Greenfield development: where do we draw the line?
A major part of what sets Biohabitats’ corporate culture apart from that of a “typical” environmental consulting firm is our strong ethic of social and ecological responsibility. Our work reflects our internal vision of who we are, how we define ourselves, and what we value.
Within that context, there is an important and vibrant discussion that needs to occur: to what extent should people participate in Greenfield development projects that may ultimately result in sprawl expansion and fragmentation of neighboring ecosystems?
We have touched on this issue before, but a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science demonstrating that housing growth is the main threat to protected areas in the United States again brings it again to the forefront.
As land use patterns are major factors in driving consumption, accelerating climate change, reducing biodiversity, and encouraging social stratification, is there a point where we all step back? Site selection that ignores existing infrastructure, leapfrogs development and mandates dependency upon the automobile can never be truly offset, no matter how many platinum LEED buildings are built or how many regenerative stormwater systems are installed. Can we make a bad development plan better? Sure. But the overall impact on a regional and national level will still be a net negative.
Over my professional career I have walked away from many projects that I knew conflicted with my fundamental value system. Did someone else do the work? Perhaps, but meeting a demand for a service does not make it ethical. The legal status of the service being sought is irrelevant.
Brownfields, urban infill, retrofits of existing infrastructure – these all offer tremendous opportunities to reduce our ecological footprint while striving for a truly equitable and just society. This is where we showcase and educate people as to what can be done.
Second homes, resort communities, large lot collections miles from the town core – these are inherently unsustainable, no matter how many site-specific best management practices are implemented. Here we do not educate and foster change. Here we may merely create a veneer of sustainability and perpetuate a lifestyle that impoverishes future generations.
Where do we draw the line in the sand and refuse to participate? Where do we say “no thank you?”