One of the most interesting sessions I attended at Greenbuild discussed sustainable neighborhoods.   Greg Searle from One Planet Communities provided a great case study of Sonoma Mountain Village (SOMO), a new community being built in Sonoma California.

SOMO, a partnership between developer, Codding Enterprises, and consultant, BioRegional, is a fantastic example of green building.  Not only is SOMO striving to be a net zero community, it is also being built on a defunct business campus, so it is a brownfield site.  Along with municipal buildings, the 200 acre development will include commercial, office, retail, and residential space including 1,900 homes of all sizes and types for sale and rent.    According to the SOMO website, the development has already generated more than 600 jobs, and will lead to 4,400 jobs by completion.

One Planet Communities is a fantastic concept, and I love the flexibility it offers… flexibility as long as you hit the very high benchmarks, which is not the easiest thing to do…. To achieve designation as a One Planet Community, a development must follow these ten principles:

  1. Zero Carbon – All buildings and their fittings and fixtures must be energy efficient and supplied by renewable energy.
  2. Zero Waste – At least 70% of waste by weight to be reclaimed, recycled or composted and ideally no more than 2% should be sent to landfill.
  3. Sustainable Transport – CO2 emissions of persons travelling to and from the site and within it must be reduced relative to an agreed regional benchmark. Ideally all unavoidable CO2 emissions from transport should be offset by a certified carbon sequestration scheme.
  4. Local & Sustainable Materials – Use of local, reclaimed, renewable, recycled and low environmental impact materials in construction and estate management should be increased and optimised.
  5. Local & Sustainable Food – Healthy diets should be promoted and minimum targets achieved for supply of organic or low-environmental impact food and local sourcing.
  6. Sustainable Water – Water efficiency and recycling must be promoted in line with country-specific best practice.
  7. Natural Habitats & Wildlife – Local biodiversity and natural resource stocks must be increased.
  8. Culture & Heritage – Valuable aspects of local culture and heritage must be maintained, enhanced or revived.
  9. Equity & Fair Trade – Targets must be set to boost the local economy, notably in disadvantaged areas, and to ensure a set ratio of imported goods are fair trade certified.
  10. Health & Happiness – Health and happiness of residents must be promoted based on emerging findings from ‘happiness’ research and periodic residents’ surveys

OK, I know some of these categories may sound like “fluff,” so you’ll have to go to the Principles Page on the One Planet Community website to read more.

The beauty of One Planet’s concept is the lack of rigid  checklists found in the LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) system (just emerging from pilot phase).  LEED-ND is certainly a step in the right direction, but I think the One Planet Communities approach makes more sense for neighborhoods.  LEED works well for buildings because builders want and need uniformity in methodology.  Costs come down when you can reuse building methods from one building to the next.  But neighborhoods are regional and unique.   One Planet Communities’ flexibility acknowledges that difference with a simple approach that is easy to understand.  In the end, the standards are set high, and that’s what matters.

It is unclear if SOMO will strive for LEED-ND, and with One Planet Communities certification under its belt, one has to wonder if a LEED-ND designation for SOMO is necessary at all.