaker systems, and other drip irrigation systems, also deliver water at a slower rate, improving penetration. Xeriscape is an example of a type of landscaping that conserves water; it includes mulching to prevent water from evaporating from the soil. Green buildings may reuse wastewater (also called greywater) from kitchen sinks and bathtubs, and for outdoor uses such as landscaping and gardening. Greywater contains fewer bacteria and microbes than blackwater (waste toilet water); it can therefore be reused for other purposes, such as providing tank water for toilets.

Transportation: Green communities may offer a variety of transportation options for their residents. Providing alternative transportation choices reduces reliance on automobiles, while also reducing the total volume of vehicle emissions; in addition, it encourages residents to increase their levels of physical activity by walking instead of driving. Green communities often feature sidewalks to encourage residents to walk. Green communities may promote biking by creating clearly-marked bike baths and by providing bike racks (a rail on which to chain a bike to prevent theft) in various locations. Some communities are situated near local public transit systems such as subways, bus lines, and commuter rails, which may reduce the use of personal automobiles. Many green communities also work with local transit officials to bring public transportation closer to their neighborhoods. Providing adequate methods of transportation for all members of the community, such as the elderly, disabled, and children, is often considered.

Street design may impact automobile use and the ease of walking within the community. Efficient street planning increases the connectivity of residences with businesses, schools, religious, spiritual, or philosophical centers, and other areas of interest; it also decreases the length of time spent in commuting. Homes and businesses that are closely situated may be connected much more easily with public transportation systems.

Repurposing: Repurposing is the use of abandoned buildings for new purposes, as opposed to demolition of the structures. In many rural and urban communities, there are buildings or plots of land that are not in use. Repurposing either utilizes these existing buildings or allows for the construction of more eco-friendly structures; the cleaning-up of contaminated or polluted areas may be included in the process. Brownfields are property sites or buildings that are contaminated or polluted, possibly by the actions of the previous owners. Two possible examples of brownfields might include a manufacturing facility that pollutes the surrounding soil and water and is subsequently abandoned, or an auto body shop employing chemicals that pollute the soil and water around the building. These pollutants may not have been removed before the buildings' owners vacated the property. Greyfields are uncontaminated properties that are no longer in use, with buildings that may be in need of repair.

Government programs: Several local and federal government agencies support the construction and sustainable growth of green communities. Examples of these programs include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Green Community Program and Smart Growth Program. Support may come in the form of funding, technical assistance, information, and partnerships. These programs may also provide step-by-step planning for communities interested in protecting the environment.

Green Community Program: The EPA Green Community Program provides assistance for communities interested in reducing their environmental impact; it offers tools to help communities protect the environment, grow in a sustainable manner, and establish partnerships with similar groups. Like many other community planning toolkits, the Green Community Program encourages participants to set clear goals based on relevant information about the community.

Program principles: According to the EPA's Green Community program, a green community is based on environmental, social, and economic survival. A green community reaches out to and involves the community as a whole; it creates systems of education and healthcare that are available to all members, it crafts efficient infrastructure and transportation systems, and it establishes safe neighborhoods. A green community promotes affordable housing, economic equality, and sustainable businesses. It strives for environmental conservation by adhering to local and federal regulations, by preventing pollution, and through the conservation of natural resources.

Smart Growth program: The EPA's Smart Growth program helps communities grow sustainably, in a system where resources are replaced at the same rate at which those resources are consumed. The Smart Growth program also strengthens the local economy and encourages many types and ages of people to live in the area. The EPA provides technical assistance, tools, partnerships, and funding to communities that are interested in implementing the program. According to the EPA, Smart Growth helps improve environmental conservation: It reduces pollution from automobiles by facilitating alternative transportation choices (e.g., by providing public transit options, or building sidewalks for walking); it protects environmentally-sensitive areas, parks and open spaces; it reduces water pollution, and it also promotes brownfield redevelopment.

Technical assistance and tools: The EPA's Smart Growth Implementation Assistance (SGIA) Program provides information and resources to communities interested in framing their communities around Smart Growth principles. The SGIA program is designed to help districts put Smart Growth programs in place; it understand barriers to this type of development and provides models of Smart Growth projects to encourage the development of other communities. Local, regional, and tribal governments and non-profit corporations interested in integrating Smart Growth principles into their communities apply annually for the SGIA program. Communities chosen to participate in the program receive technical assistance tailored to their needs, either through the analysis of policies that affect development (such as transportation regulations and where schools can be located) or through processes that require public participation. The analysis is considered complete after a visit to the community and compilation of a final report.

