3 considerations for sustainable projects
Choosing a location for a new energy or infrastructure project was once driven primarily by direct financial and risk-management factors such as relative tax rates or incentives.
Today, environmental factors and related impacts have become embedded in the decision-making process. Organizations that ignore these new factors find themselves having to revisit development plans and incorporate costly avoidance measures and mitigations in the future.
In this Q&A with Proud Green Building, Mary Bean, environmental planning project director for sustainable practices firm FirstCarbon Solutions, discussed best practices through site selection and development through smarter due diligence. The groundwork for sustainable project hinges on success and understanding of three areas:
Proud Green Building: Environmental site assessments are first on the list. What role to the assessments play, and how do they impact a project?
Mary Bean: Land transactions or changes of use typically require a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA). A preliminary screening that identifies the potential for contamination. The Phase I ESA does not involve any collection of soil, sediment or water samples but rather a review of available information, which may include a search of hundreds of databases.
The purpose of the review is to determine whether the site is or has been regulated – for example, for chemical use – and whether it is undergoing remediation, and, if so, what type of remediation is involved and whether it is active or closed.
The Phase I also includes a site visit to look for evidence of current or past releases, such as soil staining or barrels left onsite. If the Phase I review finds a potential for contamination, a Phase II ESA is prepared. Phase II activities typically include collection of soil and/or groundwater samples, and testing and screening against established clean-up criteria. The methodology and data are presented in the Phase II report.
PGB: Zoning and land use conformance can derail a project before it begins. What do reviews of those policies typically reveal to project managers?
MB: Ensuring that your project conforms to local land-use policies minimizes potential mitigations that may be required for a variance or change in zoning. For example, some California communities require substantial mitigation for reclassifying land zoned for agricultural use, including a possible required contribution of funds to preserve farmland elsewhere.
Compliance also helps avoid potential challenges based on controversial elements, such as noise, odors or traffic.
It’s a good idea to conduct a thorough examination of existing entitlements and conformance review with local zoning and ordinances to avoid potential pitfalls. In addition to zoning policies, there is typically a general plan or comprehensive plan that lays out the vision for future land use, and if there is a conflict between current zoning policies and the general plan, the general plan takes precedence.
PGB: The public’s acceptance, or lack thereof, can make even the best of sustainability projects appear to have bad intentions. How can a project’s developer ensure the public completely understands the project and its intended benefits?
MB:Public acceptance or controversy may compromise the ability to develop a property. Opposition from communities implementing a "not in my back yard" (NIMBY) campaign can result in delays and add substantial costs to a project. Understanding the community where a project is proposed will support a successful public outreach effort and minimize conflicts and delays resulting from legal challenges.
It’s advisable for developers to be proactive about selling a project in advance and, in fact, many cities and municipalities require developers to hold community meetings to inform nearby residents about proposed projects.
During such a meeting, developers can let people know how their community will benefit, either through the project itself, or through ancillary financial contributions that the developer may be planning to make to regional capital improvement projects, the local schools system, parks, etc. Such contributions are becoming more commonplace to build community support and further offset the impacts of a planned development project.
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