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Working to build sustainable communities: Part I

GreenIf you're reading this blog, you've probably heard the terms "going green," "green building," "sustainable development," and "sustainable communities."

If you're like me, you probably have a positive association with the terms and may even be able to take an educated guess at what each one means. But, chances are, you probably don't know exactly what they mean. Even if you do, you may not know how they're different, why they're important, or how they're related to the work of a housing authority.

In this blog series, we'll unpack those terms and take a look at some examples of successful sustainable communities' initiatives, as well as provide some resources for where you can get more information and how you can get started planning towards sustainability in your community.

Going green? Sustainable communities? What does it all mean?

Going green is a blanket term used to describe a philosophy or lifestyle of environmentalism focused on reducing the amount of pollution and waste one generates. At home, this may mean many things, including reusing and repurposing various household items, buying from local food sources, replacing incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent light bulbs, buying household products with natural or less harmful chemicals, and recycling cans, paper, glass, and plastic.

In the workplace, examples of going green might be the workplace recycling program, the cafeteria using recycled materials, or the office deciding to set the thermostat a few degrees cooler in winter and a few degrees warmer in summer.

Green building is used to describe a building process that is environmentally responsible and resource-efficient. Stemming from a need and desire for more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly construction practices, green building uses a variety of techniques to reduce and ultimately eliminate the impacts of buildings on the environment and human health. Green building emphasizes the use of renewal resources — for instance, the use of sunlight through passive solar, active solar, and photovoltaic equipment, or the use of plants and trees through green roofs, rain gardens, and reduction of rainwater runoff.

Other examples of techniques used in green building include using low-impact building materials, or choosing packed gravel or permeable concrete, instead of conventional concrete or asphalt, to enhance replenishment of ground water. Modern sustainability initiatives have expanded green building to include integrating the building lifecycle with each green practice employed to create a synergy among the practices used.

Sustainable development seeks to incorporate the principles of green building with protecting and enhancing the overall health, natural environment, and quality of life. Sustainable development accomplishes these goals by promoting the location and design of developments that reduce amount of vehicle miles traveled, creating developments where jobs and services are accessible by foot or public transit, and promoting energy-efficient and water-efficient buildings and infrastructure.

Sustainable communities are generally a larger concept that tends to emanate from the city or municipality structure — an all-encompassing master plan that includes transportation, affordable housing, economic, environmental, and land-use components. Sustainable communities may coordinate their efforts with other communities in the region to share costs and increase impact. Incorporating the principles of sustainable development, smart growth, and green building, sustainable communities focus on addressing population growth, housing affordability, transportation needs, economic development, and the environment.

Next: Part II: Why is planning a sustainable community important, and how does it relate to the work of a housing authority?

With over a decade of experience working in the affordable housing industry, NMA consultant Nate Paufve has done everything from supervising a team of housing specialists to developing OIG responses, overseeing a document management team, serving as an internal auditor for PBCA operations in multiple states nationwide, and strategic planning related to Moderate Rehabilitation (Mod Rehab), project-based voucher, and housing choice voucher programs. He holds a B.A. in urban studies and an M.A. in public policy from the University of Chicago and has also worked extensively with nonprofit organizations and provided policy research on affordable housing programs.

NMA can assist your agency with PNA planning and energy audits. For more information, contact