Thinking More Broadly About How to Measure Sustainability

Championed for over a decade, the LEED certification program has given notoriety to many newly constructed 'green' buildings, but new measures are helping us measure sustainability at the community scale, writes Kaid Benfield.

Since 1998, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) has provided planners, architects and citizens alike with an easy to understand scale to measure the sustainability of a newly constructed building. And their LEED-ND tool, which was developed with the help of Benfield's colleagues at the NRDC, is intended, "to do for multi-building, neighborhood-scale projects and for smart growth what the LEED systems had already done for individual green buildings."

Several new initiatives, however, have Benfield excited about the possibilities of measuring sustainability at a larger scale. Explained by Benfield, Rockford, Illinois and the State of New Jersey are developing their own system of indicators to measure their respective sustainability efforts. Rockford's Vital Signs initiative, "is designed as a system in which measurements are taken at multiple times throughout the 20-year planning horizon, in order to indicate progress and determine whether adjustments in strategy are necessary." Using indicators in 16 core categories, the tracking system is impressively extensive.

The other program described by Benfield, Sustainable Jersey, "includes a point-based rating system similar to those used in LEED, but at a community-wide scale approaching that of the Rockford initiative. Unlike either of those programs, however, Sustainable Jersey does not employ precise measurements to determine performance achievement but is aimed at a more conceptual and programmatic level."

Full Story: Measuring community sustainability: how do we know if we're on the right path?

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