Green building

Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice: ULI Publication Contains Strategies for Development that Encourages Healthy Lifestyles

The mixed-income Greenbridge community in Seattle, Washington, features retail, residential, and other uses clustered closely.  ©Derek Reeves

The mixed-income Greenbridge community in Seattle, Washington, features retail, residential, and other uses clustered closely. ©Derek Reeves

Development strategies that can improve health outcomes, such as providing protected bikeways, minimizing noise pollution, and offering amenities such as community gardens, are highlighted in a new publication from the Urban Land Institute (ULI), the Building Healthy Places Toolkit: Strategies for Enhancing Health in the Built Environment.

The Building Healthy Places Toolkit outlines 21 practical, evidence-based recommendations that the development community can use to promote health at the building or project scale. The recommendations, based on the latest documentation of the need for and impact of building for health, were formulated to help developers, owners, property managers, designers, and investors understand opportunities to integrate health promoting practices into real estate development.

The release of the report is in response to declining health trends in the United States and other countries around the world, with many of the conditions linked to past land use decisions that limited options for healthy, active living environments. For instance:

  • 13 million school days are missed each year in the U.S. due to asthma-related illnesses;
  • The number of children with type 2 diabetes related to sedentary lifestyles has tripled since 1980;
  • By 2030, it is anticipated that one out of 11 people in the U.S. will be at least 100 pounds overweight; and,
  • Healthcare costs – the cost to treat illness, not keep people well — currently consume 19 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the United States; 9 percent of the GDP in Europe; and 5 percent of the GDP in China.

“In many communities around the world, the healthy choice is not the easy choice,” said ULI Global Chief Executive Officer Patrick L. Phillips. “We know that the built environment has a profound impact on health outcomes. ULI is aiming to encourage development practices that promote health and wellness, physical activity and social interaction. Increasingly, the ability of developers and communities to deliver on health is translating into market value for projects.”

ULI’s work connecting land use and health includes documentation that communities and projects that are able to meet the market demand for health will see their value endure over time. Some indications of the growing demand for and rising value associated with healthy places:

  • Seventy-six percent of Millennials think walkability is important in where they choose to live;
  • More than half of Americans (51 percent) want to live in a community that has transit. 53 percent want to be close to shops, restaurants, and offices.
  • Homes located in neighborhoods with good walkability are worth $34,000 more on average than similar homes in neighborhoods with average walkability.
  • Access to sunlight in office buildings increases worker productivity by 15 percent.

The report’s 21 recommendations are organized into three categories 1) the availability of opportunities to be physically active; 2) access to healthy food and drinking water, and 3) exposure to a healthy environment with a high degree of social interaction:

On physical activity:

  • Incorporate a mix land uses (to reduce the need to drive from place to place)
  • Design well-connected street networks at the human scale
  • Provide sidewalks and enticing, pedestrian-oriented streetscapes
  • Provide infrastructure to support biking
  • Design visible, enticing stairs to encourage frequent use
  • Install stair prompts and signage
  • Provide high-quality spaces for multigenerational play and recreation
  • Build play spaces for children

On healthy food and drinking water:

  • Accommodate a grocery store
  • Host a farmers market
  • Promote healthy food retail
  • Support on-site gardening and farming
  • Enhance access to drinking water

On healthy environment and social well-being:

  • Ban smoking
  • Use materials and products that support healthy indoor air quality
  • Facilitate proper ventilation and airflow
  • Maximize indoor lighting quality
  • Minimize noise pollution
  • Increase access to nature
  • Facilitate social engagement
  • Adopt pet-friendly policies

The 21 recommendations are accompanied by evidence-based strategies, suggested best practices, project descriptions and photos, and quotes by real estate leaders. The report illustrates the application of the recommendations to seven real estate typologies – master-planned communities, multifamily, mixed-use, office, industrial, single-family, and retail. The report also includes summaries of leading health and sustainability certification systems.

