Building Sustainable Places: The Earth Advantage® Community Standard
by Celeste Flick

What makes a place sustainable? Neighborhood planners and green building advocates wrestle with this question. Increasingly, they look to voluntary certification standards to distinguish sustainable development projects. The Earth Advantage® Community standard is a premiere example of a third-party community project certification. It offers a framework to assist residential developers in planning for and certifying multiple building and mixed-use residential projects.

Earth Advantage Community is a community planning tool for residential developers and planners who are seeking to provide sustainable, healthy, and more livable neighborhoods. It is a regional alternative to national programs such as LEED-ND. Earth Advantage Community uses a holistic approach for residential projects by addressing place-based aspects of development, as well as the development’s connections to adjacent areas. The Community standard incorporates principles from the Natural Step [] and smart neighborhood design. The program strives to make certification accessible to a wider swath of projects.

To become certified as an Earth Advantage Community, a residential development must demonstrate how it will meet conditions in four program categories:

  • Natural systems
  • Built systems
  • Connecting and transportation systems
  • Community systems 

Project developers must meet the required measures in each category, and score half of the available points among the options measures. Developers are able to select optional measures to prioritize. Innovation credit is also available. Under the natural systems category, for example, developers first complete a site inventory and document opportunities to minimize environmental impacts. They are then asked to draft low impact development stormwater management plans and construction management plans.

The following are other measures in the Earth Advantage Community standard:

  • Sustainable homes. All homes and community buildings must achieve Earth Advantage Home or LEED® for Homes certification.
  • Transportation choices. The project should be designed with a high level of connectivity, pedestrian safety, transportation choices, and safe.
  • Community amenities. The project must include a minimum number of community amenities (at least three if there are twenty or fewer housing units). Examples include a community plaza, a composting facility, a home office center, and a farmers’ market areIntegrated pest management. The developer is asked to establish and use an integrated pest management plan for common open spaces and landscaped facilities. Pests include invasive plants, problem insects, plant diseases, or other organisms that could cause problems in the landscape.
  • Educational materials. The community must provide information to new homeowners about the development’s sustainable features. This measure also applies to homeowners who move into a development after its initial opening.

The first pilot Earth Advantage Community project, Juneberry Lane in Oregon City, Oregon, was developed by the Clackamas Community Land Trust, and broke ground in September 2009. The 12-home, one-acre project features a rain water “shed” and retention pond. Each home is LEED Platinum certified, and will remain permanently affordable. To date, the Juneberry Lane project is the only one certified under the Earth Advantage Community standard.

Juneberry Lane in Oregon City, the first Earth Advantage Community project, was certified in February 2011. All of the homes within the project achieved LEED for Home Platinum designation. Image courtesy Earth Advantage Community

Another view of Juneberry Lane project. Image courtesy Earth Advantage Community.

Another project is enrolled: the Tetherow Glen 58, located just outside of Bend, Oregon. This project will not be a pilot, but will follow the fully launched program.

In March 2011, Earth Advantage Institute (EAI) released the Earth Advantage Community Urban Infill standard. As its name suggests, the Urban Infill standard focuses on smaller residential projects. The street connectivity requirements do not apply to projects seeking community certification under this standard. However, community education, neighborhood resource, and certification maintenance requirements remain.

Currently, EAI is working with local governments and private developers throughout the western US to promote the Earth Advantage Community standard, and invites project inquiries. We would like to the see the project implemented nationwide, but it continues to be regional because of interest and also because it needs to be delivered locally. EAI also provides the Earth Advantage new home and commercial certification standards, the Carbon Advantage program, the Energy Performance Score home asset tool, as well as professional training and other services.

Celeste Flick is the Earth Advantage Community program manager and can be reached at:

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