A new program is designed to take "green" building standards beyond the steps of individual structures, down from the metro level and into smaller communities and neighborhoods.

You could say it's one small green step for humans, but because if fills a green ratings gap, it is also a giant green leap for the planet.

The Congress for New Urbanism (CNU), the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) are developing a pilot program to rate the environmental sustainability of neighborhoods.

The plan will put the spotlight on developments that incorporate high-performance buildings in compact, mixed-use strategies to reduce driving and make walking and transit attractive -- and hopefully encourage more of the same kind of "green" enclaves.

"Green" refers to sustainable and conservation-minded materials, designs and technology; water, energy and natural resources conservation; less waste and healthier, more comfortable living in a more holistic manner.

After the Intergovernmental Panel on Climatic Change's (IPCC) dramatic "Climate Change 2007" revealed not only is the planet in the oven, but humans are turning up the burners, a spate of activity addressing the issues of global warming and climate change has come from social and health organizations, environmentalists, scientists, even governments, legislators and bureaucrats.

The burst of activity is also a fast moving trend among the 'green' building and development industry sector.

  • The two-year old San Francisco-based SustainLane offers a macro-level sustainability quality-of-life report card on entire cities to determine how a town's quality of life will limit or intensify the negative economic and environmental impacts of fossil fuel dependence.

    SustainLane measures sustainability based on a host of factors including energy crisis preparedness, natural disaster risk, quality-of-life indicators such as local food availability, tap water quality, air quality, walkability, park space and roadway congestion.

  • Similarly on a micro-level, the joint LEED for Neighborhood Developments (or LEED-ND) program is honing criteria that will guide a more holistic approach to development to include buildings and their neighborhood environment.

    LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and the USGBC already has a Green Building Rating System for LEED certification of new and existing commercial buildings and a similar pilot program for residential homes.

  • The National Association of Home Builders in 2005 published the "Model Green Home Building Guidelines" as a green building certification tool, which it says is the "nationally recognized green building certification tool." Just weeks ago NAHB and the International Code Council announced that they would develop and publish a formal residential green building standard manual.
  • Consumers Union's GreenerChoices.org brings the consumer advocate's time honored goods and services ratings scrutiny to environmentally sustainable and healthy goods and services.

And now the voluntary LEED-ND will take a look at location, design, construction, technology and innovation to rate neighborhood greenness. The projects will include whole neighborhoods, parts of neighborhoods or multiple neighborhoods, including infill projects that compliment existing neighborhoods.

The rating system will include points for items like proximity to water and wastewater infrastructure, flood plain avoidance, reduced auto dependence, housing and jobs proximity, affordable rental and for-sale housing, public transit proximity, access to public spaces, universal accessibility, local food production, green construction, and a host of other factors.

All the rating systems will ultimately combine to give consumers the opportunity to become Green Beings who choose a green lifestyle from goods and services to homes and workplaces, to the neighborhoods and cities they move to.

The LEED-ND pilot will accept 120 projects to verify the practicality of the program and invites developers to participate in the process.

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