The Center for Active Design was the contributing author and expert content advisor for the Toolkit. The Center is a nonprofit organization that promotes architecture and urban planning solutions to improve public health. “This groundbreaking toolkit illuminates the intersection between health and real estate development,” says Joanna Frank, Executive Director of the Center for Active Design. “By translating the latest health evidence into practical recommendations, this resource empowers developers to provide opportunities for active, healthy lifestyles – while meeting growing market demand for health-promoting places.”

The project was generously supported by the Colorado Health Foundation and a gift to the ULI Foundation from the estate of Melvin Simon. The Colorado Health Foundation has been a key partner in ULI’s health-related work. “We are at a rare and exciting moment in public life that allows us to put our heads together and design communities that put people first by creating buildings, neighborhoods and towns that help people live healthy lives,” stated Khanh Nguyen, portfolio director – Healthy Living, Colorado Health Foundation. “Obesity is one of our biggest health challenges. In order to address this multifaceted issue, we commend ULI and its many partners on producing a toolkit that will inspire and guide both the development and health communities as they collectively design for generations to come.”

The Building Healthy Places Toolkit is part of ULI’s Building Healthy Places initiative. The initiative, which started in 2013, is an ongoing program of work that is leveraging the power of ULI’s global networks to shape projects and places in ways that improve the health of people and communities.

“Health happens not in your doctor’s office, but where you live. ULI has created a work that can — and I hope will — change how every building and rebuilding, every subdivision and retrofit, will be carried out in America and perhaps beyond,” said Dr. Richard Jackson, a nationally renowned pediatrician and chair of environmental health services at the University of California, Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health. Dr. Jackson serves on the Building Healthy Places initiative’s advisory board, which guides ULI’s work on land use and health.

The report identifies several opportunities to amplify the effects of the recommendations. These include forming new partnerships that support health priorities; gaining a deeper understanding of community health needs; measuring health outcomes; using language that reinforces health messages; and considering health at every stage of the real estate development process.

Projects highlighted in the report include GlaxoSmithKline Headquarters in Philadelphia; Miasteczko Wilanow in Warsaw; Mariposa in Denver; Rancho Sahuarita in Sahuarita, Arizona; Ecopark in Hanoi, Vietnam; Via Verde in South Bronx, New York; The Hercules Campus in Playa Vista, Calif.; SoundCloud in Berlin; and Rouse Hill Town Centre in Sydney, Australia.

For more information on ULI’s Building Healthy Places Initiative, visit

Click here to download high resolution images from the report.

University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment Frontiers in the Environment Events for March

The spring 2015 Frontiers in the Environment event series is in full swing, asking BIG QUESTIONS in solutions-focused conversations about the next wave of research and discovery. Held at noon Wednesdays in St. Paul or online, each hour-long session includes a lively 30-minute presentation followed by Q&A and a networking reception. Talks are free and open to the public – please join us! Here’s the March schedule.

3/4 – Is drawing down aquifers really so bad?
Close to 70 percent of Minnesotans drink groundwater everyday and many of our crops are irrigated with it. Concerns about overpumping are making headlines. So what’s the right way to manage this resource? Kate Brauman, lead scientist for IonE’s Global Water Initiative; Steve Polasky, project lead for IonE’s Natural Capital Project and IonE resident fellow; Sherry Enzler, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources general counsel; and Perry M. Jones, U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist, will explore the question, “Is drawing down aquifers really so bad?”

3/11 – Government action on the environment: what does “success” look like?
There are many pathways to sustainability but few overall strategies that do not include some action by local, state and national governments.Eric Lind, postdoctoral associate in the College of Biological Sciences; Julia Frost Nerbonne, executive director of Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light; Kate Knuth, Boreas Leadership Program director and former Minnesota State Representative; and Jessica Tritsch, senior organizing representative of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal to Clean Energy Campaign, examine case studies of successful government action at state and national scales, from multiple perspectives inside and outside government, that can serve as models for future efforts in “Government action on the environment: what does “success” look like?”

