" Sustainability should be second nature to our business practices and intent. " M3D strives to help others achieve this goal. That's our vocation and our expertise.

Eco Thinking: Sustainable Communities and Town Policies

All elements are connected in the sustainability picture of our built environment.   From designing green buildings, to zoning, to transportation, to conservation, understanding the big picture is the first step to understanding the connections and knowing where changes need to occur for true sustainability actions to happen.  Every puzzle has many pieces but understanding what the whole picture is will help find the right pieces to put in place.  This is where true sustainability comes in; it is made up of little pieces and if the right ones are not in place, the puzzle will not be complete.   Sustainability results from collaboration, connections and working together as a whole.  Understanding the connections between having the appropriate green building standards to the zoning in a community for appropriate development is essential in the management of a community’s sustainability projects, policy revisions and development.

Green buildings are made up of three elements that will need to be looked into in a design of a Sustainable Design Action Plan. They are: Interior Environments; Ecological Environments; and Materials.  For interior environments, it is looking at energy, air quality, water use, and all regulations, ordinance and policies connected with these. For example, is there a law that allows the use of grey water for toilet flushing? If not, can existing terminology or wording be changed to allow this simple measure of design to be accomplished?  For ecological environments, it is looking into where to build and not to build, looking at regulations about how much green has to be part of a newly constructed site or how much has to be reinstated on previously built sites.  It is also looking at light pollution and how it affects ecological systems and what regulations need to be considered or changed.  For materials, it is the understanding that the built environment is based on materials that are used and what are the acceptable materials that would not be harmful to the public or environmental health.  These are but a small list of what needs to be examined in these three categories and understanding how all elements from the built environment fit will make the identification,  management and analysis of the barriers simpler and more manageable.

For the overall sustainability measures a town needs to look beyond LEED and consider regulations to meet  ”The Living Challenge”  where not only Net Zero Energy design is planned for but Net Zero Water consumption, as well.  As of 2010, there are a few buildings that have been certified as “Living” around the country, proving that it is possible to have a building that produces its own energy, recycles and reuses its own water and does not harm the environment but enhances it.  (One example of a certified living building is the Omega Center for Sustainable Livingin Rhinebeck, New York.)  As concerns rise about new developments’ impact on water a new way of thinking of designing our built environment should be implemented.  When creating these new developments, higher density housing and multi-family Net Zero initiatives could be in place to truly secure the least environmental impact from all development.

As towns start looking towards the future and economic development, they can consider revised policies and regulations to protect their citizens and restore their communities ecology.    These regulations also could consider what is needed to allow for the achievement of Net Zero, allowing projects to look beyond their boarders for collaboration when looking at energy and water use, for example.  A true Sustainable Design Action Plan is one in which finding these connections and finding solutions from all information that is available. Sustainability design thinking looks at how all elements are connected, such as creating a community center for multi-use housing developments with study areas, congregation areas, outdoor space, etc and staffed by seniors or students to create both jobs and a sense of community. This approach would address concerns of opposition for multi-family housing development that might be voiced by local community if a secondary place of congregation is not developed.

When looking at sustainability and the overall project which includes a Sustainable Design Action Plan, transportation has to be an integral part of the Plan. Transportation is a key element in sustainable development.  A transportation system supports a sustainable society and a sustainable town by:

  1. Allowing individual and societal transportation needs to be met in a manner consistent with human and ecosystem health with equity within and between generations.
  2. Being safe, affordable and accessible, operating efficiently, offering choice of transport mode, and supporting a vibrant economy.
  3. Protecting and preserving the environment by limiting transportation emissions and wastes, minimizing the consumption of resources and enhancing the existing environment as practicable.
  1. Facilitating partnerships through sharing of ideas and best practices.
  1. Evaluating the costs and benefits (societal, environmental, and economic) of transportation investments over life-cycles as well as fiscal cycles.

Sustainable communities are ones that have a variety of housing and transportation choices, with destinations close to origin. As a result, they tend to have lower transportation costs, reduce air pollution and stormwater runoff, decrease infrastructure costs, preserve historic properties and sensitive lands, save people time in traffic, are more economically resilient and meet market demand for different types of housing at different prices. Rural, suburban, and urban communities can all use sustainable community strategies and techniques to invest in healthy, safe and walkable neighborhoods, but these strategies will look different in each place depending on the community’s character, context, and needs.

Livability is about coordinating the quality and location of transportation facilities to broader opportunities such as access to good jobs, affordable housing, quality schools, and safe streets. This includes addressing safety and capacity issues on all roads through better planning and design, maximizing and expanding new technologies, using Travel Demand Management approaches to system planning and operations, among others. Including these important element will lead the way to the best overall zoning and development for a town.

As the project team looks at the overall sustainability strategies an understanding of the design and development of the infrastructure of the town has to coincide with these sustainability measures.  For example, as electric vehicles are being encouraged in the State and the Northeast Region yet if there aren’t any charging stations because of obstacles to their installation, the investment in any campaign will be frustrated and economic development opportunities for the Town will be lost.

In creating Sustainable Communities  it is critical to develop an open stream of collaboration with others to make that vision a reality. A town or community needs to look towards experts that understand the big picture and be able to find the right connections for change.

 

“The Power of One” video won 2nd place

Our video created by Myself and good friends Ana Serra and Martin Nieto with vocals from my 3 boys won 2nd place.  Here is a part of the announcement  from the Environment Action Association website:

“The Environment Action Association is proud to announce the

WINNERS

for our first Environmental Video Contest – The Greener Me, The Better Us!

The purpose of this contest was to promote how each of us can do to reduce our environmental impact and what we can do to protect our Mother Earth. We congratulate the winners and thank everyone who entered the contest. We are impressed by the quality of work in all videos. The first, second, and third place winners are listed below….

2nd – The Power of One

We are very proud and excited to have won. We believe our message is an important one and are happy it was received and acknowledged. We will use the funding received to help market our other volunteer project of incorporating an environmental culture into public schools. We have a local school willing to partake in the pilot; we just need to raise some funds for it to be a reality.

-Maya Camou, M3D Consulting from Flushing, NY”