Benefits of Green Building and Compact Community Development
Green buildings and compact communities reduce the impacts of our built environment on the natural world. Green buildings use less water and energy, and generate less waste than conventional buildings. Compact communities minimize the area of land converted to housing, support alternatives to the automobile and have more multi-family dwellings – extremely efficient homes when compared to single-family dwellings.
While these ideas are widely accepted as true, the actual benefits of building green are rarely quantified. As part of the Regional District of Nanaimo’s Green Building Action Plan, the RDN decided to explore the numbers behind promoting green buildings and more compact land use patterns in the RDN. The results were striking.
Based on historic trends, it is expected that the population of the RDN will increase from about 145,000 people today to almost 210,000 people in 2030. Every additional person will need a place to live, and the number of homes is expected to increase from more than 60,000 homes in the RDN now, to over 100,000 homes in 2030. Each new home will be built on a piece of land, and the people living in them will consume water and energy, they will travel across the region for work, generating emissions if they drive and they will inevitably produce some garbage.
To compare various possibilities for the future, the research focused on three questions:
What if we did nothing new? This ‘business-as-usual’ scenario calculated the impacts as if all new construction was built to the provincial building code and distributed across the region as it is today, with about two thirds of people living inside the region’s Urban Containment Boundaries (UBC) and about one-third of people living in rural areas.
What if every new building was a green building? The ‘green building’ scenario calculated the impacts as if new homes were extremely energy and water efficient, and if new commercial and institutional buildings were built to the LEED-Gold™ standard. The land use pattern in this scenario was the same as the ‘business-as-usual’ scenario.
What if we built green buildings in compact communities? The ‘green building-compact community scenario’ calculated the impacts of new construction if all new buildings were green, and if all new development occurred inside the Region’s UCBs. If that happened, up to 83% of the population would live in urban areas by 2030, with 17% living in rural areas.
After calculating all the impacts, the ‘green building’; scenario resulted in a 40% reduction in water use, and a 16% reduction in greenhouse gases compared to ‘business-as-usual’.
The ‘green building – compact community’ scenario resulted in a 48% reduction in water use, and a 36% reduction in greenhouse gases when compared to business-as-usual. In addition, by 2030, no land outside of urban containment boundaries would have been converted to use for housing.
The RDN is interested in finding ways to promote green buildings in compact communities. By conducting research projects like the “Benefits of Green Building”, the RDN hopes to lay a strong foundation for its policies, while creating opportunities to educate interested members of the public.
For the full report, contact the RDN’s Sustainability Coordinator, Chris Midgley at firstname.lastname@example.org.