Clark County buys in

Sustainability is more than a buzz word locally

Helen Devery
JD White

It’s all the rage. From the Virginia countryside to our own Pacific shore, awards are given and kudos bestowed for "sustainability." But what is sustainability and how does it relate to the development of our communities? Sustainability is difficult to define; however, we can take a clue from Biology 101: An organism or ecosystem is sustainable when it is able to renew itself over time without exhausting its resources. As we begin to understand the limited resources of our place in the universe, sustainability – a community’s ability to thrive without exhausting its natural and human resources – is one way to assess a community’s health.

How, when and where we grow have a significant effect on our environment and resources. For example, the American Planning Association (APA) has noted that although the population of Chicago grew by only 4 percent between 1970 and 1990, land dedicated to housing in that community increased by 46 percent. Recognition that patterns of human development profoundly affect sustainability and that people need to live, work and play in communities that are well-designed, functional and sustainable is therefore growing in importance.

Since the 1990s, planners throughout the country have discussed smart growth policies that provide us with a blueprint to encourage compact mixed-use developments with housing located near employment. The State of Washington has considered the environmental consequences of projects under environmental policy regulations since the 1970s, and the Growth Management Act of 1990 was developed so that our urban form would be considered carefully by jurisdictions prior to development. Washington also now has sustainability requirements for state buildings under which agencies must prepare plans to reduce their environmental footprint. A 2005 executive order required green building practices in new construction projects over a certain size; these requirements include obtaining LEED silver certification. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the certification program developed by the US Green Building Council.)

On the local level, interest in sustainability is growing fast and at the forefront is the private sector. Two Vancouver businesses – Frito Lay and Panasonic Shikoku Electronics Corporation of America – received Sustainable Washington Awards from the Department of Ecology last year. In Vancouver, a recent sustainability workshop was attended by over 80 businesses. In Clark County, to recognize the impact of development on health and sustainability, the Clark County and the Public Health Advisory Council recently solicited for 2007 Healthy Community Design and Sustainable Community Design Awards for a site plan, subdivision or building that increases health and sustainability. On June 21 and 22, Clark County, the City of Vancouver, and Clark Public Utilities are sponsoring a Southwest Washington Sustainability Conference and Trade Show at the Vancouver Hilton and Convention Center that will highlight information on sustainable issues like green buildings, non-polluting energy options, and sustainable agriculture.

For information about LEED certification for projects, visit and for information about APA and smart growth, see

Helen Devery is a land use planning team leader/senior planner. JD White, a division of BERGER/ABAM Engineers, is a Vancouver-based land use planning, natural resources and public involvement firm.

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