Sustainable vision

Scoping out the best location is key to green building

Green Line.

Green Line.

Photo Illustration by Tina Flynn

Sustainable Space columnists Lori Brown and Greg Kallio are professors in the College of Engineering, Computer Science and Construction Management at Chico State University.

Location, location, location
Siting: The place where a structure or group of structures was, is, or is to be located. Don’t confuse this with citing a reference or sighting a UFO. Green building and sustainable designs begin with siting, and the choices made during this site-selection phase can have a big impact on the overall environmental damage of a project.

Sustainable selection
Establishing a business in remote areas that lack public-transportation options is incongruent with green-building standards. Offering out-of-the-way land (like out at the Chico Airport) at a lower market value to encourage businesses to set up shop may be good for the company, and for providing local jobs, but it fails at being green.

The sustainable-sites section of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for New Construction Rating System (LEED-NC) outlines various opportunities for reducing the negative impact a building has on the environment. A few of these are: 1) select sites that promote the use of public transportation among the building’s occupants; 2) locate near public amenities; 3) give preference to existing buildings and urban locations; 4) avoid building on sensitive sites, such as habitats, farmland, parkland and near bodies of water and wetlands; and 5) rehabilitate sites or revitalize areas and consider remediating sites that have contaminated soil or water (brown fields).

When selecting a site for a new home, many people want to be located as far as possible from neighbors, city noise and traffic. Living in an isolated area may be good for your own mental health, but it is an unsustainable option for the health of the environment, especially if you leave it every day to go to work, shop and take kids to school.

Driving up emissions
The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, gathered in 2007, found that nine out of 10 workers, or 87.7 percent, drive to work. And most of them, 77 percent, drive alone. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, vehicles are responsible for approximately 20 percent of the annual output of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. Historically, gas-powered vehicles have been considered major polluters; however, recent model years have achieved very stringent emissions standards. If you commute into the city for work, at a minimum you should help tackle global warming by driving a low-emission vehicle (LEV)—the least stringent emission standard for all new cars sold in California beyond 2004. You’ll have to wait a while for solar cars (100-percent reduced emissions) and plug-in vehicles to hit the mainstream.

Pocketbook pitch
If the consequences of greenhouse gases aren’t enough to persuade you, take a look at and the easy-to-use Calculate the Cost of Commuting form. Depending on gas mileage, commuting distance and the price of gas, the estimated savings of riding a bike could be significant. The figures are only reduced by about one-third when it comes to using public-transportation options (such as Butte County’s very affordable B-Line). Saving money is always a compelling argument for adopting sustainable site-selection practices, such as locating in an urban area and making public-transportation options available.