The Consciously-Designed Washington Community That Wants to Make Life Better for its Residents and the Planet

Meghan French Dunbar January 3, 2015
Grow Community on Bainbridge Island, Washington, was developed with the goal of being the first residential community in North America endorsed by the One Planet Living initiative. Grow, which is the largest solar community in Washington State, focuses on promoting health, happiness, and community through a mix of highly energy efficient single-family homes and multi-family rentals in a community setting complete with community gardens, car and bike sharing, edible landscaping, and proximity to a major metropolitan area. It’s an inspiring model of community development and one that we hope will begin to scale throughout the rest of the country.

We sat down with Grow Community’s Project Manager and Sustainability Expert to learn more.

Maren Keeley: How did the idea for Grow Community emerge?

Greg Lotakis: The former President of Asani Developments, Marja Preston, knew that a property held by a group of investors was a wonderful location for a walkable community close to Winslow and the Bainbridge-to-Seattle ferry terminal. She sat down with friends and asked the question, “If you could design the perfect neighborhood for your family, what would it look like and what would you do?” With that question in mind, we discovered and used the One Planet Living principles to guide the development toward deep sustainability.

As our community discussions evolved, we began working to create a new neighborhood that was also intergenerational, with homes that we hoped would work for residents at different times in their lives. It helped us imagine a place that could be enjoyed as a grandchild, as a grandparent, and at every age in between.

MK: What are some of the innovative aspects of the community?

GL: We have a lot happening in one development. At the same time, we like to say that we took many existing ideas and mashed them up in one place. To be more specific, we wanted people to check the sustainability box without too much effort and focus on other important things in their lives.


The most innovative aspects of the community include:


When residents purchase a home at Grow Community, they know it has been designed and built to be as healthy and energy efficient as we can make it. We have seen a 50% or more reduction in energy use in our homes as compared to the average Bainbridge Island home.


In our first phase, we were able to create a team that included a local solar financier, a local solar products manufacturer, and a local solar installer to provide a simple solar package for each homeowner. With local incentives, each homeowner has been able to take advantage of this opportunity and pursue their own energy generation. Now the solar program is being spread into Washington State through our partner, Simple Solar, and Grow Community, which is the largest solar community in Washington State, is the example of how well it has worked. Grow residents are near or at net-zero energy consumption compared to production in a calendar year!


Knowing that personal transportation has a large carbon impact, we work to support the community to reduce this impact through bike storage, bike sharing, and creative thinking around community car sharing so our residents can reduce their vehicle ownership to one vehicle per home.


Community garden spaces are located in several areas to draw people outside and create a connection between homes. Edible landscaping is found everywhere – it’s not just about food in the garden, but having it all around us so we’re reminded that abundance can be provided in many ways.

MK: I see that you are the first One Planet Living Community to build residential homes in North America. Can you tell us more about this?

GL: Each home at Grow meets the Built Green 5 standard, which is a local green building certification. While we appreciate how various green building certification programs have furthered efforts to make green building more common, most remain focused on buildings and sites. Our decision to use One Planet as a framework was made because of its focus on ways to build community. It felt more holistic.

One important aspect of using these principles was the community process that we followed to allow for an integrated voice in our early design phases, as well as having members of the community co-author our Sustainability Action Plan. One of the principles we really try to embrace is Health and Happiness. We see this at the center of every principle of an interconnected system.

 MK: What aspect of this community are you most proud of?

GL: Ultimately, all the “cool” around sustainability means nothing without community. Really, Grow Community Bainbridge is about creating opportunities for residents to support each other in the pursuit of One Planet Living. Being able to walk across your path and connect with your neighbor over a glass of wine, share time in the garden with your grandchild, or watch kids and dogs play in the open space at the end of a day makes Grow special. It all comes back to health and happiness.

MK: Do you feel this idea can scale and be brought to other communities in the US?

GL: We truly hope so. There are so many great builders and innovators in green building that now it’s time to be thinking large-scale. Too many neighborhoods have been developed for one particular moment in our lives, lack energy efficiency, or allow vehicles to disconnect us from one another. Why do we make places for our elders that are “away” from where we live? Why do we make family homes in communities without including homes for singles or downsizers that wish to continue to live within a community? Why do we create developments that are strictly “for sale homes” and not include rental opportunities for those that may not be able to afford or qualify for home loans?

Given our recent recovery from the mortgage crisis, an aging population, and rising energy costs, we need to begin changing the conversation about the places we create and their impact on our planet and our lives.


LAST FEBRUARY, as Olympic athletes and spectators from around the world packed their suitcases for Sochi, the Russian Olympic Committee was backpedaling, defending allegations of illegally dumping construction waste and polluting the nearby water supply. Months later, Brazil, host of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, was criticized for demolishing entire favelas , destroying communities, and displacing thousands of local residents in order to build parking lots.

