Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Earth Advantage Institute's Eco Neighborhoods

古之欲明明德於天下者, 先治其國。欲治其國者, 先齊其家。欲齊其家者, 先修其身。欲修其身者, 先正其心。欲正其心者, 先誠其意。欲誠其意者, 先致其知。致知在格物。

Earth Advantage Institute announced last week that it is seeking applications for a pilot program Eco Neighborhoods. The certification challenge focuses only on neighborhoods that are at least five years old and can demonstrate a level of achievement; but Earth Advantage Institute will also include neighborhoods that can “go beyond green” to encompass a broader set of social, economic, and cultural accomplishments.

This is a different approach than the otherwise popular designer communities such as the Eco-Village in Los Angeles. This is a great step forward recognizing that sustainability and green is not just a rich man’s game, but a everyman’s dream (I use the word “man” loosely here to include every man, woman, child, alien, and my green cousin from Mars). I've said this before: you don't need a designer mix breed Puddle and Shepperd and call it Shepuddle; neither do you need a designer "green" community that no one can afford beside Mr. Edge and the rich and famous of Beverley Hills.

But that is besides the point.

Earth Advantage's press release stated that applicants may include residential areas, condominiums, public housing projects, business districts, office and industrial parks, shopping centers, resorts, institutional campuses, and military housing areas; but the list is not exhaustive – what you think of as a community is your business, Earth Advantage Institute wants you to see it as a community and see how it is green.

This forces us to think of green in new old ways, understanding our perhaps institutive ways of living sustainably. I’d say this is a better incentive for us than a new award given away to the next new hot architect, whose work you can only admire in some fancy digest you picked up at the airport.

Earth Advantage is interested in the following subjects in the call for applications (I have a feeling they are learning as they go like the rest of us – but admirable actions nonetheless):

Natural Capital
• Land – open space protection; erosion prevention
• Air – boiler pollution emission retrofits; truck idling reductions
• Water – wetlands restoration; onsite stormwater treatment
• Climate – electric vehicle-sharing; heat island reduction

Built Capital
• Businesses – incubator start-up facility; mentoring program
• Transportation- pedestrian/bicycle facility investments; transit service expansion
• Energy – onsite renewable power generation; building efficiency retrofits
• Wastes - central composting stations; hazardous waste collection

Social Capital
• Governance – exemplary inclusion/participation in civic organizations
• Social services – tool-sharing program; emergency preparedness training
• Cultural institutions – social/commemorative events; historic/cultural exhibitions
• Equity – first-time homebuyer assistance; nutrition information access

Human Capital
• Health – low-allergen landscaping; seniors active living program
• Education – adult literacy program; youth internships
• Employment – job training program; local hiring preferences
• Recreation – youth athletic league; park improvements

If you live in a close-nit neighborhood and homeowner associations, public housing tenant associations, business improvement districts, transportation management organizations, community development corporations, and owners or managers of resorts, shopping centers, office and industrial parks, institutional campuses, and military installation housing areas, or anything you may consider a community, consider your green activities. My neighbors are mostly serious gardeners and they have been planting native grass and vegetations to help retain water and ease the lawn maintenance. I know we have a lot of things we can do to help cut back our emission and impacts, build social and economic capital locally, and improve and retain human capital. So far, our neighborhood is not actively engaged in these areas. So I see Earth Advantage’s list of criteria as a checklist for us to consider. Nothing in their press release says you can’t steal their idea and help your communities.

Some have raised the sentiment that the world doesn’t need another criteria certification system. I agree but I see this as a knowledge sharing opportunity. To learn is more than to be rewarded – the reward in learning is in itself, a satisfaction and knowledge that no one can take away form you. In essence, it is the intrinsic motivation of things.

Earth Advantage Institute is “a nonprofit green building resource that has certified more than 11,000 homes nationally;” it is based in Portland, Oregon. It believes that certifying the accomplishments of the places where we live or work can help us improve them.

The ancients, who wished to spread virtue throughout the world, began with their own States. To govern well their States, they gathered their families. Wishing to unite their families, they cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they rectified their hearts. To rectify their hearts, they sought to be sincere. To be sincere in their thoughts, they cured their imperfect knowledge through learning. Knowledge lay in the investigation of things.

- The Great Learning, Confucius

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