Professional Practice

Sustainability Toolkit: Environmental Models

sustainability toolkit environmental modelImage credit: Geos Net Zero Energy Neighborhood, Arvada, Colorado David Kahn Studio, Eldorado Springs, Michael Tavel Architects, Denver, Colorado

Tools are needed to put sustainable design theory into practice. To complement an earlier series of thematic resource guides organized around climate changesustainable urban developmenttransportationlivable communities, and green infrastructure, this three-part "Sustainability Toolkit" series will provide online toolkits, assessment tools, checklists, modeling software, and case studies designed to aid policymakers and design professionals roll out sustainable projects at the regional, urban, and local levels.

The Sustainabilty Toolkit covers environmental, economic, and social models. Part one offers a range of environmental models. Parts two and three, which will explore the economic and social components of sustainability, will be coming over the next few months.

Sustainability Toolkit: Environmental Models focuses on the environmental side of sustainability, perhaps the crucial component in sustainable projects for the built environment. The toolkit is arranged from macro- to micro-scales, beginning with sustainable regional planning, and moving to sustainable cities & communities planning, sustainable neighborhood planning, and, then finally, site-specific tools related to sustainable landscapes and green buildings.

Sustainability Toolkit: Environmental Models is meant to be a living guide and will only improve with your assistance. Please send any recommendations to:

Environmental Models: Sustainable Regional Planning

Environmentally sustainable regional planning is critical to the long-term economic competitiveness and public health of regions. Because large metropolitan areas often cross city and even state lines, regional plans that emphasize green space should be developed at the county, state, or multi-state levels.  

Regional planners are increasingly tasked with developing more sustainable approaches to population growth, land and water use, energy production, transportation infrastructure, and pollution-- all of which have major impacts on regional environments. Regional planners are also devising plans to adapt communities to climate change.

The following resources were assembled to aid policy-makers and regional planners in creating environmentally sustainable regional plans, which build up regional environmental assets.

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Environmental  Models: City Planning 

While city and community planners must confront many of the same issues as regional planners, their immediate attention is often more narrowly focused on environmentally sustainable development at the local level. Environmentally sustainable city and community planning involves integrating population growth, infrastructure, energy, water, and transportation into plans that significantly improve environmental quality in urban built environments. 

The ultimate goal is to reach beyond sustainability and create living or regenerative communities that provide environmental benefits to all citizens.

Common environmental strategies involve:

  • incentivizing mixed-use development, which enables communities to become more resilient to environmental change.
  • investing in alternative transportation infrastructure that encourage walking and biking.
  • expanding green infrastructure, including green roofs, green streets, rain gardens, bioretention systems that reduce stormwater runoff and pollution.
  • creating community green spaces and urban parks to encourage healthy, active lifestyles, and recreation opportunities.
  • rolling-out urban and community-level agriculture plans that reduce dependency on outside food sources.

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Environmental  Models: Neighborhood Planning

Environmentally sustainable neighborhood planning is critical to creating vibrant community and street life.

Typical strategies for implementing environmentally sustainable neighborhoods involve:

  • utilizing low impact development strategies.
  • creating mixed-use, mixed-income developments.
  • constructing complete (and green) streets that encourage walking and bicycling.
  • reducing urban heat island effects by providing ample urban tree canopy and green or cool roof coverage.
  • maximizing local energy efficiency and water conservation approaches.
  • providing sufficient green space for recreation. 

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Environmental  Models: Landscapes 

Sustainable landscape architecture practices involve maximizing existing natural systems to create productive and healthy environments. These techniques can not only improve energy and water efficiency, but also use plants to eliminate chemical fertilizers, produce food, restore ecosystems, and clean air. Incorporating sustainable landscape materials is key to reducing waste and lowering maintenance costs.

Sustainable landscape architecture techniques are also being applied to redevelop brown and gray field sites, revitalizing communities in the process.

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Environmental  Models: Green Building 

Green building design utilizes processes and techniques that are environmentally responsible. Green building design ensure that built structures efficiently use energy, water, and construction materials, while minimizing waste, pollution, and environmental degradation. In addition to reducing impact on the environment, green buildings promote occupant health and increase employee productivity. 

Some common strategies for achieving these goals involves employing green roofs, green walls, localized renewable energy sources, low-impact materials, energy efficient appliances and heating sources, and wastewater management and re-use strategies.

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Environmental Models: Toold Kit Organization

Sustainability Toolkit:

Economic Models
Social Models

Sustainable Design Resource Guides:

Sustainable Residential Design Resource Guides:

Using Low Impact Materials Button

If you know of useful resources we've missed, please send your recommendations to We appreciate your assistance in improving this guide.





ASLA Professional Practice