Healthy communities: According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a healthy community builds residences, businesses, schools, and religious, spiritual, or philosophical centers close to each other, in order to reduce the need for automobiles. This type of community design increases physical activity, reduces vehicle emissions, and creates a society that adapts to the changing needs of the elderly so that they may remain in the community. It provides services, such as healthcare for the elderly. It also allows for increased social connections to support the mental and physical health of its residents.

Community planning: Many resources are available through government agencies, non-profit corporations, and associations to assist existing or newly-formed green communities. There are typically five steps to creating a green community, as outlined by the EPA's Green Community program: 1) community assessment, 2) trend analysis, 3) overall vision, 4) action plan, and 5) implementation. Proper planning ensures that a community will have a strong economy and will be able to reduce its impact on the environment.

Participants: Successfully evaluating the community's present conditions, and setting goals for the future, requires the participation of a broad section of the community, as well as local experts knowledgeable in a variety of areas. Participants might include government officials, unions, owners of environmentally-significant properties, local businesses dependent on natural resources, and environmental organizations. Representatives from a broad section of the community participate at every stage of the process.

Community assessment: Creating a community profile involves gathering information about the community's boundaries, values, and economic conditions. An evaluation of the community's public facilities, natural and man-made resources, social issues and infrastructure (the buildings, roads, water supplies and all other systems that support a community) is also included in the profile

Gathering information: A community assessment looks at a community's assets and liabilities; liabilities are areas that may pose a threat to the environment, quality of life of the community's residents, and its economy. Natural and cultural resources, public facilities, historic lands, environmental regulations and risks, social and demographic characteristics, and economic conditions are all investigated. Together, this information provides a picture of the community's current conditions.

Community boundaries: Once all relevant parties are involved in the process, the planning area boundary is considered. The boundary focuses on the area of interest and ensures that only needed data is collected. Planning-area boundaries may not necessarily follow political or geographical boundaries; they take into account environmental or other factors outside the community's traditional boundaries that may affect residents in the area. County, floodplain, wetland, and topographic maps provide useful information in planning boundaries (topographic maps show the natural features of the region, such as mountains and rivers).

Trend analysis: Trend analysis predicts the future of a community, based on information collected about its current conditions. It projects the current trends over time, analyzing how the use of the land, its natural resources, population, and the economy may change in the future. A team of experts creates a clearly-written report; this report details socioeconomic, environmental, civic participation, and sustainability trends which, taken together, create a probable scenario for the community's future.

Vision statement: While trend analysis illustrates where a community is headed based on current conditions, a community's vision statement demonstrates where it would like to be in the future. Representatives reflecting the community's demographics brainstorm about the values and interests of the community as a whole. This team proposes several possible future scenarios for the community, reflecting its values, and representing sustainable trends for the community's economy, environmental resources, and social well-being. Communities may consider how they would like transportation, taxes, open space, water supply, and human health to change when developing their vision statement.

Action plan: An action plan translates the vision statement into a set of short-term and long-term action items for the community. Different committees are created to address major items in the vision statement, such as land use, pollution prevention, recycling, transportation, energy conservation, and human health. Each of the committees is structured to promote goal setting; groups identify their human, data, and communication resources, appoint a team leader, and create an action plan. The community creates a checklist of what is needed to accomplish the short- and long-term goals of the community's action plan; this checklist may include listings of resources, obstacles, sources of support, funding, and stakeholders in the process. The action plan determines which projects may be tackled right away and which will require more time to put in place.

Implementation: Implementing a community's action plan requires a wide range of resources and expertise. It generally involves keeping the community involved and excited about the process, prioritizing projects, and securing funding to help ensure successful implementation. Building short-term successes into the plan's implementation may help increase community participation. Federal and local governments offer a variety of options: For example, they may provide regulatory, technical, and financial tools to assist in the implementation of a community's action plan, covering environmental, transportation, and economic issues.

Disadvantages of green communities: Green communities have some disadvantages. They may require extensive planning, development, and the participation of many people living in and around the area where the community will be located. It may take many years to gather the necessary information and people to complete the planning process. For example, the Arcosanti community in Arizona was started more than 40 years ago and is not yet complete. Also, the initial costs of using renewable building materials, energy sources, and water supply systems may be high.


