Like all NEPs, the IRLNEP has 4 cornerstones, which are focusing on the watershed, integrating science into the decision-making process, fostering collaborative problem solving, and involving the public in consensus-building and decision-making. Creating and maintaining healthy communities begins with collaboration among community leaders to support community-based projects that remediate environmental health and quality of life issues and to build capacity to understand and solve complex environmental and human health problems.

Part of creating a healthy community means that we need to work towards being more eco-friendly with our buildings and infrastructure. Not only is it better for the environment, it is also good for the economy and for your pockets.

Green Buildings – Children and adults spend as much as 90% of their time indoors, where pollutant levels can sometimes be significantly higher than outdoors. Common indoor pollutants include mold, lead, chemicals, and contaminants brought into a building from outside. Many communities are seeing the value in the green building movement, which is changing the way we look at how buildings are designed, constructed and maintained.

The term “green building” is used to describe the design, construction and maintenance of buildings that:

  • Have minimal impacts on local and regional ecosystems
  • Are energy-efficient
  • Conserve water
  • Are constructed from low-environmental-impact materials
  • Can be maintained with minimal environmental impact
  • Buildings that help their occupants practice sustainability (by using minimal electricity, recycling wastes, or collecting water used in the home, for example)
  • Are durable, comfortable and healthy for their occupants

The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification program has become the most widely used third-party verification program for green building. LEED works across all types of buildings from warehouses and office high-rises to single family homes. LEED-certified green homes are healthier for occupants and use significantly less water and energy. Because of their increased efficiency and decreased costs to own, green homes in many markets sell faster and for more money than traditional housing.

Green Infrastructure –  Stormwater runoff is a major cause of water pollution in urban areas. When rain falls on our roofs, driveways, roads and parking lots, it’s not able to soak into the ground as it would in a natural area. Instead it enters storm drains, ditches and canals, where it drains, untreated, into nearby water bodies like the IRL. Stormwater runoff is a problem because it carries excess fertilizers, household chemicals, dirt, trash, plants, pet waste, heavy metals, and other pollutants. When these materials are released into coastal waters, they cause muck deposits and fuel algae blooms and fish kills.

Traditionally, communities have managed stormwater runoff with so-called “gray infrastructure”, conventional piped drainage and waste water treatments that carry stormwater away from the built environment into coastal waters. However, communities across the country are turning toward the use of “green infrastructure”, the incorporation of rain gardens, stormwater parks, vegetated roofs, porous pavement, swales, urban tree cover, etc. These and other methods protect coastal water quality by treating urban stormwater in ways that mimic natural systems while also providing community amenities. Green infrastructure has become an attractive component of building sustainable communities because its use protects the environment while also allowing communities to achieve more for their investments.