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Have you ever wondered whether or not a proposal for new development was a good idea, whether it was environmentally friendly, and whether or not you should support it? A Citizen's Guide to LEED for Neighborhood Development is a hands-on introduction that NRDC developed for local environmental groups, smart growth organizations, neighborhood residents and just about anyone interested in making our communities better and greener. The principles embodied in LEED-ND can be applied to situations other than those in which a development is seeking certification.

While the formal LEED-ND process is a technical one, the Citizen's Guide is user-friendly and accessible, to help anyone learn the highest environmental standards for green land development and become an advocate for implementing these standards in their own communities. The Citizen's Guide empowers you, the citizen, to provide innovative ways to improve your own community. We hope this guide for citizens will help promote greater widespread adoption of sustainable practices in more inclusive, healthy, and environmentally sound places for everyone.

About LEED for Neighborhood Development

When people hear about housing developments planned for their communities, they often assume the worst. More traffic, more pollution, fewer green spaces -- and nothing much in return but higher property taxes. For several decades, this has too often been the case. In recent years, however, developments using new smart growth principles offer a promising alternative, including more neighborhood conveniences, less traffic and safer streets. But how do you know in advance if a development will follow the old, sprawling model or the new, greener one?

NRDC and our partners are providing the answer. We worked with the U.S. Green Building Council, the Congress for the New Urbanism, and a blue-ribbon panel of experts to create the first set of national standards for "smart" neighborhood development. These standards provide an objective tool for evaluating how new projects will influence the environment and everyday quality of life.

The standards follow a model NRDC helped create over a decade ago to certify green buildings, a program called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Our new standards for land development are titled LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) and , after a pilot phase, were finalized and published in the spring of 2010. And just as the green building standards have proven a strong incentive for innovative building practices, LEED-ND will help spur development that offers mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods that are easy on the environment.

How Developments Are Graded

The LEED-ND standards are designed to reward developments that offer superior alternatives to sprawl. They will give points to projects based on several smart-growth criteria. Here are a few examples.

Choosing an Environmentally Sound Location: Sprawling land development is gobbling up the American countryside at an alarming rate -- around 3 acres per minute, according to government figures. Instead of bulldozing farms, trees and wetlands to build housing developments and parking lots for malls, smart growth promotes strategies such as converting abandoned urban lots, redeveloping old buildings and choosing new sites that are close to existing communities and infrastructure.

Reducing the Need to Drive: Thanks to suburban sprawl, people are logging more miles and using more gasoline just to do their daily activities. To help residents save gas and time behind the wheel, as well as reduce emissions, the LEED-ND standards recognize developers who locate projects within easy walking distance to dependable, frequent public transit stops. They also give points for wide sidewalks, inviting streetscapes and other design elements that encourage people to walk to nearby conveniences.

Using Less Land to Create More Benefits: Smart growth communities use less land than their sprawling counterparts, but residents don't feel crowded because homes, stores and offices can be built around public squares, parks, gardens and tree-lined streets that lend a green and inviting feel to the community. The LEED-ND standards reward this type of compact development. For example, developers can earn points by ensuring that new buildings are placed within a short, easy walk to a neighborhood park or other public green space.

Conserving Energy, Water and Other Natural Resources: Buildings that make the most of water- and energy-saving features such as solar panels, shade trees, natural light and ventilation, rainwater collection systems and graywater recycling not only save energy, but also reduce operating and maintenance costs. Likewise, choosing green building materials makes for healthier indoor environments and less stress on our natural resources. The LEED-ND standards offer points to developers who use these and other energy- and resource-conserving techniques.

Who Can Use the LEED-ND Standards

The LEED-ND standards provide a tool for a variety of people concerned with development, from developers seeking environmental guidance, to public officials who want to assess the impacts of a proposed project, to citizens wanting to know a new proposal's impacts. These include:

Developers Looking for Market Appeal and Municipal Support: Developers will be able to apply for a LEED-ND rating from trained evaluators. This certification -- which amounts to an environmental stamp of approval for good development -- is valuable in the marketplace as developers seek citizen goodwill and municipal approvals. Forward-thinking developers already enjoy the benefits that come with LEED certification for green buildings.

Municipal Leaders Creating Tax and Zoning Incentives: Many municipalities are eager to adopt smart-growth zoning and tax incentives, but lack the budget resources to develop their own standards. LEED-ND can fill the gap. Because the standards have been developed through an extensive consensus-building process, local officials can have a high degree of confidence in their usefulness as an objective measure for determining the best locations, designs and building practices for superior community development. The LEED criteria for green buildings have already been successfully adopted for public initiatives in this way, and several offices of local, state and even federal government have begun to reference LEED-ND in their policies.

Community Members Trying to Assess a New Development: Citizens are often particularly concerned about the environmental impacts of projects, but until now have lacked an objective system of measurement. A concerned citizens group, for example, will be able to ask a developer to obtain a LEED-ND rating before they give their opinion -- which often carries great weight -- to municipal authorities. And in addition to the development-by-development rating process, citizens' groups may find the standards a useful starting point for assessing how well their own communities handle growth, and to press their local land use authorities to think smarter and greener. See NRDC's publication A Citizen's Guide to LEED for Neighborhood Development for step-by-step advice on how to use the system.

But the principles embodied in LEED-ND can be applied to situations other than those in which a development is seeking certification. While the formal LEED-ND process is a technical one, the Citizen's Guide is user-friendly and accessible, to help anyone learn the highest environmental standards for green land development and become an advocate for implementing these standards in their own communities. The Citizen's Guide empowers you, the citizen, to provide innovative ways to improve your own community. We hope this guide for citizens will help promote greater widespread adoption of sustainable practices in more inclusive, healthy, and environmentally sound places for everyone.

LEED-ND Fully Approved for Market

Over 80 developments received certification under the LEED-ND pilot program. After two additional public comment periods, the rating system received final approval from all three partner organizations in 2009, the culmination of two-and-a-half years of market and user feedback. Registration for new projects opened in 2010. The U.S. Green Building Council now manages the day-to-day administration of LEED-ND. The system is being continually updated, and NRDC will remain active to ensure that LEED-ND retains high but pragmatic environmental standards for green development.

Our Partners
The U.S. Green Building Council
Congress for the New Urbanism

last revised 5/25/2011

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Kaid Benfield writes about development, community and the environment on Switchboard.


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