3/18 – Spring Break: No Frontiers

3/25 – How do we make advanced heat recovery in buildings commonplace?
Large commercial and institutional buildings consume a lot of electricity which degrades into heat, ultimately expelled as waste. Patrick Hamilton, IonE resident fellow and director of the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Global Change Initiatives; Scott Getty, energy project manager for Metropolitan Council Environmental Services; Katie Gulley, regional program manager of BlueGreen Alliance; and Peter M. Klein, vice president of finance for the Saint Paul Port Authority, evaluate the hurdles and tipping points to the more rapid adoption of advanced heat recovery to deliver a suite of environmental and economic benefits in “How do we make advanced heat recovery in buildings commonplace?”.

Get the complete list of scheduled talks and watch any you’ve missed in the archives.

Embodied Energy of Construction Materials: Integrating Human and Capital Energy into an IO-Based Hybrid Model

Manish K. Dixit, Charles H. Culp, and Jose L. Fernandez-Solis (2015). “Embodied Energy of Construction Materials: Integrating Human and Capital Energy into an IO-Based Hybrid Model.” Environmental Science & Technology 49 (3), 1936-1945. DOI: 10.1021/es503896v

Abstract: Buildings alone consume approximately 40% of the annual global energy and contribute indirectly to the increasing concentration of atmospheric carbon. The total life cycle energy use of a building is composed of embodied and operating energy. Embodied energy includes all energy required to manufacture and transport building materials, and construct, maintain, and demolish a building. For a systemic energy and carbon assessment of buildings, it is critical to use a whole life cycle approach, which takes into account the embodied as well as operating energy. Whereas the calculation of a building’s operating energy is straightforward, there is a lack of a complete embodied energy calculation method. Although an input–output-based (IO-based) hybrid method could provide a complete and consistent embodied energy calculation, there are unresolved issues, such as an overdependence on price data and exclusion of the energy of human labor and capital inputs. This paper proposes a method for calculating and integrating the energy of labor and capital input into an IO-based hybrid method. The results demonstrate that the IO-based hybrid method can provide relatively complete results. Also, to avoid errors, the total amount of human and capital energy should not be excluded from the calculation.

Soils Support Urban Life: Rain Gardens Help Cities

Read the full story from the Soil Science Society of America.

The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is coordinating a series of activities throughout 2015 International Year of Soil (IYS) to educate the public about the importance of soil. February’s theme is “Soils Support Urban Life.” In SSSA’s February Soils Matter blog post, staff from Chicago’s Metropolitan Water Reclamation District explain how rain gardens work ( ).

New Training Tool Broadens Pool of Home Energy Score Assessors

Today, DOE announced the release of the Home Energy Score Simulation Training, a new online simulation tool that provides free, targeted training and testing to individuals interested in providing the Home Energy Score – a standard energy efficiency assessment and score generated only by qualifying professionals. The Home Energy Score Simulation Training (the Sim), developed by Interplay Learning, lets candidates walk through different virtual homes (colonial, ranch, and townhome) with numerous combinations of energy-related characteristics (e.g., heating, cooling, hot water equipment; wall construction; insulation levels; footprints).

The Home Energy Score team will host a webinar on March 4 from 2-3 p.m. Eastern for anyone interested in learning more about the Home Energy Score, the Sim, and new credential requirements. Register for the webinar now.

The Home Energy Score is particularly well-suited for 3-D simulation training and testing given that the nature of the work is diagnostic and procedural, the content is cognitive, variability is prevalent, and live training or testing would be expensive and impractical. The Sim trains candidates on skills specifically required to score homes, lets them learn at their own pace, and allows them to encounter a wide range of situations that reflect the variability of conditions in our nation’s homes. Self-evaluation features in the Sim help candidates identify areas where they need to focus more attention. Once confident that they know how to collect required information accurately, candidates can proceed to the testing mode in the same 3-D simulation environment.