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants have been playing under high efficiency lights powered by solar panels for the past seven years. The Portland Trail Blazers’ impressive waste diversion system harvests latent utility by recycling and composting 80% of discarded items at its stadium. Numerous soccer, baseball, and football teams are addressing local water issues by using reclaimed water to irrigate their playing fields. From soccer to snowboarding to baseball, the sporting community is letting it be known that the biggest fans want to cheer for those who not only excel at their sport, but also demonstrate social and environmental prowess off the field.

So why are the four largest leagues in American sports celebrating their sustainability achievements while international events like the World Cup and the Olympics are demonized for intrusive and destructive practices? One might look to the built environment for answers.

All of the teams that play in the MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL have one thing in common: they own the permanent facilities in which they perform. If the San Francisco Giants invest millions of dollars in a new solar array, they can count on benefitting from reduced electricity costs for the next few decades. Unfortunately, the same is not true for temporary events with changing venues.


Photo: US Ski Team/Doug Haney


“From soccer to snowboarding to baseball, the sporting community is letting it be known that the biggest fans want to cheer for those who not only excel at their sport, but also demonstrate social and environmental prowess off the field.”

When temporary events require new construction, there is much to be learned from the myriad of sports teams who provide valuable case studies on using customizable resources for optimizing water and energy efficiency within their stadiums and facilities. More importantly, it behooves event hosts to look past the major league teams and learn from other, slightly smaller temporary events. These smaller temporary events demonstrate how new construction can be minimized and how the existing built environment can be used to host world-class events that deliberately bolster the local community.

This February, a learning opportunity presents itself when the FIS World Alpine Ski Championships descend upon Vail and Beaver Creek, Colorado. For two weeks, the small mountain towns will be flooded with 700 athletes representing 70 countries, nearly 2,000 journalists, and tens of thousands of spectators, all requiring warm buildings in which to eat, sleep, and watch the events. Without constructing a single new hotel or restaurant, the Vail Valley will utilize the existing built environment to provide almost all the services needed for the event.

It would be misleading to suggest that the World Championships didn’t require some construction. The summer of 2014 was humming with activity on the Birds of Prey racecourse in Beaver Creek where bleachers were erected; a two-story VIP finish stadium was constructed; and the adjacent Red Tail Camp restaurant was renovated (and renamed “Talons”). With careful planning and a long-range vision, these facilities were designed to be as versatile and resource-efficient as possible.


Vail Resorts hosts a wide variety of events at its 11 mountains around the country, including the Burton US Open, the GoPro Mountain Games, and Tough Mudder obstacle races. Considering the needs of these diverse events, Vail Resorts has strategically designed multi-purpose structures that will be useful in the future. During large events, portions of the new Talons restaurant can be easily converted into a VIP area, athlete changing rooms, and full media headquarters hardwired with new phone, cable, and Wi-Fi capabilities.


Temporary structures for the World Championships, like the bleachers and finish stadium, are engineered to be carefully deconstructed at the end of the winter. Portions of the modular building will be stored and reused to construct right-sized facilities for next year’s annual FIS Birds of Prey race. Other resources, such as timber and plywood, will be reclaimed by mountain operations and repurposed into furniture, signs, and structures used around the mountain.


While Vail Resorts’ crews were busy on the hill, just up the valley businesses from across the county gathered at the Walking Mountains Science Center to participate in the new Actively Green 2015 certification program. With an ambitious goal to certify 100 businesses before the first racer hits the course, the program, which was designed specifically for the World Championships, has spent the past year engaging local businesses in a sustainability self-study that centers on their built environments. As Kim Langmaid, Vice President of the Walking Mountains Science Center describes it, “the focus of the Actively Green 2015 program begins with buildings. Organizations collect baseline data on facility operations and, from there, the Actively Green 2015 framework supports the business’ employees in creating a culture of sustainability within the organization.” As a result, “the built environment of the entire community becomes more efficient.”

If successfully executed, the Vail Valley hopes that the 2015 World Championships will build the area’s reputation as a sustainable destination. Every hotel, restaurant, and retailer proudly displaying their Actively Green 2015 certificate during the event creates a lasting impression on visitors. Visionary leaders like Langmaid hope that, over time, “our community will become a globally recognized sustainable destination and that event and conference producers and travelers who hold the same sustainability values will choose to come to the Vail Valley because it supports them in their own corporate social responsibility and sustainability initiatives.”

By maximizing the use of existing infrastructure and collaborating with local businesses and nonprofits, the Vail Valley is demonstrating how an entire community can join forces to host a world-class event for tourists and leave a lasting legacy for the local community.

Stakeholder Capitalism
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