The Importance of Creating Sustainable Communities

Public Administration

Sustainability is a popular topic in many industries, such as forestry, farming and production. It is also becoming more and more popular in public works. Today, sustainability is a key factor of consideration when constructing sewerage systems, roads, public buildings and parks among other types of infrastructure projects. In a world of limited resources that are diminishing by the minute, it is important for project planners and developers to think of technologies that will reduce the impact of the project on the environment, minimize energy demand, and exploit renewable energy sources. To learn more about sustainability in public works and communities around the U.S., check out the infographic below.

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Text: The Importance of Creating Sustainable Communities

The Definition of Sustainability

Sustainability in public works is taking a balanced approach in project design and implementation by utilizing the available natural resources efficiently to meet the economic, environmental and societal needs of the community. For instance, projects with long-term gains should be given preference over projects with short-term gains. Secondly, efficient use of energy and natural resources when designing, developing and operating infrastructures should be given priority. This may involve rainwater collection and storage, use of natural light to illuminate buildings during the day and planting crops on top of buildings. Finally, communities must find new techniques and materials to reduce reliance on critical resources. This includes development of innovative energy storage solutions, harnessing of tidal, geothermal and hydropower as well as using bio-fuel as opposed to fossil fuels. The good news is that 65% of US cities with populations exceeding 50,000 already have clearly defined sustainability initiatives.


Designing and constructing a green building makes a lot of financial sense. A green building is a structure that was specifically designed and constructed to have little impact on the natural environment and human health.

These buildings account for 33% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and occupant satisfaction is 27% higher than traditional buildings. These buildings also consume 26% less energy and their maintenance costs are 13% lower.

Financial Benefits of Green Buildings

A green building has an ROI 6.6% higher than what standard buildings offer. This is largely due to the 9% reduction of operating costs and increased occupancy ratio of 3.5%. Furthermore, greening a building can increase its market value by over 7.5% and appeal to prospective buyers, especially in eco-conscious regions of the U.S. From a business perspective, there is a $145 billion opportunity for the greening of nearly 48% of new non-residential developments so there is ample opportunity for privatization.

Public Perception

One percent of U.S homes have been retrofitted with energy efficient water fixtures, such as instant heaters for showers and water taps. This has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 80,000 tons, equivalent to removing 150,000 cars from the roads for one year.

Denver has a highly successful B-Cycle Project, which is a bicycle sharing program covering neighborhoods in central Denver. The objectives of the program include; environmental conservation, reducing pollution and promoting an active lifestyle. Through the program, users went on 102,981 trips, rode more than 200,000 miles and lost a total of 1,810 lbs collectively.

It has also been noted that people who live in pedestrian friendly neighborhoods are four times likely to go on walking and biking trips and are three times more likely to go on public transit trips. This translates to fewer car trips and less mileage compared to people who live in neighborhoods without walking infrastructure.

Key Examples of Sustainable Public Works Projects

The Marine Corps logistics base, located in Albany, GA, has developed a strategy to become the most energy-efficient installation in the Marine Corps. The strategy involves reducing reliance on the grid by converting landfill gas to energy and using biomass. The expected outcome is 40% reduction of energy consumption and the facility expects to go completely off-grid by 2017, three years ahead of the 2020 deadline.

The High Line and Low Line parks in New York City are examples of sustainable infrastructure projects and can be used as a model for future expansion into sustainable public works nationwide. The High Line Park is an unused 1.45-mile elevated railroad that has been transformed into a public park. The success of the park has inspired the city to convert an abandoned railroad tunnel under Delaney Street into a park, which is known as the Low Line Park. It will be lit by sunlight, with several helio tubes and reflecting domes used to capture, transfer and disperse the sun’s rays underground. As a result, plants will grow naturally because they will have natural light.

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