What makes a neighbourhood sustainable?

What makes a neighbourhood sustainable? It’s one where residents, businesses and community leaders work together to achieve shared goals. In a sustainable neighbourhood, we all play our part to use natural resources responsibly, address climate change risks and resiliency, and foster economic opportunity and growth for the betterment of the community.

On each of these fronts, buildings play a key role. Buildings—whether it’s an office tower, an apartment building, a mall or a subdivision of single family homes—are essential components of a functioning, sustainable society. They’re the places where people live, work and play. When people in a community thrive, so do the buildings in that neighbourhood. Building owners have a powerful incentive to co-create, preserve and grow sustainable neighbourhoods.

More than ever, commercial property owners are aware that prioritizing sustainability can lead to better financial performance.

Sustainability: A reinforcing cycle of development

Young, educated people gravitate to live-work-play communities for easy access to transit, bike paths and convenient retail and dining options within walking distance. They want to live and work in places that reflect their lifestyle. As a result, companies that want to attract these workers look for buildings with sustainability features—not only green certifications such as LEED and ENERGY STAR, but also wellness amenities like fitness centres and indoor bike storage.

Office tenants seek out green buildings in sustainable neighbourhoods as a way to attract talented workers. But they may also benefit from productivity enhancement from those workers.  A growing body of evidence is pointing to higher productivity in buildings that provide enhanced indoor air quality, natural light and amenities that encourage physical activity.

Retailers are attracted to these communities as they become more affluent.  This, in turn, attracts more residents, who attract more businesses and so on. Sustainability creates a reinforcing cycle of development that leads to more growth while also benefiting the environment.

Transportation is an undeniable factor in the sustainability of our communities, and today’s progressive-minded cities are grappling with this challenge amidst a new demand for cleaner, more environmental solutions. Historically, an area’s population and job growth was limited by its ability to accommodate cars, including parking as well as traffic flow. But many people in sustainable neighborhoods don’t own cars. This not only cuts down on vehicle emissions, but also enables a higher population density and more land for outdoor amenities like parks.

Communities and building owners also have goals in common when it comes to climate change risk and resiliency. Cities and neighbourhoods that face climate change risks like excessive flooding, drought and rising sea levels may be less desirable to businesses and residents, and thus to real estate investors. Conversely, cities that embrace proactive strategies for mitigating climate change impacts are increasingly attractive to investors.

Shared goals, joint programs

Since the basic goals and strategies are the same for sustainable communities and building owners, it makes sense that these groups should work together on climate change resiliency and neighbourhood development. Co-operation can take many forms, typically offering mutual benefits. For example, a new apartment development might include bike paths or an ecological park as a way to attract renters while making the neighborhood more sustainable. Many cities provide faster zoning approval for projects in line to receive LEED certification.

Building tenants may also partner with communities and building owners in advancing sustainability objectives. At an office park in British Columbia, a vegetable garden started by an employee of the property’s largest tenant was expanded to include volunteers from all tenants at the park. A large cistern captures water from storm drainage for use in the garden, the vegetables are donated to local charities, and honey from harvested beehives are donated by the facility’s management firm. Tenants view the garden as a way to foster teamwork, social engagement and job satisfaction, while the property owner sees an opportunity for greater tenant retention.

Buildings are living assets that have a meaningful impact on the surrounding neighborhood—and vice versa.  Sustainable communities pursue strategies that aim to combat the effects of climate change and encourage smart and environmentally responsible growth. Green buildings advance these goals, and reap the benefits of sustainability across the larger community. It’s a synergistic relationship that gets better as the two groups work together to achieve common goals.
 

Anna Murray is vice-president of sustainability at Bentall Kennedy (Canada) Limited Partnership. Bentall Kennedy is one of North America’s largest real estate investment advisors and a recognized leader in sustainable building practices. Bentall Kennedy includes Bentall Kennedy (Canada) Limited Partnership, Bentall Kennedy (U.S.) Limited Partnership and the real estate and mortgage operations of their affiliates.

 

image: Bentall Kennedy