General: Green communities focus on reducing their impact on the surrounding environment and on their consumption of natural resources. They have grown out of the principles of the environmental movement and from peoples' desire to combat suburban sprawl (communities that are spread out over great distances) by creating closer-knit communities. Since the 1990s, organizations, programs, funding sources, renewable technologies and the philosophies supporting green communities have increased and advanced. (Renewable technologies are those that conserve energy and reduce waste, such as solar power systems.) Building a successful green community requires a holistic approach to community planning, supported by scientific, political, and social improvements.

Many international resources committed to environmental protection support the development of ideas and technologies that may be applied to green community planning and design. The Kyoto protocol, a 1992 international agreement designed to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, has been adopted by 183 states and countries as of 2008. Several government agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), may act to understand and protect the environment and public health. The World Health Organization (WHO), an agency of the United Nations, supports projects that involve understanding the impact of pollution-producing industries, as well as the impact of practices that are detrimental to the environment and public health.

Technological advances: Since the energy crisis of the 1970s, individuals, agencies, and companies have searched for viable alternatives to nonrenewable (resources that cannot be replaced) polluting energy sources. More recently, higher fossil fuel prices and increased interest in protecting the environment has driven the development and steady growth of new, renewable technologies and the industry in general. Researchers have looked into natural resources such as sunlight, wind, and water to help solve the world's energy problems; for example, solar power technologies have been developed that heat water, heat and cool air, and generate electricity. Wind farms and hydroelectric power plants may replace existing fossil-fuel plants. Energy produced by the power of moving water (i.e., hydropower) may be used to create electricity. However, hydropower also threatens or disrupts some fish populations, ecosystems, and communities. Renewable technologies may be used in combination with each other to increase efficiency. A number of energy-efficient items for residences and businesses are available; products include compact fluorescent light-bulbs and energy-efficient appliances. These newer technologies may now be more accessible to the consumer, due to government incentives that have reduced their cost.

Philosophies: Green communities reflect the philosophies of their founders and residents, their mission statements, partnerships, unique characteristics, and funding sources. Many of these communities' foundational beliefs, though, are similar; in addition to environmental sensitivity, they often push for social equality, economic stability, and the improvement of public health. The first green communities to be established are often seen as models whose principles are adjusted to meet the needs of newer communities. Organizations, government agencies, individuals, and communities share ideas more readily via the Internet. Overall, the philosophies and resources of green communities continue to mature.

Ecovillages: The first green communities were established using the philosophies set out by Robert Gillman in his article entitled "The Eco-village Challenge." He defined an eco-village as having five parameters: 1) an eco-village is human-scale, meaning that every resident may be able to influence what happens in the community. Gillman argues that the limit for a human-scale community is typically 500 people; 2) it is a full-featured settlement in which many aspects of life, such as housing, food procurement, social interaction, recreation, manufacture, and commerce, are available in balanced proportions; 3) the ecovillage is not self-contained. Ideally, it will be connected to surrounding communities through commerce and need and harmlessly integrated into the environment; resources are reused; 4) an ecovillage supports healthy human development by caring for its residents' physical and emotional needs, as well as its mental and spiritual well-being; and 5) it is sustainable (resources are replaced at the same rate at which they are consumed) and it may continue successfully for an indefinite period of time.

Smart Growth: Some community development plans combine concepts in protecting the environment, developing a strong economy, and encouraging many types and ages of people to live in the community. Instead of discouraging the growth of communities, the concept of "Smart Growth" encourages communities to grow in a way that may continue over a long period of time. By using resources wisely and supporting practices that protect the environment, it is possible for a green community to steadily grow. Residents are encouraged to take part in making their communities better. Supporters of Smart Growth say their communities have strong economies that are able to successfully compete with others; these groups are attractive to homeowners and businesses because residents actively participate in the community.

Principles: The Smart Growth Network, created in 1996, states that Smart Growth communities are walkable, collaborative, environmentally sensitive, and have their own unique characteristics. They provide housing, transportation and land use options, make fair development decisions, and construct compact buildings.

Healthy living: According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the relationship between people and the environment has a profound impact on public health. The CDC defines a healthy community as one that promotes the health and safety of all members of the community, whether they live or work there. Healthy communities perpetuate healthy living among their members by preventing violence, by reducing the effects of climate change that negatively impact health, and by providing health education and medical services. They preserve water, food, and air quality through proper waste disposal and protection from hazards; they also encourage the development of man-made environments, such as buildings that promote healthy behaviors and social connectedness.