With this enhanced training and testing available, the program will now recognize a wide range of credentials, including those held by home inspectors, HVAC contractors, and other professionals in building-related fields. The table below lists the minimum credentials now accepted by DOE.

Organization Minimum Accepted Credential
American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) ASHI Inspector or Certified Inspector
Building Performance Institute (BPI) Building Science Principles Certificate of Knowledge
International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) Home Energy Inspector
National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) Green Certified Professional, Certified Remodeler, or Master Certified Remodeler
North American Technician Excellence (NATE) Air Conditioning/Heat Pumps, Gas/Oil Heating, or Gas/Oil Hydronics
Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) HERS Rater

All candidates still must pass both a multiple choice and practical exam, however, the multiple choice test no longer includes building science questions and the practical exam is offered within the 3-D simulation environment. Findings from research, analysis, and pilot testing conducted with Assessor candidates across the nation support the new qualifications for Assessors.

Existing Assessors who have qualified within the last four months or have kept their status active by scoring houses within the last four months will not need to requalify.  Those who have not stayed active will need to work through their Partner to take a brief online Assessor refresher course and test.

In terms of quality assurance, Home Energy Score Partners are still required to rescore five percent of homes scored by their Assessors.  In addition, DOE will now require that a highly experienced professional (termed “mentor”) accompany new Assessors on their first walk through of a home being scored, with this visit credited to the five percent rescoring requirement.

Register for the March webinar to learn more.

More details can be found at

U.S. Green Building Council released a ranking of the nation’s top green-building states

Read the full story from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Today, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) released its annual list of the Top 10 States for LEED, the world’s most widely used and recognized green building rating system, ranking states in terms of square feet of LEED space per state resident. The per-capita list highlights states throughout the country that are making significant strides in sustainable building design, construction and transformation. LEED-certified spaces use less energy and water resources, save money for families, businesses and taxpayers, reduce carbon emissions and create a healthier environment for residents, workers and the larger community.

Illinois leads among all states for the second consecutive year; newcomers Georgia and Arizona show momentum with LEED in the South and Southwest.

Economic and Environmental Assessment of Office Building Rainwater Harvesting Systems in Various U.S. Cities

Ranran Wang and Julie B. Zimmerman (2015). “Economic and Environmental Assessment of Office Building Rainwater Harvesting Systems in Various U.S. Cities.” Environmental Science & Technology 49 (3), 1768-1778. DOI: 10.1021/es5046887.

Abstract: Rainwater harvesting (RWH) systems implemented in office buildings under heterogeneous urban settings in the United States, including combined and separated storm sewer systems, will result in varying environmental and economic costs and benefits across multiple water sectors. The potable water saving and stormwater abatement potentials were found to strongly correlate with the local annual precipitation totals and patterns, specifically the long-period antecedent dry weather period. Given the current water rates and stormwater fees in large U.S. cities, RWH systems implemented in office buildings may not be cost-effective compared to the municipal supplies over their lifetime, except in Seattle, which has the highest stormwater fees in the country ($77.50/1000 sf impervious surface/month). The minimum net life cycle costs range from −$1.60 (Seattle) to $11.9 (Phoenix) per m3 of rainwater yield, resulting in a potential economic gain of over $520 (Seattle) to a net loss of $800 (Phoenix) per building annually. By preventing the rooftop runoff from entering the wastewater treatment plant, between 3 and 9 kg N eq per year could be reduced in combined sewer systems depending on local conditions. This N reduction comes at the expense 0.7–4.6 kg CO2 eq per m3 rainwater yield. In separate sewer systems, eutrophication reduction benefits result from reducing N loading associated with stormwater runoff. The overall sustainability of implementing RWH depends on the site-specific functional, economic, and environmental benefits, impacts, and trade-offs.