How to create a One Planet Living community – inspiration from Ottawa and Oxfordshire
“We can do this. We can tackle the climate and ecological emergency, we can recover from the COVID crisis, we can create a truly sustainable future with lives that we love, where we treat everyone fairly, and respect the planet.”
This was how our CEO Sue Riddlestone opened our recent One Planet Living® webinar. We went on to be inspired by some of the brains behind three fantastic, but very different One Planet Living communities:
- Ian Pritchett from Ssassy Properties and Greencore Construction, the companies behind two small rural communities in Oxfordshire, UK: Kings Farm Close and Springfield Meadows
- Ashley Graham and Scott Demark from Zibi, a mixed-use development of 2,500 units in the heart of Ottawa, Canada (pictured in header photo).
Ian, Ashley and Scott shared tips and lessons on how they are using the One Planet Living framework to create better, more sustainable places to live and work, and where they have found the business case for doing so.
7 dos and don’ts of creating a One Planet Living community
Don’t forget that it’s a journey
No one is expecting perfection from day one. We’re all learning about how to create these communities – us at Bioregional included!
“We want to learn from every project and for every project to move another step further. We know that we can always do better,” said Ian Pritchett, MD at Greencore Construction.
“Our first One Planet Living project, Kings Farm Close in rural Oxfordshire, was awarded leadership in One Planet Living in 2018.”
“With the learning from this project, our second One Planet Living development Springfield Meadows was able to achieve Global Leadership as we knew how to push ourselves that bit further.”
Do design for sustainable living
Achieving One Planet Living isn’t just about zero-carbon homes – it also means thinking about encouraging and making it easy for people who live in your community to enjoy sustainable lives.
This is something that Zibi does from the beginning of a resident’s journey, as explained by Ashley Graham, the Program Manager for sustainability at Zibi: “One Planet Living is central to all our messaging – from our sales and marketing through to information provided for residents living onsite.”
“We run a pre-move-in event which focuses on the sustainability aspects of their lives at Zibi – from transportation and waste management to energy. Once they’ve moved in, they get an occupancy manual which explains all they need to know about living in a One Planet Living community. We also run events and workshops to encourage them to engage with things like gardening.”
“Plus our One Planet Ambassador is actively working in the community to engage residents and construction workers alike with the concept of One Planet Living and why it’s important.”
Don’t be afraid to try new things
Greencore Construction took a step into the unknown when they started building zero-carbon homes, but it paid off: “When doing something new, the business case might not be clear to begin with, but it will evolve as you prove it’s possible to do something.”
“In fact, we’ve realised that the construction costs on our houses are no different to the costs on any housing project of a similar scale. We simply take a different approach – within a cost plan for a house there are 100s of decisions to be taken and we focus on the fabric of the building, the energy use, the sustainability features. We may compromise on other areas but not on those.”
“And the business case is only growing – over the last year, with the ‘Greta effect’, we have seen sustainability go from 4th or 5th on the list of homebuyers’ priorities to the top of the list.”
Do respond to the local context
There’s no one size fits all when it comes to sustainable communities – each has its own unique challenges and potential solutions. Ashley said: “The beauty of One Planet Living is that it has one global approach to sustainability that’s based on science, but how you achieve it is up to you – there’s no box-ticking or rigid requirements.”
“Having the ability to focus on regional characteristics, needs and challenges means we can choose the solutions that will work best for us and can focus on where we will have the most impact.”
Scott Demark, the district energy specialist at Zibi, added: “For example, our climate is very challenging – hot, humid summers, very cold, dry winters. This range of heating and cooling needs meant achieving zero carbon was the biggest challenge for us.
“We set up a district heating system because our density is very high and it’s the best way to meet these loads. This was the right choice for us, but it might not be in the UK, for example, where density tends to be lower.”
Don’t ignore the elephant in the room
There’s a lot to think about when planning and designing a sustainable community. Ian pointed out that something that is often gets ignored is ‘embodied carbon’ – or ‘upfront carbon emissions’ – the carbon that’s emitted during construction of homes.
This is an issue because this carbon will make up almost half of total new construction emissions between now and 2050.
“The average house is responsible for 50 – 60 tonnes of carbon emissions during construction. But we’re lucky that there’s an answer. Natural building materials like timber and hemp absorb carbon while growing, meaning it’s taken out of the atmosphere and ‘locked-in’ to the building.”
“Our timber frame homes with hemp-lime panels and wood fibre insulation create highly energy-efficient and healthy buildings with a reduction of approximately 90% in upfront carbon emissions compared to a standard home in the UK.”
Do think about what will resonate with your stakeholders
From local councils to your residents, there are a lot of audiences to please when building new developments.
Ashley says: “Zibi needed to be high-density to make some of our big projects financially viable, like our districtthermal energy system. The municipalities involved would only support this high-density if we were developing under a sustainability framework.”
“The One Planet Living framework worked perfectly for us as it was easy for the municipalities and institutional investors to understand. The goals are clear and direct, and we can share our KPIs and report against them – plus the outside verification provided reassurance that we weren’t greenwashing.”
But it didn’t just resonate with these audiences – homebuyers and the local communities understood their vision too, with Scott adding: “One Planet Living has provided a common language for all conversations which meant we could show one document to everyone.”
“One Planet Living isn’t full of lingo and acronyms – it’s very simple to explain what we are trying to accomplish. The concept also rings very true with the local Indigenous people, the Algonquin, which has helped us foster strong ties with the community.
Don’t lose sight of the end goal: a better future
Ian wrapped up his section by reflecting on ‘where next?’: “We realised we were focused on creating housing that didn’t have a negative impact. But what if we created housing that has a positive impact?”
“Alongside other partners, including Bioregional, we’ve pledged to deliver 500 ‘climate-positive’ homes across Oxfordshire by 2025. These are homes that lock-up more carbon than they emit, generate more energy than they use, massively increase local wildlife and biodiversity and act as a catalyst for improved local green transport and food production.”
Ashley concluded: “We don’t know what the world will look like in 2 months, we don’t know what it will look like in 5 years. But in building a One Planet Living community we are confident that we are building a resilient community, where there’s access to green space and places to grow food, where residents can get out on their bikes, where they can walk, where there’s a sense of community – something that has proven important in these times.”
One Planet Living is our sustainability framework of ten simple principles that create joined-up, people-focused sustainability strategies for market-leading development, both – big and small.
Photo credit: Zibi