It's all about context. The greenest residence in the world doesn't mean much when the owner commutes 50 miles a day in an SUV—or even a hybrid—for work or play.

One could argue that huge, single-family homes on a half-acre of land defeat the purpose of sustainability in the first place, representing more sprawl despite their green features. On the other hand, most multifamily developers and operators have always had high density, walkability, and mixed-use built into their properties but received little recognition for these green features. Instead, it's been the rooftop gardens, low-flow toilets, solar power, and no-VOC paint that got you the green points, be it with enviro-conscious residents or the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification programs. Until now.

GOING FOR IT: Renaissance Place in St. Louis will seek certification under the LEED-ND pilot program.

GOING FOR IT: Renaissance Place in St. Louis will seek certification under the LEED-ND pilot program.

Launched in June, the council's LEED Neighborhood Development pilot program, known as LEED-ND, is specifically designed to include multifamily rental, for-sale, and mixed-use developments of all types. In addition to traditional green elements, credits can be earned for achievements in smart location and linkage, as well as neighborhood pattern and design.

“The great thing about LEED-ND for multifamily developers is that it rewards the density that they have inherent in their projects,” says Jennifer Henry, program manager for LEED-ND. “Those projects tend to be located in urban, transit-oriented areas, walkable communities, [or] infill sites. Because of all the factors that go into where you locate multifamily housing, there is a lot of economies of scale in achieving the smart growth principals and new urbanist principles that are embedded in LEED-ND.”

Conceived in 2002, LEED-ND attempts to address concerns first raised by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Congress for New Urbanism. Their assertion was that traditional LEED certifications focus on green building technologies to the detriment of smart growth principles such as the preservation of open space and creation of high-density housing that is accessible to transportation and shopping.

“LEED-ND allows us all to think of housing more creatively, about what works better on a community level and not just for a single home,” says Lauren Whitehurst, spokeswoman for pilot program participant Commonwealth Conservancy. The Santa Fe, N.M.-based firm is incorporating 965 living units onto 300 acres as part of a larger open space conservation effort of 12,000 acres in New Mexico's Galisteo Basin. While the housing mix for the Village at Galisteo Basin is still being determined, Whitehurst says the final site plan calls for a high proportion of apartments and at least 30 percent affordable housing.

MULTIPLE OPTIONS

LEED-ND is the latest effort by organizations to address the green strides taken by multifamily developers.

The council is also in the midst of a LEED for Homes pilot program that covers multifamily products up to six stories. In addition, the council is committing $1 million to green building research in areas such as energy and water security, global climate change prevention, and indoor environmental quality. Meanwhile, HUD launched its own “Green Initiative” pilot program on July 20 for multifamily properties enrolled in the Mark-to-Market program with HUD's Section 8 portfolio.

Despite the options for St. Louis-based McCormack Baron Salazar, a developer of some 200 multifamily and mixed-use projects nationwide, it is LEED-ND all the way. With three projects in the pilot program, Bill Carson, the company's vice president for operations strategy, has high hopes for success. “Our corporate mission is to rebuild the urban core and to do it by replacing public housing developments with high-quality mixed-income and affordable housing,” Carson says. “The principles of LEED-ND speak to all of that.”

In addition to the marketing mileage and environmental philanthropy inherent in achieving LEED certification, Carson believes that LEED-ND could ultimately address many of the multi-family cost objections to developing green. “I think this is going to be an important test case for developers to realize that green doesn't have to mean expensive,” he says. “It can be affordable, it can be urban, it can be something successful to all income levels.”

The LEED-ND pilot program will continue until approximately spring 2008, at which point it will enter a formal 10-month comment and review period at USGBC. Pilot participants and the council are optimistic that an official certification process will be hammered out by 2009. For more information on LEED-ND, visit www.usgbc.org.