Sustainable Sites

When planning a green building project, design and construction professionals will consider strategies to maintain an environmentally appropriate site.

Strategies for sustainable sites include encouraging the development of an environmentally friendly transportation plan, protecting and restoring natural habitat, controlling storm water, and reducing the heat island effect.

Site Selection

Different United States Agencies define and protect particularly environmentally sensitive areas. Areas to avoid include prime farmland, land lower than 5 feet above the 100-year floodplain, critical habitat, land within 100 feet of wetlands, land within 50 feet of a water body, and public parkland.

The USDA defines prime farmland as “land that has the best combination of physical and chemical characteristics for producing food, feed, forage, fiber, and oilseed crops and is also available for these uses. It has the soil quality, growing season, and moisture supply needed to produce economically sustained high yields of crops when treated and managed according to acceptable farming methods, including water management. In general, prime farmlands have an adequate and dependable water supply from precipitation or irrigation, a favorable temperature and growing season, acceptable acidity or alkalinity, acceptable salt and sodium content, and few or no rocks. They are permeable to water and air. Prime farmlands are not excessively erodible or saturated with water for a long period of time, and they either do not flood frequently or are protected from flooding.”

Avoiding prime farmland will keep the land available for food production, which, by definition is its most sustainable use.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines a 100-year flood as the area that will be inundated by a flood event having a 1% chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year. Building in that flood plain can destroy the construction project, which is a waste of materials and energy, especially since a 100-year flood can occur more frequently than every 100 years.

When a species is listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, areas that are considered essential habitat to the species’ conservation can be designated “critical habitat.” The designation of critical habitats requires federal agencies to ensure that any actions they fund, authorize, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the survival of any endangered or threatened species. Since the goal of green building construction is sustainability of people, planet, and profit, avoiding construction on critical habitats contributes to sustainability.

Wetlands are "those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs and similar areas." Since wetlands support so much vegetation and are also very critical in water filtration, it is important to protect these areas. When constructing a green building project, it is important to avoid construction on land within 100 feet of wetlands.

Clean water is the nation’s most valuable natural resource, and the Clean Water Act protects water bodies like streams, lakes, rivers, and wetlands. Green buildings can also protect these water bodies by not developing on land within 50 feet of water body.

According to the National Park Service, the goal of US Parkland is to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Avoiding construction on US Parkland will help meet these goals.

Development Density and Community Connectivity

The green building industry attempts to limit sprawl and land use by promoting development density and community connectivity. By limiting the amount of land used per person, not only do green buildings conserve land, but also promote livability, walkability, transportation efficiency, and access to basic services.

Brownfield Redevelopment

The redevelopment of brownfield sites also helps to minimize sprawl and land use. Rehabilitating sites damaged by environmental contamination improve environmental quality. Green building construction cannot only help to protect and conserve the environment, but also improves natural resources.

Alternative Transportation

The transportation sector contributes 28% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Encouraging alternative transportations can help reduce impact on the environment. Some alternatives include mass transit like rail or bus, bicycle infrastructure, or low emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles. By building green buildings in walking distance of mass transit, the construction project encourages alternative transportation use. Also, providing bike storage, showers, and changing facilities for building occupants, can encourage using a bicycle as a primary form of transportation. One of the largest barriers to low emitting and fuel-efficient vehicle use is the proper infrastructure and incentives. Green buildings can provide preferred parking for low emitting vehicles, install alternative-fueling stations, or provide vehicle-sharing programs.

Protect or Restore Habitat and Maximize Open Space

Much like the selection of sustainable sites, green buildings can promote biodiversity by protecting and restoring surrounding habitats or conserve existing natural areas and restoring damaged areas. It is important for green building construction to limit site disturbance or restore native vegetation in order to provide appropriate native habitat.

Stormwater Design

Stormwater has two environmental contributors: quantity and quality. Good stormwater quantity control design will increase perviousness, which reduces stormwater runoff. Treating runoff or removing total suspended solids can control Stormwater quality.

Heat Island Effect

Heat Island Effect is the absorption of heat by hardscapes and its radiated to the surroundings, altering microclimates and wildlife habitats. These changes can affect native species and biodiversity. To avoid these outcomes, green building construction projects can implement strategies like shading, vegetation, and installing surfaces with high solar reflectance indexes on roofing or other hardscapes.

Light Pollution Reduction

Light pollution occurs when artificial light intrudes on the nighttime setting. This phenomenon is pronounced around urban centers. In these situations, light is usually misdirected, therefore wasting energy and interfering with the timing of necessary biological activities for animals and plants. When green building construction reduces non-emergency lighting and only lights areas required for safety and comfort, they protect circadian rhythms for plants and animals as well as conserving wasted energy.

 
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