By Eve Picker
The worlds of property development and environmental sustainability are becoming inextricably linked.
Historically, developers and environmental advocates were at odds with each other. They fought (and still fight) over hot-button issues like preserving wildlife habitat, pollution and waste, density, and a whole host of other social, environmental, and political concerns that arise when developing land and property.
Despite this historical animosity between the two groups, concerns about ecological and community sustainability, along with government and nonprofit action has led many forward-thinking developers to embrace partnerships with local communities and environmental advocates.
Growing awareness of the environmental footprint of buildings
Public awareness of the multitude of ecological challenges we face as a society has grown substantially over the last decade. The increasing effects of climate change, pollution, and an ever-rising world population have led to a paradigm shift in how developers, real estate professionals, and governments think about sustainable development. With the assistance of nonprofits like the US Green Building Council and the Energy and Environmental Building Association, community-minded developers are changing the way homes get built, and how they impact our environment.
Fostering an holistic approach to development
The economic mindset of most investors is focused on generating maximum profit from every invested dollar, and little else. This approach has failed many of our communities and led to the endless sprawl and cookie-cutter designs that plague so many of our cities, suburbs, and exurbs. Instead of more of the same, a mindset shift towards sustainable development needs to take place not just in the nonprofit and government sectors but also in the private sector.
What is socially responsible real estate investing?
Defining what “socially responsible” development looks like is harder than it seems. When creating sustainable communities, it is essential to focus on aspects other than the built environment. Social systems in local communities are just as crucial for long-term growth and sustainability, and the built environment helps frame how those forces interact with each other. You cannot solve the problems facing communities with a silver bullet- you need to take an overarching view and realize that everything is connected- and act accordingly.
Housing that follows socially responsible principles
Housing models are popping up all over the globe that embrace sustainability and environmental protection. Co-housing is one such model. This style of cooperative housing first emerged in Denmark in the 1960s and soon spread across the continent to reach every corner of Europe. The movement towards co-housing in the United States is still in its infancy, with roughly 300 communities across the country.
These developments eschew the traditional single-family home model, where every house stands as an island. Instead, co-housing residents live together and share communal responsibilities. Often, there are shared common spaces like kitchens, recreation areas, outdoor spaces and more. These communities often have bottom level shops and restaurants, which are run exclusively by residents. This helps to foster a sense of togetherness and also keeps capital within the community.
The adoption of this model of housing solves many of the problems that plague modern cities. Housing affordability is a significant challenge, and densely-built and shared spaces help drive down the cost per square foot of both rentals and owner-occupied homes. Environmentally, patronizing local businesses and reducing the need for cars is a big help. This has a follow-through effect of reducing car travel, and all of the deleterious effects that come along with it.
Developers and investors do not need to be at odds with community groups and environmental advocates. By taking a sustainable approach to development, companies can create neighborhoods that are eminently livable and profitable at the same time.