One Planet Living in the Suburbs?


We TreeHuggers just love new, funky, green developments like BedZED, Greenbridge and these plans for Toronto’s Portlands redevelopment. But the fact remains, new build can only accomplish so much. Most of us will be living in buildings, and communities, that already exist now for many, many years to come, and few of these were built with anything approaching sustainability in mind. All is not lost however, there is lots that can be done to move even the most unecological settlements towards a better, greener future. Bioregional Development Group (the folks who brought us BedZED) and WWF, have published a report entitled ‘One Planet Living in the Suburbs’ – Greg Searle, the head of One Planet Living North America, mentioned it in his interview with TreeHugger here. A summary of the report can be downloaded here, and the full 116 page version can be found here.

The idea behind the report is to look at recommendations for actions that national governments, local authorities AND individuals take to move towards creating a more sustainable suburban lifestyle. The report’s authors propose the One Planet Living framework as the method for achieving change, and ecological footprinting as the tool for judging success. The report looks at a typical British suburb - Solihull, on the outside of Birmingham, and seeks to address every aspect of sustainability. The report’s recommendations are separated into the familiar One Planet Living categories that include:
- zero waste
- zero carbon
- sustainable transport
- local and sustainable materials
- local and sustainable food
- sustainable water
- natural habitats and wildlife
- culture and heritage
- equity and fair-trade
- health and happiness

Examples of specific recommendations include:

- Under the ‘zero carbon’ heading: for government to improve building regulations, for local authorities to give council tax rebates for energy efficiency measures, and for individuals to invest in energy efficiency and renewables.
- Under ‘sustainable transport’ section: for government to provide incentives to employers to encourage home working, for local authorities to encourage business development around specific transport nodes, and for individuals to join a car club, walk and bike more, and/or use public transport.

Few of the recommendations in the report will be new to people familiar with the concept of sustainability, but its strength lies in the fact that it a) draws these strategies together into an integrated vision, and b) uses ecological footprinting to provide a specific metric of how to judge success (or failure).

So is One Planet Living possible in the suburbs? Maybe, but the report fails to get us all the way there. According to its projections, we would currently need nearly three planets if everyone in the world lived like the average resident does today in the suburb studied. If we retrofitted the suburb according to the report’s recommendations AND residents adopted the individual changes advocated by the authors, then this figure could be brought down to approximately 1.5 planets. Not exactly one planet living, but it’s a lot closer than what we have now.

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