What are green communities?

Green Community Building, Transportation and Waste Management

­In green communities, ideas overlap and wo­rk together to achieve balance. This is a key feature in any sustainable system. Each part contribu­tes to the whole, and the whole is made up of many parts that work in harmony. We can see this in the way green communities address the challenges of transportation and building. Traveling from place to place takes resources, like energy and a vehicle . . . or does it? If you lived a block from where you worked and shopped, you could walk or ride a bike. Green communities encourage building practices that consolidate resources, like business parks and shopping centers, to bring everything closer together.

It turns out that bringing things closer together is a good thing in a number of ways. Smaller buildings need less energy to heat and cool, and they can even be made with more eco-friendly materials, like straw, bamboo and compr­essed Earth. Smaller, more efficient building design results in smaller neighborhoods; smaller neighborhoods help make smaller towns; and smaller towns require fewer resources.

The benefits don't stop there. Having smaller buildings encourages less consumption. The less room you have, the less stuff you have. The less stuff you have, the more important each thing becomes. This discourages conspicuous consumption and planned obsolescence, both of which create waste. It encourages buying quality items and then holding on to them longer. In 1997, 3.2 pounds (51.2 ounces) of solid waste was generated for each person in the United States. Thinking smaller and creating communities that make living and getting around less resource intensive are ways green communities encourage Earth-friendly practices [source: EPA].

Bringing the pieces together to create a functioning system is the goal of green community development, but it doesn't all have to happen at once. In the next section, we'll look at green principles at work and how the government is helping us make a greener America.