Healthy design: In 2002, the American Planning Association defined healthy communities as following six design elements: They create a sense of community, preserve cultural and natural resources, distribute costs equally among all residents, offer a range of housing, employment, and transportation options, use resources in a way that they can be replaced, and promote public health.

Funding: Funding for green communities has increased since the early 1990s. Local and federal government agencies, non-profit corporations, other businesses, and private individuals have invested in different aspects of green community design; their investments have been in the areas of: planning, including alternative transportation; managing waterways, such as rivers in the area; stormwater reduction; sustainable agriculture; recycling; cultural heritage; brownfield development (using abandoned buildings for new purposes, as opposed to demolishing them); and energy conservation. Funders may support a specific issue such as pollution prevention, or a philosophy such as Smart Growth.

Smart Growth funding: The EPA's Smart Growth program regularly posts a request for grant proposals from groups that are interested in starting a Smart Growth project. Past grants have funded the development and maintenance of the Smart Growth Network's web site, as well as a proposal to educate policy makers on the barriers to the redevelopment of vacant and abandoned properties. The EPA's program also offers information on national, regional, state, and local funding opportunities in housing, community development, green building design, energy, land preservation, water quality, the environment, and transportation.

Award for Smart Growth Achievement: The EPA's National Award for Smart Growth Achievement is open to both the public and private sectors; it acknowledges communities or entities that have achieved excellence in implementing Smart Growth principles. Awards are given in five categories: built projects, policies and regulations, green building, streets, and overall excellence.

Overall Excellence: This category awards comprehensive implementation of Smart Growth principles with broad community participation at the level of the neighborhood, county, or region.

Built projects: This award is given to a completed or nearly-completed project, supported by public money or other incentives that use Smart Growth principles; these principles include compact building design and mixed-income residences (homes or buildings that support both lower- and higher-income residents).

Policies and regulations: Communities that encourage Smart Growth by offering incentives and eliminating barriers and have effective policies and regulations in place, receive an award for this category.

Green Building: Green building minimizes the environmental impact of a structure by using environmentally-friendly materials and renewable energy sources, effectively reducing energy consumption. This category also recognizes places that offer alternative transportation choices, such as bike paths.

Streets: This award focuses on new or existing streets that have been modified according to Smart Growth principles. Streets are recognized if they promote compact communities (communities that are not spread out over large distances), if they reduce pollution with the addition of landscaping (e.g., to prevent stormwater from running into water sources), and if they promote neighborhood walkability.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED): In 1994, senior scientist Robert K. Watson of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) helped to launch LEED. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED is a Green Building Rating SystemTM that provides standards for environmentally-sustainable construction. Compared to conventional buildings, LEED-certified buildings usually use resources in a more efficient way; these buildings may help increase the health, comfort, and productivity of its inhabitants. Starting costs for design and construction may be higher than usual when LEED certification is used. However, higher starting costs may be offset by cost savings over time, because of lower costs of operation. International LEED-inspired organizations include the GB Evaluation standard for green building (China), Deutsche Gesellschaft f©r Nachhaltiges Bauen (Germany), Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (India), SI-5281 (Israel), Comprehensive Assessment System for Built Environment Efficiency (Japan), Green Mark and Construction Quality Assessment System (Singapore), Estidama (United Arab Emirates), and many more. LEED awards given by the U.S. Green Building Council may be considered one of the highest public honors awarded to models of green building.


General: In theory, green communities provide a healthy environment for residents. A green community supports the physical, social, and psychological well-being of its residents. It also focuses on protecting the environment, including the reduction of pollution and the conservation of natural resources.

Physical activity: The 1996 U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health encourages 30 minutes of daily physical activity to improve overall health, and to help prevent depression, weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a healthy community promotes physical activity. By providing easy access to sidewalks and by building residences close together, green communities encourage their residents to walk from place to place, helping to reduce the use of cars.

Recent evidence suggests that people living in communities that are well-connected, that have mixed land use, and that are densely populated, may have higher rates of walking and biking than other neighborhoods.

Other evidence suggests that walking to and from public transportation provides greater than or equal to 30 minutes of daily physical activity. The researchers concluded that increased access to public transit helps people meet the CDC and other health agencies' recommendations for physical activity and health.

Environmental management: Green communities are designed to reduce their impact on the environment. In an effort to protect the environment, green communities adhere to local, federal, or other environmental standards and regulations, in order to prevent pollution and conserve natural resources.

