Adam Beck

In what could be the start of greater collaboration among a group of organisations that produce rating tools, last month in Washington, DC, EcoDistricts held its sixth annual Summit, one of the few conferences globally focused purely on district and neighborhood-scale sustainable development.

With more than 550 practitioners, policy makers and community leaders in attendance, the program offered a range of education sessions, urban labs and studios that touched on issues as diverse as green infrastructure and equity, civic tech and place making, governance and net zero neighborhoods.

This year, an additional “in-Summit” event was also hosted – the Global Symposium on Urban Sustainability Rating Tools. This Symposium brought together rating tool builders, standard developers and framework makers. Notable tools represented included LEED for Neighborhood Development the Living Community Challenge, Envision, Green Star – Communities and STAR.

The morning session of the symposium explored the nested scales of the rating tools at the site, neighborhood, infrastructure and city level. This session followed a comprehensive and informative global rating tool scan presented by Eliot Allen of Criterion Planners, who alluded to the proposition that we are still yet to see any measurable results of our rating tool efforts at the neighborhood (and up) scale.

Bookending the morning agenda was a rapid-fire session – “Ambitious Targets, Global Standards” – on other emerging tools, including the 2030 Districts program from Architecture 2030, the Climate Positive Framework from the C40 Climate Leadership Group and the work of the ISO/TC 268 Sustainable Development in Communities from the International Organization for Standardization.

Over lunch, a panel titled “Rating Tools Reimagined” saw Robin Mellon (chief operating officer, GBCA), Brendan Owens (vice president of LEED Technical Development, USGBC), Brad Liljequist (technical director, International Living Future Institute) and James Stawniczy (Vice President and head of sustainability and environment Americas, Lend Lease) reflect on their respective tool building lessons learned and what future efforts might look like. Each of the panelists also imagined what major investments in their tools could achieve if major capital was injected. Greater capacity building, communication and awareness raising were key.

In the afternoon, an invitation-only workshop saw a small group of stakeholders come together to imagine a framework for greater global collaboration on the common agenda we all identified  – to make our cities more sustainable. While individually each of the tool builders had certain directions that differed, a real opportunity for collective impact was identified, with only ourselves to get in the way of collective success.

A White Paper outlining a potential collaborative framework is set to be drafted to see if the appetite for greater collaboration is strong.

With the diversity of rating tools now on the market cutting across neighborhood, infrastructure and city levels, the marketplace will continue to evolve rapidly. While some markets and regions are more congested with tools than others, the global footprint of many tools is growing. For tool builders and tool users alike, having a joined network to share, learn and collaborate seems like a responsible approach to achieving our common goals.

As the EcoDistricts Protocol gets built-out over the coming 12 months, the need for our rating tools and other standards to contain clear and meaningful benchmarks and metrics will be necessary to enable ‘plug and play’ of these systems into the Protocol. Harnessing our collective effort presents an exciting opportunity, realizing the benefits from our actions is even more exciting.

Adam Beck is vice president of programs at EcoDistricts, based in Portland OR. At EcoDistricts, you’ll find peopletoolsservices and training to help cities and urban development practitioners create the districts and neighborhoods of the future — resilient, vibrant, resource efficient, and just.