Water conservation: A three-person household may reduce its water use by 54,000 gallons a year and reduce its water bills by $60 a year by using more water-efficient fixtures. More than 4.8 billion gallons of water are flushed down toilets in the United States each day. Conventional toilets use three and a half to five gallons of water per flush, whereas low-flush models use 1.6 gallons. Installing low-flush toilets may reduce water use in a three-person household by 34%. A family of four may cut their water use by 20,000 gallons annually by installing low-flow showerheads; these showerheads release two and a half gallons of water per minute, as opposed to conventional showerheads that release four and a half gallons of water per minute.

Environmental preservation: Compact development (building on a smaller plot of land) and open space preservation can help protect water quality by reducing the amount of paved surfaces (such as asphalt roads and concrete sidewalks) and by allowing natural lands to filter rainwater and runoff before it reaches drinking-water supplies. Also called nonpoint source pollution, runoff occurs when water from irrigation, rainfall, or snowmelt washes pollutants and sediment into surrounding bodies of water. Runoff from developed areas often contains toxic chemicals, phosphorus and nitrogen. In the United States, runoff from developed areas is the second most common source of water pollution for bodies of water near oceans; it is the third most common source of pollution for lakes, and the fourth most common for rivers. Runoff also causes erosion of soil and habitat destruction.

A 2000 study in New Jersey reported that compact development patterns reduce water pollution by 40%, as opposed to more dispersed development.

Energy conservation and air pollution: Green communities reduce their reliance on fossil fuels in a number of ways. Renewable energy sources (energy that can be renewed and replaced) such as solar power, replace electricity generated by fossil fuel plants. Energy-efficient buildings, appliances, windows and doors reduce electricity needs. The combination of better building design that maximizes solar energy usage, proper insulation, and energy-efficient appliances may reduce energy use by 60-80%. Better walkability, bike paths, and access to public transit systems also reduce reliance on automobiles, decreasing air pollution from vehicle emissions and fossil fuel requirements.

A 2005 study found that Seattle residents living in neighborhoods with mixed land use (land used for many purposes such as transportation, housing and businesses) and with well-connected streets, decreased their vehicle travel miles by 26%, as opposed to people living in neighborhoods that were more spread out.

A 1999 study from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that new neighborhoods that are located within existing neighborhoods, as opposed to being located in open space at the edge of suburban areas (communities located outside larger cities that are spread out over great distances) reduced driving miles by 58%.

Natural resources: Green communities may preserve natural resources with open space zoning (regulations that protect natural areas such as grasslands), clustered housing (building residences closer together), and compact building design (constructing smaller houses). A 2000 study in New Jersey reported that compact development reduced farmland conversion by 28%, open space development by 43%, and the loss of environmentally-sensitive lands (lands that are greatly affected by changes in the environment) by 43%.


Funding: Funding for green communities, and the technologies and information that support them, has potential for growth. The Obama Administration's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, plans to invest $3.2 billion in energy efficiency and conservation programs to reduce energy use and fossil fuel emissions, and to increase energy efficiency in the United States. One potential project includes the installation of renewable energy sources on government buildings. The states, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia will receive $770 million from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant; cities and counties will receive $1.9 billion, and Indian tribal governments will receive $54 million.

Future research: Green communities serve as models for the intersection of many environmental, political, and social issues. Future research into green and healthy communities focuses on different scientific and sociological fields working together to evaluate methods and technologies. Although many issues pertaining to green communities, such as pollution prevention and building design, have been well researched, the overall impact of such communities on its residents and the surrounding environment is still lacking. Researchers are trying to scientifically evaluate the success of these communities.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hosted a workshop in 2002 that included participants from many areas of expertise including air pollution, mental health, injury prevention, and urban planning; the participants discussed research on the environment and public health, in order to identify the best practices for designing healthier communities.

Researchers at Emory University addressed the difficulty in evaluating whether communities create a "sense of place" (a place where people feel productive, comfortable, and safe). While a sense of place may impact a person's physical, mental, and spiritual health, there is a lack of research addressing this concept. Also, few scientific studies are available that make recommendations for evaluating good places to live. The researchers suggest that the public health implications of living in different types of buildings and in areas with varying amounts of open space should be scientifically studied. Possible areas of interest for public health researchers are urban form and contact with nature.

Research into the effects of community design on physical activity, including how the environment affects a person's mental health, is lacking. Transportation and urban planning research may provide starting points for assessing a community's impact on public health.


This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (

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